The Recorder – Spirit Fire Retreat Center contests Leyden Planning Board comments on financial contributions
LEYDEN — Spirit Fire Retreat Center has contested comments made during a recent Planning Board meeting pertaining to the nonprofit’s history of financial contributions to the town, which one board member had described as “not very much money” for a $1.3 million property.
During the July 14 Planning Board meeting that focused on another nonprofit called Kibilio moving to town, alternate member Peter Tusinski said the town had a “pretty bad experience with Spirit Fire.” The nonprofit at 407 West Leyden Road has contributed to Leyden through a payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) agreement. Planning Board members said they thought Spirit Fire had contributed less than $2,000 over a long period of time.
However, Steve Kramer, president of Spirit Fire’s board of directors, has contested this figure. Speaking by phone on Wednesday, Planning Board Chair Jim Brodeur said he recalled Planning Board members mentioning the figure in their July 14 discussion, but could not recall where the amount had been cited from.
According to Kramer, he took over management of the center seven years ago and in that time Spirit Fire has contributed a total of $13,931 to Leyden through the PILOT agreement and other charitable donations to the Fire Department and Leyden Life newsletter. He broke down the payments as follows:
■2015: $1,200 payment and $510 charitable donations
■2016: $1,200 payment and $596 charitable donation
■2017: $1,400 payment and $490 charitable donation
■2018: $1,500 payment and $595 charitable donation
■2019: $2,500 payment and $820 charitable donation
■2020: $1,500 payment and $120 charitable donation
■2021: $1,500 payment
“As we became more profitable, we contributed more to the town of Leyden,” Kramer said. “And even during the pandemic when we saw our business completely wiped out, we contributed to the town of Leyden. What’s more, the year we decided to put the center on the market and remained closed due to the pandemic, we paid the town of Leyden in lieu of property tax.”
In the past seven years, Spirit Fire has also paid $47,201.01 to the state, which Kramer said “indirectly benefits the town of Leyden.” He said the nonprofit also supported the town occupancy tax that was approved in 2019, and for which it paid $984.06 last year.
“That number would have grown substantially had we not been forced to close due to the pandemic,” Kramer said.
Beyond these financial contributions, Kramer said the retreat center has offered free classes and access to the trail system. Additionally, he noted that Spirit Fire hired Leyden residents for landscaping, forest management and snow removal; purchases food from Leyden-owned businesses like Sweet Morning Farm; and chose a Leyden resident as the contractor for a large building project in 2018.
“This amounts to thousands upon thousands of dollars, and we consciously did this with community in mind,” Kramer said.
Kramer said he wanted to speak up following the July 14 Planning Board meeting as this was not the first time Spirit Fire was brought into conversations when other nonprofits have looked to move into town. He referenced a Planning Board public hearing process in 2019 when Odyssey Behavioral Healthcare wanted to establish the Greenfield Recovery Center at 63 North County Road, the previous home of Angel’s Rest retreat center. (The recovery center was scheduled to open in February 2020 before the COVID-19 pandemic began. It has since closed and the property is up for sale.)
Despite the 2019 public hearing process involving another organization and property, Spirit Fire was “repeatedly brought into the picture,” Kramer said, and he felt some comments during this public hearing misrepresented and negatively reflected the non-profit retreat center. While three current members of the Planning Board held seats during this 2019 process, Brodeur and member Emily Yazwinski had yet to be elected.
Kramer also questioned Planning Board members’ assessment of Spirit Fire’s contributions based on the current value of the property. He said the property was “not worth that much even two years ago,” as the nonprofit has invested nearly “half a million dollars” in property renovations in recent years, including construction of a new building that Spirit Fire has been unable to use due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Now, Kramer said Spirit Fire is looking to sell the property at 407 West Leyden Road to Kibilio, a nonprofit “rooted in Black and queer land sovereignty,” after the COVID-19 pandemic made it increasingly difficult to conduct business because the retreat center was subject to the health safety restrictions required of hotels, restaurants and gathering spaces. After a sale goes through, Kramer said the nonprofit will rent space to host retreats as needed while continuing to serve its mission.
Zack DeLuca can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-930-4579.