NORTH HUDSON — Legal teams moved their metaphorical chess pieces into place over the battle for Frontier Town’s future June 13 when William Russell, an attorney for Keeseville-based businessman George Moore, filed suit against Essex County and the town of North Hudson in an attempt to annul the board of supervisor’s decision to reject Moore’s bid to purchase the former theme park at a tax auction earlier this year.
While county and town officials were tight-lipped over the pending litigation, a development that is expected to stall transfer of the property until at least August when the case sees a preliminary hearing in State Supreme Court, residents of North Hudson have started to come forward in support of Town Supervisor Ronald Moore’s decision to acquire the property, an effort that he has argued will bolster the town’s sagging economic prospects.
Dan Snyder, a local resident who works across a variety of creative mediums, called the A-Frame, the landmark structure anchoring the property that George Moore acquired at a former tax sale, an important part of Adirondack history and tied its potential renewal to a larger symbolic movement sweeping the region.
“North Hudson is a classic example of a town dying,” he said. “It’s a classic example of what’s happening throughout the Adirondacks.”
Snyder said it was hard for him to view George Moore’s intentions as sincere when it came to his purchase of what remained of the wild west theme park, a popular regional destination that was shuttered in the late-1990s, and his stated intention to use the parcels as a springboard for economic renewal.
Example A, said Snyder, was the A-Frame.
“Eight years ago, it was in a lot better shape than it is now,” he said. “Mr. Moore bought it and put it up for sale, and the property has remained that way ever since. He hasn’t done anything with it, nothing.”
Snyder said under the town’s stewardship, the now-disputed acreage would have a better chance of being utilized to jumpstart the town, 90 percent of which is constituted by state-owned land that eternally hamstrings development.
The North Hudson leader has told constituents and his colleagues at the board of supervisors that he hopes to revamp the land as a node for increased outdoor recreation, the opportunities of which are predicted to multiply with the anticipation of the addition of the Boreas tract to the state’s holdings in the near future.
On Wednesday, June 18, the DEC released a draft management plan for the Essex Chain Lakes Management Complex and the connector trail plan that would link Newcomb, Minerva and North Hudson, including a bridge to be built at the outlet of Palmer Pond.
The public has until July 18 to chime in with their thoughts.
“At its peak, Frontier Town not only contributed thousand upon thousands in tax revenue, but provided jobs to countless teens and adults, not only in North Hudson, but surrounding communities in Schroon Lake and Moriah,” Ronald Moore told the Valley News in an interview on Monday. “I’m not saying we will ever get back to that level of employment, but whatever we get to is better than nothing.”
Moore said up until last year, the town gave up hoping that an opportunity would present itself that would allow them to dig themselves out of the hole.
“But it did,” he said. “I think the private sector had their chance and failed us miserably. We should at least try to do something to improve our chances for business growth and economic recovery. I believe we can do better, and that’s why I have asked for the opportunity to try through this acquisition.”
George Moore said he would have developed the property sooner but was prohibited from doing so because he did not own all of the parcels that constituted the once-unified park.
Snyder said that while he understands the other side of the argument — that the county’s decision to award the property to the government despite a private citizen offering a higher price undermines free market principles — he said that George Moore, who is 87 and lives in Keeseville, has simply dropped the ball.
“He’s squashing us, the rest of the town,” Snyder said. “We’re losing a lot more money — we’re losing our history. It’s a significant property that has cultural value, and he’s let that go to the point that it’s got to be condemned. This town is going to die unless something happens.”
Doreen Ossenkop, co-owner of the Adirondack Buffalo Company, a farm located down Blue Ridge Road from the disputed property, expressed similar sentiments.
“The first thing you see is a dilapidated structure and weeds in the building,” she said. “It’s a bad advertisement for the community and does nothing good for the town.”
Ossenkop called the A-Frame an “albatross around the town’s neck” and expressed wishes for a business that would generate revenue for the community. Newcomers, she said, would help the folks that are already here.
“I believe if the town got the property, they would do something with it,” she said. “They would make sure that any business that comes in would help the town. A real businessman wouldn’t let it go downhill — no good businessman would let anything they own fall apart.”
‘THE START OF SOMETHING GOOD’
Dave Tart, a retired chemistry teacher, has hunted in North Hudson since 1958 and has been a full-time resident for 14 years.
“This used to be a thriving place,” he said. “It started downhill when I got here.”
Tart said the recent purchase of the gas station by a Schroon Lake operator is “the start of something good” and hopes it will act as a catalyst.
“But the other buildings are all in pretty bad shape,” he said. “People who are buying through these tax sales with the hopes of making a lot money. And I really do believe that George Moore fits into that category. It’s deteriorating bad and starting to fall apart — just look at what he’s trying to sell it for.”
A website maintained by Glebus Realty lists the A-Frame property at 49.6 acres with a sales price at $549,000, down from $685,000.
Tart said towns have the right to shape development in their communities.
“We don’t really have zoning laws here,” he said. “If there’s something bad, the town has the right to do something about it.”
Ang Nolan, who also lives in North Hudson, supports the businessman because she thinks he would be in a better position to clean up the property than the town should the situation present itself.
“Who’s going to clean up the asbestos if they find it in there?” she asked. “George has the equipment to do it. And I don’t want my taxes to go up, either.”
Tart said that while the county should have acted sooner in ensuring the property did not fall into decay, that does not negate their legal right to reject the bid, the lynchpin that both sides are using as the basis of their legal cases.
“There has to be a distinction between government use versus speculation,” said Russell, citing North Hudson’s proposed agreement to kick one-third of the sales proceedings over $60,000 to the county. “North Hudson is using it for speculation.”
“I’ve heard so many complaints over the years,” Ossenkop said. “This town is dying. We need to provide viable businesses so these kids don’t have any choice but to move away. We have to do whatever to make sure there are jobs.”