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Thread: State Purchase of Sterling Forest Complete

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    Default State Purchase of Sterling Forest Complete

    November 28, 2006

    Ending Years of Dispute, New York Buys the Final Piece of Sterling Forest


    Years of controversy over a privately owned 575-acre tract of Orange County woodland within Sterling Forest ended yesterday when New York State bought the land for $13.5 million from a developer who had wanted to build 107 mini-estates on it.

    The long battle over the land parcel in the town of Tuxedo pitted local residents and preservationists against the proposed subdivision, Sterling Forge, in the heart of the 20,400-acre Sterling Forest. In 1998, Sterling Forest was the largest acquisition by the state’s park system in 50 years.

    “This acquisition was critical,” Gov. George E. Pataki said of yesterday’s purchase, “because it is truly the hole in the doughnut of Sterling Forest. It is so strategically located that it will give a contiguous sense of wilderness when added to the state park.”

    During the closing yesterday, in New Windsor, N.Y., the land was acquired by a nonprofit conservation group, the Trust for Public Land, and transferred immediately to the State of New York, which paid for the parcel with money from the state’s Environmental Protection Fund. The property will be overseen by the Palisades Interstate Park Commission.

    The parcel — a half-mile west of the border of rustic Tuxedo Park, an exclusive gated community — is entirely surrounded by Sterling Forest, a tract assembled by public and private donors who until yesterday had paid $78.2 million over eight years to create the park.

    “This is the capstone of a decade-long conservation project, the last crucial piece in the assemblage,” said Rose Harvey, senior vice president of the Trust for Public Land. She added that the park “is now that rarity, an almost pristine wilderness near public and private transportation and major population areas.”

    Ms. Harvey said the value of the land in the deal, $23,478 per acre, “is in keeping with the market value in the area.”

    Governor Pataki said in an interview that it was “a difficult negotiation, and we had to be careful to get the best possible value for state taxpayers.”

    Louis Heimbach, the president of Sterling Forest L.L.C., the property owner — an American subsidiary of the Swiss company Zurich Insurance — said the company had gotten a higher offer but decided to sell the land to the state because it “was the right thing to do.”

    In the original acquisition of the Sterling Forest land in 1998, New Jersey, New York, the federal government, nonprofits and private donors paid $55 million to preserve much of the forest, once the home of a botanical garden and later the site of the New York Renaissance Faire.

    With the help of the trust and another nonprofit, the Open Space Institute, an additional $23.2 million was spent to buy more land in the area, which straddles the New York-New Jersey border. “The effort was sustained over a decade,” Ms. Harvey said, “and nobody lost focus.”

    In 2000, the developer initially planned to build a golf course and luxury housing, but the state ruled that golf greens would deter the migration of threatened wildlife.

    At a series of highly charged public hearings last year in Tuxedo, the developer said he had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars planning for the construction of the luxury homes, while opponents cited the proposal’s environmental and aesthetic drawbacks.

    Although many local residents opposed the planned housing, some, including the town’s supervisor at the time, Ken Magar, said they hoped it would bring construction jobs as well as property tax and school district benefits to Tuxedo, a community of 3,694 in Orange County, roughly an hour’s drive from Midtown Manhattan.

    But opponents offered calculations suggesting that the development would be a drain on the community by increasing demands on town services.

    Environmentalists opposed construction on the 575-acre parcel, saying it would harm wildlife. New Jersey’s Department of Environmental Protection objected that it would threaten the state’s water supply. An opposition group, Sterling Forest Partnership, mounted a campaign to “stop the McMansions.”

    And historic preservationists urged that surviving traces of former mining operations be protected, arguing that ore from the Long Mine on the Sterling Forge parcel had been used to create links in the great iron chain across the Hudson River during the Revolutionary War.

    Sterling Forest is part of a mountainous corridor of more than 100,000 acres of generally contiguous woodland that stretches to the east into Harriman State Park, to the north toward West Point, and to the south and west to the New Jersey Highlands, which provides drinking water for some three million people.

    Though the 575-acre property is crossed by power lines and a county road, it is dense with red and black oaks, maples, hemlocks and white pines, and its wildlife includes black bears, bobcats, coyotes and rattlesnakes.

    “I hope that for generations of New Yorkers,” Governor Pataki said, “this acquisition will protect critical habitat areas from development.”

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

    Trust for Public Land
    Nature Conservancy

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