By SAM CAPUANO
I have listened to all the sounds of the woods for years…
-Hawkeye, speaking in James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans
Brookside Museum continues to be one of the jewels of this village for a number of reasons. It is the home to the Saratoga County Historical Society. There are also the numerous educational programs which have youngsters gathered out behind the Museum every autumn learning history in a way which no classroom can teach. Plus, it has the charm which can only be characteristic of a 200 year old building.
As many of you know, Museum officials are now fighting to keep this charm intact. They are upset at local developer Frank Rossi’s proposal to add six new buildings to the Mohican Hill Apartment complex on Fairgrounds Avenue. If the proposal is approved by the Village Board, and the additional apartment buildings are constructed, they will be right next to Brookside, and would change the atmosphere of its backyard.
As anyone who has ever been to one of the events behind Brookside can attest, it’s beautiful back there. Gardens, a wigwam, and woods, allow one to imagine what it was like 200 years ago when the building was first constructed as the Aldrich House. James Fenimore Cooper resided there for a bit, prior to writing The Last of the Mohicans. Hence the name of the apartment complex.
As Brookside Executive Director Joy Houle told me last week, “Brookside is opposed to Mr. Rossi’s proposed development of Mohican Hill because the extent to which he plans to change the landscape forever changes the historic setting.”
I took a walk back there a few days ago to see first hand how much it actually would change the setting. Short answer: it would totally alter it. Likely forever. Good bye, woods, good bye, hill.
To be sure, the woods and hill proposed to be developed are not owned by Brookside. Rossi is not looking to dig up Brookside’s backyard. And, there are some positives about the project. It would provide quality housing for those age 55 or older. Further, it would give the Village of Ballston Spa some sorely needed tax revenue.
Certainly, none of the above can be overlooked, especially the latter. This is a year in which Angelica has announced it will be closing its plant on Bath Street, taking a healthy chunk of tax dollars with it. Six new apartment buildings would be a nice way to recoup some of that.
The museum is aware of this as well. Brookside Board President Jeanne Obermayer told me last week, “While the Brookside Board of Trustees do not oppose development, we do oppose the impact this project, as proposed, would have on the historical setting of Brookside, and that of the Village itself. Currently, Brookside sits in essentially the same setting it did over 200 years ago. This setting is depicted on many postcards and prints of Ballston Spa – changing this setting changes not only Brookside, but the Village’s ambiance and historical appeal as well.”
What Brookside has offered up is a land swap with Rossi. This would allow him to build adjacent to another part of the Museum. Obermayer says the swap would ensure the integrity of the Museum’s setting, and could be mutually beneficial for Mr. Rossi, the Village and the Museum. Seems reasonable, right?
Rossi, at least at this point in his comments to the press, however, doesn’t seem interested. He told a reporter at the Planning Board Meeting last week he has the right to cut down the trees and take out the dirt. Yup, he sure does. He was also quoted calling the back of the Museum a “disgrace.”
OK, there goes any further efforts to sympathize with him. A disgrace? Please. Spend some time back there, friends. I defy you not to thoroughly enjoy yourself. The woods surrounding the back provide one with enjoyment, and serenity.
There is more than historical significance here, too. As my colleague Richard Hallett reported in last week’s Journal, there is also an issue of storm-water runoff from Mohican Hill. Houle says this has caused eroded soil and water to be deposited into Brookside’s parking lot for years.
The locals with whom I spoke around town this week seem to overwhelmingly support Brookside on this one. So do those commenting on a newspaper website. Hopefully some of these people will make those feelings known to the Village Board. The Board appears to be still weighing their options.
In the meantime, head on over to Brookside this Saturday for their Octoberfest and Silent Auction. The event starts at 6 pm. While you’re there, enjoy the beautiful setting, and woods surrounding the back of the old building. You may not have the pleasure too much longer.