Town of Shawangunk — Watchtower Farms wants to add millions of dollars worth of living, parking and support space to its massive complex on Red Mills Road.
The Jehovah's Witness organization has filed preliminary paperwork with the town of Shawangunk Planning Board. The town wants to be the lead agency on the environmental review of the proposal. The county Planning Board is review that designation at its meeting next week.
Watchtower Farms wants to add 300 living units, a 400-space parking garage and a three-story building for recreation and equipment. It also wants to add to the existing dining room, laundry and dry cleaning facilities, according to the documents.
The expansion, if approved, will not take any of the land out of current agricultural use or take land off the existing tax roll, according to Troy Snyder. He is part of the management team at the farm. This expansion would not impact the school district.
"Some of the residence housing was built in the 60's and 70's, much of it in dormitory style. We are trying to upgrade the living quarters. It's a quality of life issue," he said. The parking and support services go along with that work.
The work would begin next year or perhaps even later. "We haven't gotten to that stage at this point," he said. Snyder did not have an cost estimate yet.
The farm is exempt from property taxes, according to town officials. If the property was taxed, the bill would be about $2 million.
On the other hand, "You can't get better neighbors," said Shawangunk Assessor Curt Schoeberl. Watchtower has helped the town build a park and rail trail. When winds downed trees all over town, Watchtower sprung into action with its equipment and people to help, Schoeberl said.
Such religious and other groups are under heightened scrutiny from town officials. A recent court ruling allows governments to reject the property tax exemptions in some cases. Assessors will be taking another look at some organizations as a result, Schoeberl said.
This is a perfect example of them having a double standard: one for them, one for the rank and file. Jehovah's Witnesses have for decades, been told not to do every day normal things, such as getting a decent education, buying a home, having children or saving for retirement. This was all said because 'The End' was right around the corner and to make any kind of long term plans was viewed as being 'spiritually weak' or 'lacking in faith', no matter how much you might believe this was 'the Truth'. Yet at the same time they're telling others not to make long term plans in this 'System of Things', they're doing exactly that. If they truly believed that the Great Tribulation was imminent, they most certainly would not be making plans like this, plain and simple, regardless of how practical a move it is.