Few have attended Town of Monroe board meetings since the Covid-19 pandemic began, but on Tuesday evening, a public hearing for developer Neil Gold’s dinosaur park plan drew a crowd of about 160, according to Jennifer Schnaars, secretary to Town of Monroe Supervisor Tony Cardone.
Gold said the park would occupy 35 to 40 acres of leased property and include a learning center with 60 animatronic dinosaurs and educational interactive tents. He also showed a 15-minute video about the plan. The Town of Monroe has signed a lease that is contingent on two public open meetings allowing local residents a chance to speak.
Resistance has gathered on social media, resulting in a petition launched that was presented to the town board with over 650 signatures. A referendum has been proposed, and a suggestion to put the issue on a ballot arose at the meeting.
Gold listened patiently to those who spoke.
Concerns expressed included traffic, aesthetics and expectations that thousands of visitors will be drawn to the park.
“Tourism does have a cost: traffic, noise, pollution, wear and tear on roads and other public infrastructure, policing and safety, and an irreversible change to the character of our community,” said Monroe resident Maureen Richardson. She addressed the board: “How could you put a project of this magnitude in one of the highest tax paying residential zones and expect that no one would fear for their property value, for their peace, for their voice in a community, when you did this all without our consent?”
Mansion Ridge resident Gina Jacobson questioned why the dinosaur park should come to Monroe when Field Station Dinosaur Park in Leonia, N.J., which Gold has compared his park to, is only a 45 minute drive away.
“I’m not opposed to dinosaurs, some of my best friends are dinosaurs,” joked Monroe resident Ken McFarlin. “But what I am opposed to is a dinosaur park that is located in a residential area.”
Village of Harriman Mayor Lou Medina noted that park attendees would be driving directly through the Village of Harriman. “These roads were not designed, nor planned, to carry the volume of traffic that this project is proposing, and would change the character of these residential areas,” he said. “As a new mayor, I’ve come to realize that there are many responsibilities to our community, and as elected officials, it is not just fiscal responsibilities.”
Meanwhile, a less noisy faction sees the dinosaur park as a benefit to Monroe for recreation and revenue. Chambers of commerce and other business groups support the plan, but were rebuffed by residents who live near the proposed park site.
“Orange County government supports this project,” said Steve Gross, the county’s director of economic development. “We believe that it has many community benefits for the entire county, which are job creation, business opportunities . . . and we all know that sales tax from people coming in helps keep our local property taxes down.”
Amanda Dana, Orange County’s director of tourism and film, and president of Hudson Valley Tourism, also spoke in support of the park.
“Between the years of 1996 and 1999 I was sitting in this town board meeting listening to all of the folks complain about Mansion Ridge; the golf course, the homes, and they were really complaining about that because they thought it would be terrible for Monroe” said Dana. “Someone had mentioned that tourism has a cost, but no tourism has an even greater cost.”
President and CEO of Orange County Partnership, Maureen Halahan, said the park would draw 300,000 visitors annually. “It will create 130 new jobs, with an annual payroll with close to $4 million,” she said.
Halahan added that dinosaur park would bring in $3 million in annual sales tax. “The New York State Mid-Hudson Regional Economic Development Council fully endorses this project as regionally significant and has awarded funding through Empire State Development and New York Market Programs, that’s how badly the state wants this project to land in New York,” she said.
“And a multiplier will inject millions of dollars into the local economy by people staying in hotels, golfing...eating at restaurants, shopping at stores,” she said. Halahan also said that most of the 300,000 visitors would be school children arriving by bus.
The greater Monroe Chamber of Commerce has not made a statement in favor or against the dinosaur park.
Alex Rivera, a Mombasha Lake resident who said his home is a couple blocks away from the park, said he supports the town board and the park. “The kids will love it. I actually asked ten kids between nine and 12, and nine out of 10 said they would love it,” he said. “I don’t believe for a second that our board would undermine the Town of Monroe with this park.”
Another public meeting and environmental studies will be needed for the park proposal.
Later, Town of Monroe Supervisor Tony Cardone said, “There was an exchange of information. More information will be put out there when and if Neil Gold applies to the planning board. I don’t know his mindset. There’s a tendency to play on negatives. There were misleading comments.”