Foundation envisions decaying mansion as climate change retreats

Deteriorating Elda Castle, built by Abercrombie & Fitch founder David Abercrombie in 1927, on Croton Dam Road in New Castle, is being rehabilitated and turned into a retreat for climatologists.

A foundation dedicated to conserving natural resources has submitted a concept plan to the town of New Castle to redevelop a deteriorated stone mansion to serve as a retreat for climate change scientists.

The Volgenau Foundation hopes to convert the empty 95-year-old Elda Castle into a center for climate action. It was built by Abercrombie & Fitch founder David Abercrombie and his wife and served for a time as the family home.

According to preliminary plans, the structure on the 50-acre property at 249 Croton Dam Rd. would attract up to 25 leading scientists and other experts at a time for three- to five-day conferences to study, discuss and discuss. tackling issues related to climate change.

Volgenau Foundation executive director Andi Pearl said the rationale for choosing the site was to bring together scientists, policy makers and others in a bucolic environment that would help encourage further study, appreciation and attention to the issue as well as results.

“Our concept here is that there is growing evidence that coming together in a thoughtful retreat, in special places like this, can foster a deeper connection among its participants,” said Pearl, who has noted that the foundation operates primarily to provide grants to organizations.

In a virtual meeting of the New Castle Planning Board last month, plaintiff’s attorney David Steinmetz said the Volgenau Foundation needed a special permit to allow what is considered institutional use in an area two-acre residential.

Foundation representatives and professionals met with city staff in June to review their initial plans and gauge the response from officials.

“This is a very unique, interesting app and I have to tell you, a really cutting edge, fun app that we’re all very proud of – and I should say, an anticipated app,” Steinmetz said.

Plans would restore Elda Castle to retain its 1920s character while it would be fitted with renewable energy features, said Matthew Krissel, the project’s architect. It would contain meeting rooms and a dining hall, he said.

To help make the site fit for use, the applicant plans to build about 25 “micro cabins”, small units of no more than about 300 square feet each that would serve as accommodation for visitors to the center, a- he declared. Each cabin would contain a bed, a desk and a bathroom.

The landscape will be maintained and the cabins will be designed and built to standards compatible with sustainability, all of which are part of the center’s mission, Krissel said. It would be part of a stewardship plan to maintain a mature ecosystem, reduce impervious surfaces and protect natural resources, he said.

“It’s a large, quiet, reflective space and maintaining an atmosphere is a big part of that design,” Krissel said.

Irene Krarups, executive director of the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, an organization that advocates for stronger environmental research, told the Planning Board that the site is expected to host about 40 multi-day retreats a year, almost all weekdays. . There would be another 15 to 25 one-day conferences and other events involving local or regional conservation groups, she said.

There would be minimal additional traffic on Croton Dam Road and Allapartus Road along the east side of the plot, Krarups said, as it is expected that once there, retreat participants will stay on the property most of the time. time. There might be a trip for dinner at an area restaurant during their stay, but there would be no daily check-in and check-out of attendees, she said.

Krarups added that many hotels and conference centers typically don’t book for gatherings of this size.

“We’re trying to get people to really focus on this place, and there aren’t a lot of hotels that will suit this group and what they need to accomplish, this kind of deep dive in a quiet setting and scenic, and where there’s no one else there,” Krarups said.

Although the Planning Board did not give specific details of the proposal, members said it would be an exceptional use of the site. Board Chairman Robert Kirkwood called it an “extraordinarily exciting project”. A multitude of planning-related questions will be asked if a formal request is submitted.

“I think it’s a great use of the property,” Kirkwood said. “I don’t anticipate, especially with the sensitivity that you used with your design teams, I don’t anticipate any type of problem.”

A key issue to be resolved is water and sanitary sewer service options for the property, including exploring entry into a city water district or finding private wells and a on-site sewage treatment facility.

Steinmetz said the Volegenau Foundation would submit a request to the city and return to council.

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