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Fire commissioners to meet with Rhinebeck supervisor

on Fri, 07/25/2014 - 11:25

The Rhinecliff Fire Commissioners will be holding their next meeting on Monday, July 28, 2014 at 7 p.m. at the Rhinecliff Firehouse.  Town Supervisor Elizabeth Spinzia will be there to discuss possible changes to the Rhinecliff Fire District with the fire Commissioners.  The changes could involve expanding the size of the district and raising rates for property owners. 

This is will be an informational meeting but not a public discussion. Rhinecliffers are encouraged to attend the meeting to learn how these changes may affect the hamlet and its surrounding fire district.

A Tale of Two Hamlets

on Mon, 06/30/2014 - 06:09
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity.…

The fireworks resume this week over the controversial plan to develop Carolyn Blackwood’s property at the top of Grinnell Street in Rhinecliff.  On Wednesday, the Zoning Board of Appeals will continue the public hearing on the application for an area variance, which is necessary since the house would be expanded to nearly 4,100 square feet, well in excess of the 2,300 square feet limit set by the zoning code for the hamlet.

Proponents of architectural designer Steve Mensch's plan for the property have taken to describing the hamlet with terms like “eclectic,” “diversity,” "quirky" and “maverick individualism.”  The idea is to make it seem that Rhinecliff isn’t really very “historic,” so it can easily accommodate a very large and very modern-looking new house.  It’s an interesting strategy but very ominous for the future of the hamlet.


Preserve and protect

There is some truth, of course, to seeing Rhinecliff as a mix of old and new.  Homeowners are always modifying their houses with additions and improvements, and there’s not much chance that the place is going to be frozen in time.  Rhinecliff is never going to be a “living history museum” like Old Sturbridge, Mass., and it’s not an authentic eighteenth-century New England village like Deerfield, Mass. 

But Rhinecliff is definitely a historic place.  In fact, as Cynthia Owen Philip puts it in Rhinecliff: A Hudson River History, the hamlet, "by Hudson River standards, is ancient.  Not only is it the oldest hamlet, but it preceded by many years the Town of Rhinebeck of which it is a part.”  Its origins go all the way back to 1686.  

The architecture and unique topography of Rhinecliff make it one of the great examples of nineteenth-century Hudson River vernacular, and the hamlet’s houses, modest though they may be, are important historic structures.  As Philip notes, Rhinecliff’s dwellings may not be comparable in grandeur to the estate mansions or some of the houses in Rhinebeck Village, but they are just as historic — and in some cases even more historic.  “Moreover,” writes Philip, “each is an authentic expression of the generations who have lived in them.”

Of the 160 or so houses in the Rhinecliff Overlay District — the hamlet and the gateway along Rhinecliff Road — nearly one hundred were built before 1900.  One of the criteria for being listed on the National Register of Historic Places is that a property be at least fifty years old.  All but a dozen houses in Rhinecliff satisfy this criterion.  (A list and map of the houses in the district are here.)

Rhinecliff is also one of the contributing hamlets to the Hudson River Historic District, which is listed on the National Register as a National Historic Landmark District.  Most of the houses in the hamlet are thus contributing structures to the National Register.

In the section on the Rhinecliff Overlay District in the Rhinebeck Zoning Code, the term “historic” appears a couple of dozen times in the space of just a few pages.  Many people worked for nearly a decade writing the Comprehensive Plan and the Zoning Code, and when it comes to Rhinecliff, their message is clear: preserve and protect the hamlet’s historic character and make sure that everything that gets built here, whether it’s a new house or a simple addition, is “in harmony,” “sympathetic,” “consistent,” and respectful of “the architectural character and fabric.”


Welcome to Eclectic Rhinecliff

Steve Mensch has proposed a radical redevelopment of the Blackwood property at the top of Grinnell Street.  He calls his scheme “A Modern Pavilion in a Hidden Garden.”  The pavilion is a 1,100 square-foot glass box house with a flat roof, some stucco walls, and lots of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over the river.  The pavilion is clearly intended to look and feel modern, one of the things Mrs. Blackwood was looking for in her new home.  

Around the pavilion are a lot of landscaping — the hidden garden — and a large terrace.  The addition also includes a lower level of about 2,500 square feet, which serves as a platform for the pavilion, the terrace, and a restoration of the original 1860 house, as well as the passageway connecting the old house and new pavilion.

In order to provide Mrs. Blackwood with some privacy — and people who live in glass houses do need their privacy — Mr. Mensch's plans call for some “stacked landscaping” and a hedgerow that's 75 feet long and 9 or 10 feet high.  The hedge won’t just provide privacy, however.  It will also block a beautiful view of the river for everyone else.  (There's more on the proposal here.)

When Mr. Mensch gave his presentation about the Blackwood proposal to the Rhinebeck Planning Board back on April 7, he had to convince the Board that his modern glass box would not be an unwelcome intrusion in the hamlet.  That wasn’t easy.  When someone asked him if he couldn’t leave out the hedgerow in order to preserve the view, Mr. Mensch said this: “Without the hedge, the scheme would become: a modern pavilion on Grinnell Street….  It would make no sense....  From the street, the pavilion would look isolated, jarringly out of place, and arbitrary.”

Hamlet Yard & Book Sale

on Sat, 06/21/2014 - 10:57

Rhinecliff Hamlet-Wide Yard Sale and Morton Book Sale & Electronics Sale

June 28 at 9 a.m.  The event is rain or shine.

Morton Memorial Library, 82 Kelly St., Rhinecliff, and other locations throughout the hamlet

Signs will be up and maps will be available. More than 15 will be selling a wide variety of treasures. Park legally where you can.

At Morton, there will be blow-out book sale. Fill a bag for only $3.

Used computers and other electronics will be for sale by Morton’s tech guru. Some are free — while supplies last! Apple laptops, Apple desktops, Apple monitors, PC laptops, PC desktops, PC monitors, printers, computer speakers, wireless keyboard and mouse, IPhones, IPod speakers, wireless routers, cordless phones, Kindle, Nook and more.

Sales at Morton benefit the library.

CONTACT: Visit or call (845) 876-2903

ZBA Meeting on Blackwood proposal pushed back to July 2

on Thu, 06/12/2014 - 15:28

The Rhinebeck Zoning Board of Appeals has changed the date for the continuation of the Public Hearing about the Blackwood proposal yet again.  The ZBA had originally set the hearing for July 2.   Then it changed the date to June 18.  Now it’s back on for July 2, at 7:35 at Rhinebeck Town Hall.  We’ll keep you posted on any new developments.  The Public Hearing Notice for the July 2nd meeting is here.

Zoning Board moves public hearing on Blackwood proposal to June 18

on Wed, 06/11/2014 - 11:38

[PLEASE NOTE: Afther the following article was posted, the ZBA meeting was re-scheduled yet again; it's now back on for July 2, as originally scheduled.  More here.]

The Rhinebeck Zoning Board of Appeals will continue the Public Hearing on Carolyn Blackwood’s application for an area variance at its next regularly scheduled meeting on June 18, starting at 7:35.  The Public Hearing Notice is here.

The continuation of the public hearing phase of the process had previously been scheduled for July 2, as per the Board’s decision at its meeting on June 4.  Now the hearing has been moved up to June 18.  The reason for the change is a little complicated, and key events are happening behind the scenes, but here’s what we know.

Architect Steve Mensch has proposed a significant change to the Blackwood property on Grinnell Street, at the top of the hill, on the cliff over the river. It features a “modern pavilion in a hidden garden,” i.e., an 1,100 square-foot glass house with a large terrace, both screened from the street by a long, tall hedgerow that would block a portion of the view of the Hudson River and Catskills for neighbors and anyone walking or driving by on Grinnell.

The plan also includes a restoration of the original part of the 1860 house and a large lower level, which would provide the connection between the old house and the new pavilion.

Waterfront Day June 14th

on Mon, 06/09/2014 - 03:03

The annual Rhinecliff Waterfront Day will be Saturday June 14th. Enjoy  Live music, food, games, face painting, bouncy house, clown, raffle prizes, a pie eating contest and so much more. It's good for the whole family.  11am–5pm rain or shine.

ZBA review of Blackwood proposal continues on June 4

on Tue, 06/03/2014 - 10:03

We had previously reported that the meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals scheduled for June 4 was canceled, but now it's back on.  One of the items on the agenda is the proposal to develop the Blackwood property at the top of Grinnell Street.  The agenda for the ZBA meeting is here.  The discussion of the Blackwood application is set for 7:50. 

The ZBA will be continuing its review of Carolyn Blackwood's application for an area variance permitting her to build an addition to her home and studio that would bring the total square footage to 4,096, considerably more than the 2,300 square feet permitted by the zoning for the Rhinecliff Overlay (Rc-O) district.

The size of the proposed residence was one of the main subjects discussed at yesterday's meeting of the Planning Board, where the public hearing on the Blackwood proposal continued.  The session lasted about an hour.  Steve Mensch, the project architect, went over the highlights of the amended application, which included eliminating the apartment over the garage (to avoid blocking the view for the neighbor) and promising to keep the north lot open in perpetuity through an easement.  

Planning Board continues review of Blackwood proposal

on Wed, 05/28/2014 - 06:57
Monday, June 2, 6:30
Rhinebeck Town Hall

On Monday, June 2, the Planning Board will resume its review of the proposal to develop the Blackwood property at 64 Grinnell Street.   A related meeting of the Zoning Board of Appeals originally scheduled for June 4 has been cancelled.  For more about the Blackwood proposal, see this previous post.

The Planning Board meeting begins at 6:30 in Town Hall.  The agenda says that the appllicant will present an amended application with modifications of the proposal that were discussed at the meeting on May 19.  This will be the fourth discussion of the proposal, following previous discussions on April 7, April 22, May 5 and May 19.  The materials for the amended application are here.

The Planning Board is reviewing the applicant's revised plan to consolidate three parcels into a single parcel totaling 0.88 acre, and to expand the existing dwelling to 4096 square feet.  The property is officially in the Rhinecliff Hamlet (Rc-H) and Rhinecliff Overlay (Rc-O) Districts of the zoning code, as well as the Town's Local Waterfront Revitalization Area (LWRA) and the Hudson River National Historic Landmarks District.


Plan for large ultramodern residence on the river stirs controversy

on Wed, 05/28/2014 - 06:34

A proposal to build a large contemporary residence on Grinnell Street overlooking the Hudson is generating a lot of controversy in Rhinecliff. 

Several Rhinecliff residents have spoken out against the proposal, objecting to the massive size of the proposed residence, its ultramodern style, and the way it blocks the neighbors' and community's views of the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains. Other Rhinecliffers have defended the proposal, arguing that it will be a beautiful addition to the hamlet and that it blends the historic and the modern in a creative way.  

The matter is currently before both the Rhinebeck Planning Board and Zoning Board of Appeals, and it's on the agenda for the next meeting of the Planning Board on June 2.

The property, which consists of three contiguous lots at 64 Grinnell, was purchased by Carolyn Blackwood in 2006.  The middle lot has a house built in 1860, which was modified and expanded in 1997.  There's a garage on the south lot and an open yard on the north lot.  The whole property has a great view of the Hudson, which is shared by everyone who walks or drives by.

According to a letter she wrote the Planning Board in February 2014, Blackwood finds the existing house to be “ruined and ugly."  She loves the site, though, and bought the property with the intention of building something new.  

Blackwood also says the house is too small for her needs.  In her application to the Zoning Board for an area variance, which would allow her to build a house much larger than permitted by Rhinecliff zoning, Blackwood provides the following explanation for why she cannot comply with the area requirements of the law: "I am a photographer and a film producer.  I work at home and, in addition to the usual family living space, require studio and archive space, a viewing room, and room to accommodate guests and professional collaborators, who sometime stay with me for extended periods of time.”

Town Board seeks grant to sewer the hamlet

on Mon, 05/26/2014 - 12:46

For the past several months, the Rhinebeck Town Board has been moving forward on plans to seek a grant to develop a storm-and-wastewater collection and treatment system for the hamlet of Rhinecliff.

On November 12, 2013, the Town Board passed a resolution establishing an agreement with grant writer Victor Cornelius that authorizies him to seek funding for a storm water sewer and wastewater system in Rhinecliff.  The money would come from funds being made available to communities under the Sandy relief provided by federal and state governments.

The next step in the process will be for Mr. Cornelius to submit a Letter of Intent describing the project in relatively general terms.  If it's approved, the next step would be a more detailed proposal.

The fact that a large project like this was on the agenda at the November 12 meeting probably went unnoticed by most Rhinecliff residents, and only three of them spoke at the meeting.  Richard Kopyscianski was in support, while Matt Rosenberg and Andrew Sheppard raised numerous concerns.

At a subsequent meeting of the Town Board on March 24, Rosenberg gave a presentation about the history of the wastewater situation in the hamlet.  (You can find his report here.)  The presentation had two main themes: The problem is not very severe, and the costs of a wastewater system are prohibitive. 

The number of properties where the septic system may be in violation has always been a matter of conjecture.