Catskills residents sue town over planned community in the woods


DURHAM – A group of Greene County residents are suing after Durham City Council voted against requiring an extended environmental review for a series of planned homes in a forest.

Cornwallville Residents for Rural Preservation (CRRP) filed a Section 78 lawsuit on November 24 against city council and Bosque Development, an LLC operated by Preston Jones, a former commercial real estate analyst and resident of Hudson.

The project would consist of 12 homes scattered across 90 acres of woodland and a small farm providing fresh produce to “the Bosque community,” according to Jones’ request to the board of directors.

The homes will be built to be as environmentally friendly as possible, with electricity provided by solar panels and heating and cooling provided by geothermal energy, according to Jones, who plans to live in the first completed house with his wife.

But many residents of Cornwallville, the hamlet of Durham where development is planned, have backed down since the project was proposed in late 2020, expressing concerns about how the proposed homes will affect the rural nature of their community. and the surrounding forest, and pointing to the potential impacts the development would have on the water supply of existing residents.

CRRP secretary Daniel E. Clifton said he was not opposed to building new homes in Cornwallville, but disagreed with the development of Bosque.

“It’s a difference of scale,” he said of the proposal, which he called “an exurban enclave”.

The dozen high-end homes would be built on 90 acres of the 95-acre lot, with at least 300 feet separating each home, according to Jones.

Far from being a 90-acre lawn, the homes would be located among the existing grove, with Bosque’s proposal stating that about 80% of the forest would be preserved, although Jones said a little more would be disturbed during construction. . The houses would be accessed from an unpaved private road crossing the property.

Clifton also believes the project runs counter to Durham’s Comprehensive Plan – a city’s most important planning document – which took years to complete and devotes a great deal of time to the “unspoiled and historic charm” of its hamlets. , listing “developing an approach to historic preservation” as one of the plan’s seven recommendations.

Clifton is not the only resident affected by the proposal. Twenty-five residents submitted at least one letter as part of the public comment period for the proposal. Twenty-two of the residents opposed the project. The CRRP also later submitted a petition opposing the town’s decision not to impose the lengthy review signed by 271 residents, much of the hamlet’s population.

Bosque is before city council because he has to subdivide a single 90-acre parcel into a dozen lots to build the houses.

Durham City Council voted on Oct. 5 against requiring a longer review. This “negative statement” does not give the whole project the green light – several aspects of the approval are handled by state and federal agencies – but frees Bosque from a process that can cost the government tens of thousands of dollars. developers and take over a year.

The CRRP filed a lawsuit, which seeks to overturn the city council’s decision and impose a longer review, to the Greene County Supreme Court late last month.

The lawsuit claims that city council failed to consider the proposal with the required “in-depth reviewâ€, listing 13 ways the CRRP believes Bosque’s plan would impact its environment sufficiently large to require a longer review.

The list includes “the impact on the locally designated historic resourceâ€.

Bosque’s development would be in the Historic District of Cornwallville, which should have given the Delaware County Historical Society a seat at the table when city council discussed whether to require a longer review.

However, the city believed the state historic preservation agency had that seat, and the agency sent a letter to city council in early October stating that it did not believe the development would have a significant impact on resources. history of the city, according to the lawsuit.

City council voted against the longer review the day after receiving the letter, only for the state to clarify the matter later in the month, saying it may have oversight over some of the hamlet’s historic assets. , but it is the Delaware County Historical Society that is the arbiter as to whether the proposal would have a significant negative impact on the historic district of Cornwallville.

City supervisor Shawn Marriott did not respond to requests for comment until press time.

After attending college in Florida, Preston Jones moved to Manhattan, but said he often visited Greene County, which eventually led him to buy land in Cairo and slowly build a house for him. and his wife for two and a half years. .

Jones sold the property in the summer of 2020 and moved to the town of Hudson, but he said the plan was temporary.

He plans to move into the first house he completes in Bosque and wants the dozen owners to eventually form a tight-knit community based on common interests, with the common farmhouse and kitchens at its center.

Jones said he wants the community to embrace nature, environmentalism, regenerative food systems and modern technology capable of supporting all three. However, development would not be a commune; the properties will be sold separately and Jones has said he will have “no control” over who moves in.

“I think we’ll attract a certain person who is interested in these concepts organically,†he said. “This is what we hope for.

In addition to heating, electricity, hot water and air conditioning for homes from renewable sources, Jones said the farm will not use chemical pesticides and will practice regenerative agriculture techniques.

Jones said he understands that it is impossible to develop land without changing the status quo.

“I think for us development is disruptive in a way, and I think we try as much as possible to accommodate that and mitigate that,” he said.

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