Town gets 500 acres in open space

The Journal News/March 7, 2004
By Jorge Fitz-Gibbon

Greenburgh -- Gov. George Pataki yesterday led a contingent of state, county and local officials to announce the $10.9 million purchase of the 200-acre Taxter Ridge property from the Unification Church, the largest acquisition of open space in Greenburgh history.

The deal, announced in a muddy, wooded section of the property in East Irvington, was the culmination of a three-year effort that included lobbying by a group of area citizens, the Committee to Preserve Taxter Ridge, that fought to preserve the land.

"I don't know if you always believed it was going to be done, but now it is done," Pataki told the group. "And we're not going to stop. We're going to continue to make Westchester and the state the focal point of smart growth. Not just where we talk about it, but where we do it."

Taxter Ridge will be jointly owned by the state, county and the town of Greenburgh, with each sharing the cost. Pataki said the state's share of the purchase was $3.6 million. Last month, the county Board of Legislators approved its part of the deal, while the Greenburgh Town Board did the same. The village of Tarrytown receives another 17 acres for $26,115.

The land will be operated by the town of Greenburgh.

"I think this property to Greenburgh is what Central Park is to New York City," said Greenburgh Supervisor Paul Feiner. "It's really the jewel of Greenburgh, and I know that for many, many years, future generations will appreciate the significance of this land."

The property, now known as the Taxter Ridge Park Preserve, links to other preserved lands to provide about 500 acres of open space, said Rose Harvey, senior vice president for The Trust for Public Land.

The trust negotiated the sale with the Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church. Harvey said the trust received "a donation" from the church for its efforts, but would not reveal the amount because she said it was confidential.

Not represented at yesterday's 11:15 a.m. press conference was the Unification Church. Harvey said church officials were closing on the deal even as the announcement was being made.

Taxter Ridge was part of the hundreds of acres owned by the church in Greenburgh. The Unification Church's Westchester holdings include the palatial Belvedere Estate in Tarrytown, Moon's onetime residence and thus the site of great spiritual significance to his followers.

But in recent years the church has turned its focus away from the Hudson Valley, relocating its headquarters to Washington, D.C., and putting nearly 300 acres on the market. The church has instead invested in a religious retreat in the Brazilian jungle.

For state, county and local leaders, it presented an opportunity to expand the region's existing parks and wooded preserves. The Taxter parcel is linked to the East Irvington Nature Preserve.

Westchester County Executive Andrew Spano said the new park is poised to link several area trailways and parkland, including the state's Old Croton Aqueduct Trailway, the county's RiverWalk and V.E. Macy Park, and the Greenburgh Town Nature Preserve.

Danny Gold, chairman of the Committee to Preserve Taxter Ridge, called it "the culmination of a three-year dream."

"These woodlands contain many species and a 175-year-old tree that we've been able to preserve," Gold said. "The citizens of our community will enjoy these woods, as will all the citizens of the state, the county and the town."

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