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State buys 2,518 acres on Shawangunk Ridge
By William J. Kemble , Correspondent

GARDINER - Town officials welcomed announcement Tuesday of the state's $17 million purchase of 2,518 acres of Awosting Reserve property, expanding the Minnewaska State Park Preserve and preventing the planned development of the property along the Shawangunk Ridge.

"I think everyone was holding their breaths for the last three months, sure that something would go wrong," town Councilwoman Nadine Lemmon said.

The property was sold to the Trust for Public Land on Friday and immediately resold to New York state for the same price, according to trust spokeswoman Susan Clark.

"If we hadn't protected this, it would certainly have been developed ... and would have been lost to the people of New York," Clark said.

Announcing the deal Tuesday, state officials reported the land will be added to a 32,000-acre tract of protected land and includes the area where construction of 350 luxury housing units and a 296-acre golf course had been proposed in 2002. That plan had sparked local opposition.

The development plan was withdrawn following town efforts to change its comprehensive plan and zoning law, which were adopted earlier this year despite the threat of lawsuits.

Also, Awosting Reserve LLC general partner John Atwater Bradley clashed with the company chosen to develop the site, Chaffin/Light Associates, and fired the firm. Chaffin/Light sued Bradley and won, resulting in a Delaware judge ordering the land be put up for sale.

The property was listed for sale last year for $35 million by Awosting Reserve LLC.

"We were expecting one (lawsuit) even from Awosting Reserve because their lawyers were in the room up until the end, even after the announcement of the open space deal," Lemmon said. "I think it's very important for the community to have some say in what will happen with that property. It is a part of Gardiner and we did work hard, both activists and legislators, to make something happen there and it will be great if it's not a top down decision on what happens to that property."

Lemmon, town Supervisor Carl Zatz, and Councilman Matt Bialecki were a Democratic Party ticket that swept onto the Town Board in 2003 as opponents to Republican incumbents who were not considered sufficiently committed to stopping the development.

In the state Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation press release announcing state acquisition of the property, officials wrote, "developers and environmentalists have eyed this land with its ridge top views and abundant streams, pools, and waterfall."

Under an arrangement with the Trust for Public Land, which state officials identified as a national organization, the property was bought from developers for $17 million and immediately resold to the state for the same amount.

"The loss of this land to development would have been a tragedy," trust Vice President Rose Harvey said. "I couldn't imagine a more fitting capstone to Gov. (George) Pataki's work to protect the Shawangunk Ridge. This is a major victory for the state and all the organizations and individuals who have spent years working together to protect this unique resource."

The $17 million purchase is being funded through the state's Environmental Protection Fund. Properties along the Shawangunk ridge have been identified as priority projects in New York's Open Space Plan.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this report.