ELLENVILLE – Ellenville’s Village Board meeting drew a packed house on March 11 for discussion of two referenda, one on March 20 concerning the use of $100,000 for a long-discussed marketing operation, plus work at North Gulley Falls to create an attractive road stop on the Scenic Byway, and the other now set for April 25, for the use of $475,000 to purchase the Shawangunk Country Club and Golf Course.
First, next week’s referendum will, if approved by the voters, kick the marketing effort by the Village into gear. To pay for this, the Village Board approved the use of "Mountain Money" to avoid raising taxes this year. The marketing push involves a joint funding approach by the Village, the Town of Wawarsing, the Ellenville Central School District and the County of Ulster. As has been noted, this is the first time such joint action has been undertaken in the county. The $100,000, which would be taken from the "Mountain Money" breaks down in this way — $50,000 for two years’ contribution by the village to the costs of the new marketing campaign to improve the image of the village and the area. Other contributions to the costs are expected from the county, school district and town. The marketing campaign will provide consistency of messaging on existing marketing initiatives with an overhaul and optimization of the current "Find Ellenville" website, plus a much wider and diverse presence on social media platforms, and a rigorous public relations campaign to offset erroneous reporting and representations of the village and the area. Finally, there will be a professionally-designed logo to express the core values of the village and surrounding district and complete the consistent messaging.
In addition, another $50,000 will be used to turn the North Gulley Falls area, off Route 52 at the eastern edge of the village, into a pleasant stop on the Shawangunk Mountain Scenic Byway. Parking will be improved and the area cleaned up and prepared for visitors to rest and enjoy the falls.
Those are the matters to be voted on in next Wednesday’s referendum, from 12 noon to 9 p.m. at the Village Hall, ground floor, Elting Court in Ellenville. Both referenda are only open to Ellenville residents.
The second referendum, rescheduled for April 30, will cover the Village’s wish to appropriate $475,000 to purchase the 48-acre Shawangunk Country Club and Golf Course. This arose when the Country Club found itself contemplating acceptance of an offer from Jonah Mandelbaum, a developer who specializes in subsidized senior and workforce rental housing; Mandelbaum built the senior housing complex beside Ellenville Hospital. The village administration believes there is already too much rental housing in the village and that the loss of the 48-acre property, with the golf course and views of surrounding mountains, would be a serious harm to the village’s future prospects.
Mayor Jeff Kaplan introduced the public hearing with some remarks and said that losing the golf course would "take away a jewel of our area for the last 79 years." He said the village wanted to keep it as a golf course, and improve it for the citizens, primarily by extending its use into the winter months. Kaplan recalled that when he grew up in the village there were several places to ice skate, and other winter activities were common. He said that snow tubing and tobogganing were popular things for winter, and that an ice rink could be established, too. "Then we will get year-round use out of the property."
In the meantime, the village will put out a Request for Proposals to restaurateurs, and speak with local restaurant proprietors, too. The plan envisages having someone take over the restaurant, completely refurbish it and launch it in a year’s time, for the 2020 season. In the meantime, for this year’s season, Mayor Kaplan said that they would seek Food Trucks to come in and provide meals.
Turning to the financing side, Kaplan explained that the Ellenville School Golf teams would use the course, instead of traveling to one in South Fallsburg.
Kaplan finished up by recounting the somewhat agonizing losses that Ellenville had suffered with the closure of the Nevele, the Schrade knife factory and the Hydro/VAW aluminum plant. "We had to watch that helplessly." This was different, he said. "This is a moment in time when we can actually do something."
Then it was time for comments and questions from the public. Several people, led by Jean Miller, asked about the costs of continuing the golf club. Would there be a burden on taxpayers? Kaplan responded that the preliminary analysis showed that after the purchase the property would be revenue neutral. Some of the costs weighing down the private country club would be gone, such as the mortgage. Local property taxes, too, would come down, and in the other direction, considerably more would be earned from a high quality restaurant on the property. In a draft Proforma Income Statement put out by Village Manager Joe Stoeckeler, the country club shows a loss of about $19,000 in 2019 and a profit of about $14,000 in 2020.
Kaplan added that another benefit of owning the property would come from grants and assistance from New York State in building it up for winter activities. Beyond Albany, of course, lies Washington D.C. and Kaplan said he has already approached Antonio Delgado, the new Congressman of the 19th NY District, about tapping into federal grant money.
Village Trustee John Gavaris admitted the he wasn’t a golfer, but said he was a skier and that having cross country skiing, tubing and other winter activities at the property would be a big boost for the area.
Area resident Colleen Creighton led the group who praised the purchase concept. She noted that there wasn’t enough to do outdoors in the winter here, and that when she entertains nephews and nieces, she has to take them miles to have some fun. She wondered if moderate scale music events could be set up as fundraisers.
Marcus Guiliano, of Aroma Thyme Bistro, also thought it was a great idea. He wanted a little more detail regarding the RFP for a restaurant. Kaplan ran through the concept, food trucks this year, new restaurant rebuilding for next year. Marcus liked the idea of food trucks.
County Comptroller and Ellenville alum Elliott Auerbach made the point that this purchase would complete the circle that began in the mid-90s with the sale of the "Ellenville Tract" — an approximately one square mile of the Shawangunk Ridge which was sold to the Open Space Institute. To have some of that $3.8 million put to the purchase of the golf course was a "best use" by reinvesting it in valuable recreation opportunities.
Trustee Gary Younger said he had initially had reservations about the deal. But after looking at the bigger picture, he realized that the property had been underused and that developing it for activities year round was the way to go.
Asked about the urgency of action on this, Kaplan explained that spring would be on us all too soon and the grass would be growing. The golf course would need to be maintained from day one, or it would quickly be lost for the season.
Roger Buchwalter, of the Wawarsing Town Board, made another good point. "Look at what we have. An airport, Ellenville Hospital, the best bike trail in the state in Lippman Park, the Shadowland Theater, and now we’re talking about adding another feather to our collection. This is a great proposal and we should move forward with it."
Kaplan wound up the Public Hearing noting that further comments would be received at the next three Village Board meetings before the Referendum on April 30.