Idyllic town furious at developers’ plans to build ‘blue zone’ village

Idyllic town furious at developers’ plans to build ‘blue zone’ village

They’re seeing red — not blue.

A plan to turn a bucolic part of the Hudson Valley into a Blue Zone — the name given to places around the world known for longer and healthier lives — might sound like an easy win.

But residents in the town of Pawling, population 2,000, are fuming over plans to turn undeveloped farmland and hills into a massive, 600-acre luxury wellness retreat and housing community, inspired by “blue zones,” called Starkdale Park.

The project, which is being spearheaded by mega-developer and architect Jonathan Leitersdorf, founder of the Park Avenue real estate firm Savanna Partners, was unveiled at a town meeting in February.

A sign welcoming people to Pawling, NY

The residents of Pawling, a bucolic town of 2,000, are up in arms about a health-oriented resort inspired by the buzzy Blue Zones. Daniel Case/ Wikipedia

A cozy white building with an American flag in front, in the town of Pawling

Locals are concerned that the development will take away from their community’s small-town vibe. Daniel Case/ Wikipedia

Locals were incensed both by the presentation, led by local architect Michael McCormack, and a 23-page document that was shared to the Pawling town Facebook page soon after.

It detailed how Starkdale Park would “introduce unique programs with specialized techniques in the quest for longevity, similar to … Blue Zones,” which include Sardinia, Italy, and Okinawa, Japan.

“Blue Zone communities promote health and wellness through holistic lifestyle approaches, guiding community wellness,” the documented states, going on to list 10 principles for restoring longevity, including “sexuality,” “purpose” and “mentality.”

But locals don’t want to zone out.

Map of Pawling in New York state, with a marking of where the Starkdale Park development would be.

The proposed Starkdale Park development would be on a 600-acre parcel between Pawling and Dover.

Promotional art for

The Blue Zones concept has been so popular, it even spawned a Netflix documentary series. Netflix

“Taxes will go sky high, there will be more road noise, more population, prices will go up in the supermarket.” Pawling firefighter Robert Colon, 40, told The Post of the proposed development. “I’m terrified of how living here will change.”

Just over 70 miles from New York City and with a median household income of $86,000, Pawling boasts lakeside concerts in the summer and year-round rock ‘n’ roll at Daryl’s House, a restaurant and live music venue owned by onetime resident Daryl Hall, of Hall and Oates.

The main commercial strip includes a pub, bakeries and casual dining spots for a population which mixes blue collar locals, transplants from NYC and weekenders, some with sprawling, multimillion-dollar estates.

A folk-art looking painted turtle in Pawling

Folk art, like this painted turtle, is more in keeping with the existing Pawling vibe than the proposed Starkdale Park. Zandy Mangold

The homey commercial strip of Pawling, NY

Locals are happy with their commercial strip where the Corner Bakery reigns as a Pawling classic. Zandy Mangold

The Starkdale Park proposal outlines a hotel, “residences,” a new “village square” with retail, events and a community market and hiking trails and various other facilities for outdoor recreation. The number of new residents or visitors it would bring is not disclosed.

“The minute you arrive, your pulse goes down,” the document boasts. “We will bring a certain quality of life to our customers, a sustainable life.

“We are creating a Utopian village out of Live Layers full of endless experiences, which makes the community alive, exciting and full. This is our charter: science, music, spirituality, constantly curating and inventing very healthy routines, that stimulate you.”

On March 12, there will be a town meeting to discuss the project. At least one local who plans on attending does not expect it to be a quiet affair.

Map of proposed Starkdale Park development in Pawling, New York.

The Starkdale Park proposal outlines a hotel, residences, a new “village square,” hiking trails and various other facilities for outdoor recreation.

Jonathan Leitersdorf stands pointing at projection, giving a presentation.

Architect developer Jonathan Leitersdorf is behind the Starksdale Park plan.

“It will be a zoo,” Joann Bonavenia, 52, who arrived in Pawling with her family in 1975 from Long Island, told The Post. “There are a lot of people not happy with it.

“They will turn a farm setting into something that is busy and crazy with people from outside of the area. Right now the road [leading up to Starkdale] is a quiet road. Introduce a big resort and it’s not so quiet anymore.”

She also found the proposal’s mention of Blue Zones, which are typically discovered not created, confusing.

Michael Zachmann sits in a sports bar.

Michael Zachmann is concerned that Starkland Park will bring in something that is not for the community. Courtesy of Michael Zachmann

“Is it really a Blue Zone? Or are they just spinning it? We don’t know where this is headed. It’s not warranted in our town and it’s not needed. We already have places to live,” she said. “Why would we want to go over there? Nothing is making sense right now.”

A representative for Blue Zones, which were identified and coined by National Geographic fellow Dan Buettner, said it is in no way involved with Starkdale Park.

The official Blues Zones organization is, however, working with other “Project Communities” across the US to promote longevity. Last year, a top scientist questioned the data behind the initial Blues Zones concept, calling the idea “fraudulent.”

James Schmitt, Pawling town supervisor, stands on elaborate stairs.

James Schmitt, Pawling’s town supervisor, figures that the Starkdale Park people “want to take the temperature of the community.” Courtsey of James Schmitt

Leitersdorf and McCormack did not respond to requests for comment. Another architecture firm, New York City-based Hart Howerton, which is listed on the proposal, referred The Post to a public relations agency that did not respond.

James Schmitt, Pawling’s town supervisor, said that there are no public records showing the developers have bought the property and that no formal plans have been submitted.

“They want to see if the community wants them there,” Schmitt told The Post. “They want to take the temperature of the community before they do anything.”

Sign in Pawling, asking people to to not pet or feed horses

Some residents of Pawling are happy to be riding horses and living quiet lives. Zandy Mangold

The forecast is chilly.

“Starkdale Park will bring in something that is not for the community,” Michael Zachmann, 58, an electrician who has called Pawling home for nearly two decades, told The Post.

“It could be a real boon to the area. But it could be the death of the village.”

Colon agrees.

“I’d feel sad about losing the small town feel that we currently have. I have four kids and I want them to cherish that,” he said.


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