The Green Mountain Falls Board of Trustees has approved initial steps to annex Red Devil Mountain and the Joyland parcel, about 30 acres total.
“It feels like a big decision, but please understand it is only the first part in annexing land,” said planning director Julia Simmons, speaking in a public hearing held via Zoom Jan. 5. “The town still has to zone the land, no small task, and then there are development reviews and land-use approvals.”
The petitioners for the annexation are the Historic Green Mountain Falls Foundation and Green Mountain Road LLC.
The annexation is the beginning of a multimillion dollar investment by the foundation that includes a James Turrell Skyspace, one of only 85 in the world. An observatory that uses light as a medium, Turrell’s piece is set to be installed on the mountain overlooking Gazebo Lake.
The Skyspace is the focal point of the 2021 Green Box Arts Festival planned for this summer.
For some residents, the project and annexation are controversial while others are supportive.
Jessse Stroope, who represents the petitioners, addressed the naysayers. “This (annexation) request comes from a known community partner who has taken great steps in preserving the backspace and historical nature of the town,” Stroope said.
The petitioners are led by Christian Keesee, whose family has owned and maintained properties in the town for three generations, he added. “We have purchased a significant amount of open space surrounding Green Mountain Falls for the sole reason of protecting the land from development,” Stroope said.
While the foundation will not pay property taxes, in turn, the town receives a fully-managed recreational zone with hiking trails, public restrooms, educational opportunities and a world-renowned art installation at zero cost, Stroope said.
The property will be open daily and closed at dusk; the only traffic will be a maintenance vehicle which could include taking disabled individuals to the Skyspace, by reservation.
From the Zoom audience, Mac Pitrone questioned the value of the project to the town, particularly if there was cost involved due to increased traffic. “Will we need to hire more marshals?” he said. “Will the fire department need more full-time people?”
The trail management plan includes a traffic study and parking analysis which will be adopted by the town and reviewed annually, Stroope said.
For the most part, however, Zoom participants expressed support for the project. Many cited the high quality of other foundation projects as well as the thorough preparation for the annexation request.
Karen Watson, who lives adjacent to the property, emphasized the open space aspect of the petition. “I am thrilled that there is not massive development on this project,” she said. “It’s a positive project for our town and has increased our property values.”
As well, the project is expected to increase revenue for the restaurants and shops, Watson added. “I know that if there are issues with parking that others have expressed concern about — they will be addressed appropriately and thoroughly by this foundation,” she said.
Along with the annexation agreement, the town board retains the authority to re-work the agreement if a problem arises, Simmons said. “We worked for months with the petitioners to establish requirements and standards in the agreement. There has been compromise on both sides.”
Stroope added, “This is a fun space where the community is going to get togethe. Yes, there will be outside visitors but it really belongs to us, the community.”
The public is invited to the next Zoom meeting of the board at 7 p.m. Jan. 19.