BALLSTON – Town Supervisor Tim Szczepaniak delivered the second annual State of the Town Address Thursday, highlighting the progress and accomplishments made by the town last year and outlining plans for 2017. [Read more…]
BALLSTON – The town’s Clear Water Committee issued recommendations this week including “Move forward with centralized sewers for Ballston Lake and Buell Heights.” [Read more…]
Szczepaniak and Goslin question need for FLPP
BALLSTON — Since its inception in 2009, the Ballston Farmland Preservation & Protection Committee (FLPP) had a clear mission: preserve farmland as set forth in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan. [Read more…]
BALLSTON – What constitutes “forever wild” and what constitutes farmland versus open space? These are questions the Town of Ballston has been struggling to answer ever since Frank Schidzick left approximately $500,000 to the town in 2010. His only request was that the money be used to buy land for a town park and that it be kept “forever wild”.
This struggle is represented on two sides: the Town Board trying to establish a park and conform with Schidzick’s request and farmers in the community who want to see the land the town is considering to purchase for the proposed Anchor Diamond Park kept as farmland.
The struggle over the proposed park came to a head at the Aug. 27 town board meeting when a letter from the trustees of the Schidzick estate indicated they were no longer interested in using the land the town has been trying to purchase since 2010.
The land, owned by Jan Lange and located at 365 Middleline Road, is in an agriculture district and was until recently run as a farm.
A recent letter from the Department of Agriculture of Markets indicated that the town could purchase Lange’s land in part because Section 305(4) of the law states in part that any local government which intends to acquire land within a state-certified agriculture district in excess of one acre on an actively operated farm is required to file a preliminary and final notice of intent with the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets and with the County Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board to assure that the action proposed minimizes or avoids adverse impacts on agriculture in order to sustain a viable farm enterprise within an agriculture district.
Currently, the town is moving forward with plans to develop Anchor Diamond Park on the Lange property that the town’s Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee considers “prime farmland”.
Also important to the committee is making the protection of prime farmland within the Agriculture District a priority. This is especially important when balancing conflicting interests such as locating transportation, utility facilities and even parks.
Rob Holzman, formerly of Elan, the consulting firm working with the committee, had in April estimated that there are more than 90 acres of high-quality agriculture soil on the Lange property which would be lost if the park is developed.
“This strategy that we are developing right now is going to be so vitally important to educate the general public,” he said at the time. “I’m one of those people who was not paying attention to what was going in and what was there.”
“Most people don’t even realize just how good the soil is out there,” Holzman said. “That’s a very good example of how the farmland in the Town of Ballston is disappearing,” he said.
The plans to purchase the land for the park was dealt a severe blow at the Aug. 27 Town Board meeting.
Larry Grasso, one of the trustees for the Frank Schidzick estate, sent a letter to Judge Richard Kupferman from the Saratoga County Surrogate Court, who is overseeing the proceedings.
In the letter, Grasso indicated that after visiting the Lange property, as well as two other properties the town had considered as possible locations for the town park, determined that the properties are mainly open farm land and each have a number of acres of wetlands.
“Since each has been farmed, we have concerns of environmental issues from pesticides and farming operations,” the letter read in part. “Our initial investigation is that all are overpriced and if developable are beyond the intent to be used for a “forever wild” park.”
The letter suggested that the town board explore other properties as possible sites for the park, including the Hawkwood property, which was found by the Farmland Protection and Preservation Committee over a year ago as possible land to purchase for protection.
The property is located off Route 50 and according to Grasso is the only property that meets the standard of the “forever wild” mission. It is wooded with minimal wetlands and has a good access road from parking.
“If the town is interested in the Hawkwood property, we can move ahead with the purchase process immediately,” read the letter. “At this point, we have no interest in the Lange property or any of the other suggested lands. In our opinion they do not meet the standards set by Mr. Schidzick to which as trustees we are obligated to adhere.”
Councilman Bill Goslin indicated his displeasure over the contents of the letter and feels that the trustees of the estate have been negatively influenced.
“I believe that there are people in the town who have tried to negatively influence the estate,” Goslin said. “We got an order from the court six weeks ago to conduct an environmental assessment and now we’re hearing from the estate that property was not acceptable, whereas for the past two years that property has been acceptable by all parties.”
Goslin said the letter was a shock to the town and they would now need to consider their next steps.
“The next step is to go back to the court and determine where we are,” Goslin said. “My concern is that we’re really delaying any park here and I’m very disappointed that should it be decided in favor of the trustees, we would essentially have to start again.”
Goslin also indicated concern over the possible purchase of the Hawkwood property.
“The town has been trying to talk with those people for the past year and that property has not been offered to the town,” Goslin said.
Supervisor Patti Southworth disagreed with Goslin and said an offer has been made and was presented to the town by resident Don Rhodes, a friend of the family who owns Hawkwood. That offer for 275 acres for $525,000.
Southworth is disappointed that the town is not exploring every property being offered, including Hawkwood.
“Why can’t we accept this property,” asked Southworth. “Is it not an equally wonderful gift and treasure and legacy for Mr. Schidzick?”
Southworth said whatever happens, she is doing all she can to make sure everything is in place, whatever the decision of the judge.
“We’re going to move forward with the environmental report on the Lange property and it will be up to the judge to decide where it goes from here,” Southworth said. “This is in honor of Mr. Schidzick, and by no means are we honoring him.”
The next town board meeting will be Sept. 12 and the board will discuss what steps to take next.
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Anchor Diamond Park to occupy 100 acres of Lang Farm; Southworth voices opposition
BY KEVIN J. ROGERS
By a 3-2 vote, the Ballston town board has chosen the biggest of four possible options for developing a park on Middleline Road, made possible by the bequest of the late Frank Schidzick. The decision means the park, to be named Anchor Diamond Park in honor of Schidzick’s former business, would occupy 100 acres of the Lang property rather than the 49 acres the town board had decided upon last year.
Supervisor Patti Southworth was opposed to the larger option. “As much as I don’t like it, we live by majority rule,” she said. “I just think it (the smaller park) makes more fiscal sense.”
Schidzick bequeathed an estimated $900,000 to the town for the development of a passive recreation park on his passing over a decade ago. The money has been tied up in probate since then, but the issues were recently settled, freeing up the funds.
Last year the town board requested the Schidzick estate purchase 49 acres of the Lang property for the town. The estimated cost of purchasing the land and developing it into a park of that size is around $441,000.
Now that the estate has settled the town has the opportunity to buy the land on its own. Choosing the 100 acre option means an expense for purchase and development of an estimated $701,310, according to town Parks and Recreation Committee documents. If the bequest turns out to be for the full $900,000, that would leave $198,690 for ongoing maintenance.
Choosing the 49 acre option would have meant an initial outlay of $441,210, with $458,790 left over for maintenance. Annual maintenance costs are estimated by the Parks and Recreation Committee to be $21,335 regardless of the size of the park.
By choosing the largest option the board reduced the per-acre asking price for the property from $7,142.86 to a flat $6,000.
Southworth made it clear her opposition was to the expense of the park, not to the park itself. “It’s going to use up at least two-thirds of the funds,” she said. “And we don’t even know exactly how much it’s going to be yet. The money isn’t in the bank.”
Southworth is concerned the town will need to either dip into other funds to maintain the park or institute a town tax to pay for it. “We don’t have a town tax or highway tax,” she said. “We’ve cut the highway department budget every year. There are infrastructure stresses that need to be addressed. Nobody is thinking long term, how we are going to support the program long term.”
Town councilman Tim Szczepaniak has offered the formation of a non-profit organization or the use of the $1,000 parks and recreation fee the town charges on new building permits as alternative means of funding the maintenance of the park. But Southworth pointed out neither is a guaranteed source of funds, and the building permit fee monies are supposed to be used for all town recreation projects, not earmarked simply for the park.
“We have a trail project that’s making some progress,” she said, “that’s going to cost around a quarter of a million dollars.” The project would better connect the town to the village of Ballston Spa, she said.
“We’re trying to make ourselves a contiguous village,” she said, “a town that’s united.”
A final concern is the ultimate nature of the site. Schidzick’s bequest was for a passive recreation park. But there is no language mandating the park be forever wild, she said, and Southworth thinks there is nothing to legally stop it from being used for other purposes, including the development of other recreational facilities.
“If we honor (Schidzick’s) bequest it would be forever wild,” she said. “I do believe in his heart that’s what he wanted.”