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Defenders of Bluestone Wild Forest Saw a Great Victory—But We’re Not Celebrating Yet

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When word got out that an industrialist was planning to build a concrete and steel fabrication plant next to Catskill Park’s Bluestone Wild Forest and Onteora Lake, local residents were aghast. Located just off Route 28, the 3,000-acre park is a Hudson Valley gem, a haven for hikers, swimmers, anglers, kayakers, bird-watchers, and families looking to cool off and have some summer fun.

How could anyone propose a facility so out of character with the area? When the Town of Kingston Planning Board invited the public to make oral comments on the matter in June, it got an earful. For four straight hours, residents of the Town of Kingston and neighboring areas voiced their strong opposition to the project, which would clear 21 acres of trees, blast 405,000 cubic yards of rocks, and send 50 huge trucks a day barreling through the area. In total, the Planning Board received hundreds of oral and written statements and received petitions with more than 3,000 signatures—all of them urging the board to protect the park.

The Planning Board listened. On July 19, the board unanimously voted to require the project’s sponsor—850 Route 28—to perform a rigorous and comprehensive examination of the project’s potential adverse environmental impacts through a draft Environmental Impact Statement.

Those of us who love Bluestone Wild Forest are grateful to the Planning Board for their willingness to hear the concerns of their neighbors, take in new information, and change course. But we’re not uncorking the champagne yet.

onteora lakeCredit: DEC
Onteora Lake and the Bluestone Wild Forest, the site of a proposed concrete and steel fabrication plant by 850 Route 28.

As the scoping process moves forward, it’s critical that the Planning Board and the public require the sponsor to provide thorough and detailed information on all possible impacts so that the true extent of likely impacts is identified and appropriate mitigations and alternatives evaluated. We look forward to working with the Planning Board to ensure the sponsor meets that obligation. 

There is also another matter before the Town of Kingston (which, not to be confused with the City of Kingston, is a small municipality of 900 people). In order for the applicant’s project to proceed, the 110-acre site of the proposed plant would have to be rezoned. Currently, it’s zoned for commercial use, but the owner has asked the Kingston Town Board to rezone the land for industrial use.

The Town Board should deny this request. The parcel is not zoned for heavy industry for good reason—the site has marginal water resources and putting industry there would significantly alter the character of the community. When you enter Catskill Park, you see mountains and trees, not tractor trailers and smokestacks.

Many Route 28 business owners, including Bistro-to-Go and Cheese Louise, chose to start their businesses in the area because its scenic beauty and recreational character attract customers. They didn’t sign on to start a business next to an industrial plant. That’s what zoning is supposed to accomplish: it protects the community and the people who have invested in it. The application for this industrial activity doesn’t seem to have taken the lands around the site into account in any meaningful way.

Rezoning to allow heavy industry would be unfair to the Town of Kingston’s existing businesses. Thousands of people visit Bluestone Wild Forest every year. Will they keep coming if their fishing expeditions and nature walks are set against a cacophony of noise from bulldozers and jackhammers? In a time of labor shortages, when these businesses are limiting their operations because they can’t find enough workers, the age-old cry that new jobs justify anything also doesn’t hold up. Damaging the area’s appeal to visitors could ultimately cost many more jobs than it creates. 

Many of the project’s opponents, including myself, would love to see the proposed industrial site folded into the Catskill Park and Forest Preserve, where it would remain free of any commercial activity. But we must grant that the owner of this parcel has the right to use the land for modest commercial purposes. He doesn’t have the right to a rezoning, though, and he doesn’t have the right to infringe on the health, wellbeing, and livelihoods of neighboring homes and businesses. He does not have the right to change the rules for his benefit at the expense of others.

The River is a nonpartisan news organization, and the opinions of columnists and editorial writers do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the newsroom.