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Silo Ridge In Amenia: A Wealth of Controversy In Development

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A rendering of the future clubhouse. Image courtesy of Silo Ridge.

[Editor’s note: A few weeks ago, we reposted a New York Times article on our Facebook page. For many of us, “When Rural Meets Resort: Hamptons Style Development Comes to the Hudson Valley” was the first we’d heard of this ultra-luxury development in the works in Amenia, NY. The quick and passionate responses from our readers to The Times’ rather starry-eyed coverage prompted us to ask RI’s Jamie Larson to report on the issue from a more local and, we hope, balanced perspective. We invite readers to continue the dialogue on our Facebook page.]

By Jamie Larson

Over the past few weeks, the impending development of Silo Ridge Field Club, in Amenia, NY, has come under increased scrutiny. The gated, Hudson Valley-themed, millionaires-only, private golf course community has been taken to task for its impact on the area, its scale, and for some, its tone-deaf approximation of regional authenticity.

For years concerns about the plan stayed insulated in the general area of Amenia, but after a glowing article about Silo Ridge appeared in the New York Times on March 8, groans of disapproval echoed through the valley and across social media (including RI’s own) denouncing the project, which will likely receive final approval in the next few months.

Smithfield landscape designer Liz Faulkner well encapsulated the discontent in her public comment, quoted here from an article by Antonia Shoumatoff in The Millbrook Independent:

“This development is going to bring a more suburban quality to our area and our historical heritage is agricultural. There are generations of people here who have worked on the land. It is obvious that the applicant has done very little to understand the real cultural heritage of Amenia. This is (a) proposal for a level of leisure that is not what this small town is all about.”

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Construction progress on the golf course last fall. Image courtesy of Silo Ridge.

To be set on 800 acres of a southeast Dutchess County ridgeline, across the street from the Wassaic Metro-North train station, Silo Ridge has been a hotly contested issue for over a decade. The original plan for a golf community, including a 300-room hotel and a five-story parking garage, stalled during the recession. Then in 2013, the project roared back to life when mega-resort community developers Discovery Land Company bought in and took the lead, turning the plan into a retreat for the super-rich family looking for a second, third or fourth home close to Manhattan as well as the cluster of prestigious private schools in the Southern Dutchess area.

Issues in Town

Amenians do have some legitimate and specific concerns. There are issues regarding water facilities and wastewater mitigation from the homes and golf course. And the local viewshed, lovingly referred to as “The Gateway to the Berkshires,” will be affected.

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The entrance to Silo Ridge.

“(The Developers) have claimed that their community will have minimal visual impact,” wrote Amenia Town Historian Arlene Juliano, in her public comment. “The townspeople have tended ‘as a whole’ to say otherwise…To us (the landscape) is a historic treasure that has been described as beautiful since the time of the Indians and first settlers until today.”

Another concern is that the town has not insisted developers bond the project to protect the municipality from having to pay for costly completion or removal of partially built infrastructure if the plan falls through. While default may be unlikely, former credit surety officer John A. Duffy pointed out in his public comment that “Discovery Land was foreclosed on by its lender, Comerica Bank, in connection with the Spanish Oaks project in Texas in 2010.” They also own Yellowstone Club in Big Sky Montana which defaulted on a $375 million loan in November 2008, though they have since bounced back. The planning board still has a short amount of time before final approval to make a decision to require a bond but at present, for Silo Ridge, the money and buyer interest appears to be solid, with hundreds of people showing up for a “sales bash” on October 18, 2014.

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A recent view across the future home of Silo Ridge from Lake Amenia Road.

“There are a lot of people, no matter what you do, that are going to have a problem,” said partial owner Pedro Torres, whose family, originally from South America, bought the existing golf course property in 2000 and developed the original plan. “I think in the long term, it’s going to be a great asset for the town but people are afraid of change. I think people will realize it will not have the effect they fear. This project is completely unique to the community and we have a lot of people interested, some big names,” he continued, not naming names. “The fact is there is nothing like this anywhere in the northeast.”

Selling the Hudson Valley

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A rendering of a multimillion-dollar home at Silo Ridge. Image courtesy of Silo Ridge.

Discovery, which owns, or is building, golf communities from Mexico to South Hampton, and has sold homes to the likes of Bill Gates and George Clooney, downscaled the Silo Ridge plan in size, to about 250 homes total. But it has upscaled its profile immensely by privatizing the community, with unit prices now ranging from $1 to $10 million. After you stomach the sticker price, the dues are $25,000 a year with a $100,000 up-front buy-in.

“It’s worth it because we are providing access to $250 million worth of amenities. It’s everything they want in one location. We’re selling the Hudson Valley,” said Discovery executive Daniel O’Callaghan in mater-of-fact justification of the cost. “We have so many members with places at our other properties who live in the city and said ‘we love the Discovery experience and we’d love it if you could provide it for a quick weekend getaway.’”

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Image courtesy of Silo Ridge.

Silo Ridge Field Club will pamper residents with more lavish amenities than its name has folksy nouns. Centered around an 18-hole designer golf course, the community will include home maintenance and upkeep services, a spa, equestrian facility, shooting range, a kids club, an indoor sports pavilion, a lake and a small farm where residents can garden if they wish, and where produce will be grown for a “farm to table” inspired clubhouse restaurant.

“People often move up here and get a big house, build it up, join three or four clubs, then after a while, the kids grow up and leave, and you have this huge facility you still need to maintain,” Torres said of the numerous large estates in the area. “Silo Ridge is turnkey. You can come up and just enjoy yourself.”

Spreading the Wealth

One factor even skeptics can’t ignore is that, financially, the municipality of Amenia will win the lottery if Discovery and its ownership partners pull off Silo Ridge as envisioned. The projected tax revenue for the town, over 10 years, is more than $20 million. The needy fire district is slated to see $1.7 million and the school district is looking at an astounding $42 million increase over the next decade. If that doesn’t give you pause enough, Torres pointed out that because the planning board required these estimates be based on construction costs, not anticipated home sale prices, he expects these figures to double.

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Amenia Town Supervisor Victoria Perotti.

Then there are the jobs. There are projected to be thousands of construction jobs created over the years to come and more than 150 full-time jobs with benefits for local folks once all the facilities are up and running. The jobs are desperately needed here, after the town’s largest employer, the Taconic Disabilities Services Office, left two years ago.

“People were concerned about losing Amenia as we know it. I think they [Discovery] have tailored a community that looks like us,” Town Supervisor Victoria Perotti said of the estate, which will take design cues from the region, using stone and reclaimed wood in its structures. “The difference between Silo Ridge and Discovery’s other projects is this is geared more towards families. It may not be ‘authentic’ but they want to feel like they are a part of the Hudson Valley. And it will certainly be good for businesses, which is exactly what we need.”

The Cultural Context

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A view of ongoing golf course construction last fall. Image courtesy of Silo Ridge.

While the scope of Silo Ridge may be new to the valley, Millbrook town historian and preservationist David Greenwood says we need to find a balance between protecting our history and adapting to inevitable change.

“For generations we have been a destination,” Greenwood said, looking at the whole issue through the wide lenses that historians tend to wield. “You can either appreciate that or not. We are constantly in a state of change. It’s the impact of that change we should be concerned about. That’s why the developers have to listen to people. There have been opportunities for people to speak. The question is, how much have (developers) heard?’”

Something that continues to trouble locals and online observers about Silo Ridge is its attempt to appropriate the aesthetic and character of the Hudson Valley without participating in the community that crafted that style in the first place.

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Silo Ridge Field Club’s titular silos.

Greenwood said, through the process, he’s seen that some people do feel insulted by the perceived exploitation of their style and the developer’s use of sales jargon like “Heirloom Community,” but the tactic, and that particular turn of phrase, comes from a long tradition of developers selling nostalgia. 

“Architecture is the tangible legacy of the people who settled here,” Greenwood said. “But nothing is settled in time. Everything is evolving and this is an example of that.”

While the historian takes a justifiably magnanimous position, others in the area and the wider region see their way of life broken down and repackaged as rides at a Hudson Valley themed amusement park they can’t afford to enter. As final approval draws near, only time will tell if this manufactured community will be an island unto itself or a real part of the fabric of Amenia and the Valley it’s trying so hard to recreate.

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Posted by Jamie Larson on 03/30/15 at 11:51 AM • Permalink