A recent news article in the Catskill Daily Mail reported on a Durham Town Board meeting where a developer presented a controversial plan to build a new housing development in the hamlet of Cornwallville (“Community opposes Durham residential development,” by Melanie Lekocevic, Dec. 2.) As a longtime resident of Cornwallville, I attended the meeting along with many of my neighbors to express our opposition to the proposed project. I would like to explain my position.
Two months ago, Bosque Development, LLC purchased the largest untouched tract of land in the Cornwallville Historic District (approx. 95 acres) with the intent to subdivide. Bosque has now filed an application with the Town indicating their intention to build a private road running through the 95 acres, and 12 new houses plus a barn/residence.
Many Cornwallville residents are deeply concerned about the impact this development will have on our small community with respect to air and water quality, deforestation, traffic, rainwater runoff, wildlife, and septic/waste/watershed impact. The land in its current undeveloped state makes an invaluable contribution to the character of our hamlet: the viewshed, the scenic byway, the harmony of farmland/woodland with historic homes, and the undisturbed natural wildlife habitat of the area.
The 95 acres consists of woodland which has not been touched for 100 years, and is an essential habitat for the local wildlife and a key factor in the area’s ecosystem. The unnamed stream running through the property is mapped by the USGS, and flows into Thorp Creek, Catskill Creek, and ultimately into the Hudson River.
Our position is fully in line with the Town of Durham’s Comprehensive Plan which was adopted by the Town in June 2020 after two years of meetings, focus groups, online surveys, and other communications soliciting the views of Durham residents. The Comprehensive Plan embraces the rural nature of our community, expressly declaring in its “Visions and Goals” section:
“Durham’s renowned scenic beauty is the result of its combination of mountains, valleys, forests, meadows and creeks. Durham’s four hamlets (Durham, East Durham, Oak Hill and Cornwallville) are close enough to major cities to be convenient to both residents and visitors, yet far enough from them to ensure that the hamlets retain their unspoiled and historic charm.”
It has been suggested that the opposition to this proposed subdivision can be characterized as “weekenders vs. local people” or “Democrats vs. Republicans.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. As anyone driving through Cornwallville over the past couple months could easily see, the opposition to this project is both widespread and diverse, with “Preserve the 90 acres” signs posted right next to “Biden for President” and “Trump for President” signs in yard after yard throughout the hamlet. In fact, the opposition to the proposed subdivision reminds me of the opposition to the siting of a county landfill in Cornwallville 30 years ago. I was part of that fight, and I well remember that locals and second home owners worked hand-in-hand in a successful effort to block the landfill.
Nor is this a case of “new arrivals” in Cornwallville wanting to “shut the door” once they arrive. As anyone who lives here knows, new houses are built in Cornwallville all the time – one is being built right now on Cornwallville Road near the old Woodworth farm, another was built last year on Cornwallville Road near Rt. 23, and still another was built two years ago at Cornwallville and Moore Road. No one said a word about these houses. Why would we? People have a right to buy a piece of land and build themselves a home. The problem here is one of size and scale – a 12-house subdivision plunked down in the middle of Cornwallville will fundamentally change the hamlet.
Finally, the suggestion that this development will bring young adults and more jobs into our community is misguided. It is our understanding that Bosque wants to sell these houses for as much as $1 million each. To the (minimal) extent that they will not become second homes for the wealthy, it is highly unlikely that they’ll be owned by anyone who actually works in in the Town of Durham. This housing development may well lead to increased property values, which is great for people wishing to sell their homes and move out of Cornwallville, but it will only result in higher taxes for those who want to stay.
Whether the serious environmental problems facing the developer will ultimately doom this project – the presence of wetlands, the steep inclines, the failed perc tests – only time will tell. But make no mistake about it, a 12-house subdivision in the heart of Cornwallville will irrevocably change the character of this community, and not for the better.
Daniel Clifton is Secretary of Cornwallville Residents for Rural Preservation. He is also a member of the Durham Comprehensive Plan Implementation Committee, a member of the Board of the Durham Valley Land Trust, and a former member of the Town of Durham Historic Preservation Commission.