May 22, 2024


Interior Of The Road

Gardiner preservation plan outlines real estate transfer tax

Like many towns in the Hudson Valley, Gardiner is known for its stunning vistas and scenic environment. With more and more people moving into Ulster County, Gardiner residents are growing increasingly concerned that overdevelopment will destroy the rural character of their home, as well as the species native to it. And according to a recent survey, almost half of them believe their government isn’t doing enough to protect against that possibility.

A Community Preservation Survey released in May found that 47 percent of Gardiner residents do not think the town is doing enough to preserve its natural and cultural resources. Respondents were primarily concerned with overdevelopment, followed closely by loss of rural character and loss of open space. Over 75 percent of the 570 respondents said preservation of meadows, forests, wildlife habitats and the Shawangunk Ridge was their top priority, which might not be surprising considering the Nature Conservancy named it “one of the last great places on Earth” for conservation.

Related: 71 acres of Shawangunk Ridge to be protected

The survey was launched as part of Gardiner’s efforts to establish a real estate transfer tax, which would require homebuyers to pay an additional 1.25 percent on homes above the median home-sale price in Ulster County, which is $320,000. That revenue would go into a Community Preservation Fund that can be used to purchase land and interests in land, like conservation easements, that provide an ecological, historical, or scenic value to the town, among other key factors.

Protection of the Shawangunk Ridge ranked among residents’ top priorities. This year, 71 acres of the Ridge were purchased to be protected by Mohonk Preserve and The Shawangunk Conservancy.

Protection of the Shawangunk Ridge ranked among residents’ top priorities. This year, 71 acres of the Ridge were purchased to be protected by Mohonk Preserve and The Shawangunk Conservancy.

Courtesy of Mohonk Preserve

At its June meeting, the Gardiner Town Board voted to approve a Community Preservation Plan (CPP), which calls for the real estate transfer tax. A referendum on the tax will appear on the ballot in November. If favored by the voters, it will be imposed on new homebuyers beginning in February 2023. Those already owning Gardiner property will not be required to pay the tax.

Gardiner is following in the footsteps of neighboring New Paltz, which overwhelmingly voted to implement a 1.5 percent real estate transfer tax in November 2020. New Paltz was the first municipality in Ulster County to adopt the tax after the Hudson Valley Preservation Act was expanded to include the county in 2019. Even though its plan is in its early stages and its fund isn’t flush with monies yet, New Paltz has already been able to purchase wetland property off Route 299 that protects the town’s water quality, wildlife habitat and aquifer recharge.

Transfer taxes in other communities

Since New Paltz’s vote, Marbletown and Kingston have also formed community preservation committees to explore real estate transfer taxes in their towns.

Other Hudson Valley towns have been using transfer taxes for years, including Warwick in Orange County, which since 2007 has acquired approximately 28 farms, protected 4,300 acres of farms that remain in farming, purchased the only public access to Greenwood Lake and recently bought an 85-acre recreation camp with a theater, pools, hiking trails and cabin.

Similarly, Red Hook in Dutchess County adopted a transfer tax in 2011, which has raised nearly $5 million and permanently conserved 45 farm properties, eight of which were purchased in conjunction with the USDA’s Farm and Ranch protection program and Scenic Hudson in 2012.

“The thing we’ve learned from the other communities is that they very often are able to partner with other preservation organizations, like Open Space Institute, Nature Conservancy and Scenic Hudson,” said David Dukler, who served as co-chair of Gardiner’s Community Preservation Committee. “They’re able to get additional funds to what they’ve raised locally through a RETT — that’s also a key factor in how much you have available to use for preservation.”

Because Gardiner contains the Ridge and overlaps with the Mohonk Preserve and Minnewaska State Park Preserve, the town may have an advantage in leveraging for additional funding, as well.

How the preservation process works

The Community Preservation Committee developed a methodology for prioritizing parcels of land for funding and acquisition based on a points system intended to reflect the community’s conservation goals. One parcel of land may score higher than another based on certain criteria, such as whether it contains highly visible ridgelines and hills or whether it is located on a historic site. Biological diversity, however, takes the No. 1 priority spot.

“We have to preserve our unique biodiversity,” said Councilwoman Carol Richman. “We’re talking about climate resilience, we’re talking about scenery, we’re talking about community preservation, historic preservation, but biodiversity is key.”

Gardiner Town Supervisor Marybeth Majestic insisted that the town would never come knocking on landowners’ doors looking to buy their property; rather, willing property holders would come forward with a stated interest to have the town purchase some of their land for conservation. If acquiring the property is deemed to provide a “townwide benefit,” an all-volunteer Community Preservation Fund Advisory Board would recommend that the town board purchase it in the name of Gardiner. The board will also hold a public hearing for each purchase, allowing constituents to participate in the process.

“Open space is not free,” Majestic said. “Gardiner has always been interested in preserving our natural resources and this will give us a tool to do this.”

Neil Rindlaub, a Gardiner Environmental Conservation Commission member who worked on the CPP, said the plan would ideally protect parcels high on the constituent concern list from destructive development.

“I’m a transplant from northern New Jersey and growing up I watched streams that had all kinds of fish and frogs and turtles get silted in as development occurred,” he said. “I watched Route 17 and Route 59 in Rockland County become endless strip malls, and my negative motivation is to try to protect Gardiner from becoming another land of endless suburban sprawl. I don’t think I’m alone in that.”

The CPP would not stop development in its tracks, Rindlaub said. Gardiner will continue to welcome new projects and new community members, but would simply steer them away from ecologically valuable land.

According to the CPP, preservation of forests, wetlands, floodplains, stream corridors, and areas modeled with above-average resilience for biodiversity is expected to benefit the town’s efforts to adapt to climate change. Active farm operations and farmland soils were also considered important resources contributing to community resilience to the impacts of climate change.

Mountain laurel grows wild on the Shawangunk Ridge and is federally protected.

Mountain laurel grows wild on the Shawangunk Ridge and is federally protected.

Erin Quinn

Various wildlife habitats are encompassed within Gardiner’s town lines, including the endangered skink and the federally protected mountain laurel. Additionally, the state Department of Environmental Conservation mapped the Shawangunk Kill corridor, listed as a priority in Gardiner’s CPP, as a Significant Biodiversity Area for its high water quality.

While the town may be on its way to conserving these lands, residents can aid in the effort by starting conservation efforts and environmental practices at home. According to the survey, most residents listed their own backyards as their favorite outdoor location in Gardiner.

“This plan is about purchasing land and we can’t just purchase everything to prevent overdevelopment and maintain what’s great about Gardiner,” Richman said. “Private property owners have to work on preservation. We can’t just buy everything up; some of the preservation work has to be voluntary … in your own backyard.”

The Town Board is holding three public hearings on the CPP in July, the first of which will be on July 12.