In reversal, Berne to hold hearing on Switzkill Farm sale

Enterprise file photo — 

BERNE — After saying it legally wouldn’t be allowed to sell Switzkill Farm to Albany County, the Berne Town Board has changed its mind and scheduled a public hearing on a resolution to that effect.

The hearing will be on Feb. 14 at 6 p.m. at the community center. 

Despite wanting to rid itself of the property for years, the GOP-led town board had been accused by Albany County of dragging its feet after the county legislature authorized County Executive Daniel McCoy to give the town $150,000 in exchange for the property — a price that would cover the original cost the town bore when it bought the property in 2014, plus reimburse it for maintaining it over the years. 

After the county announced the impending sale, former Deputy Supervisor Anita Clayton — who left office at the end of December — said that reports of a sale were a surprise and that the town wouldn’t be able to sell for that price because it’s below market value. 

The value of the property, according to the town assessment roll, is $475,000, equivalent to the price it was sold for in 2014. However, Berne paid only $142,700, including fees, with the rest of the money coming from Albany County and the Open Space Institute.

Clayton said the negotiations between the town and county had always centered around a partnership, but county spokeswoman Mary Rozak denied to The Enterprise that this was the case; Rozak’s view was supported by the memorandum of understanding that had been drafted in March 2022, describing a sale. 

“I’m going to say it very plainly: It would seem like there was a deal on the table, and we were all moving forward, and then suddenly the town of Berne seems to want to back out,” Rozak told The Enterprise last month. 

In its current resolution, the town board describes the buildings on the property as “deteriorated, the repair of which would impose a significant financial burden on the Town and its taxpayers,” consistent with how the board had portrayed the property since the GOP took control in 2020 and began looking for different ways to unload the property.

All the attempts the board made were unsuccessful, and all the while, the property fell further into disrepair. It was a relief for all when the county stepped in and offered to take it off the town’s hands, promising to ease the burden on local taxpayers while investing enough to bring the property up to its full potential. 

McCoy told The Enterprise in November that the county would continue to work with the town once the property changes hands. 

Because the sale is subject to permissive referendum, there is still some chance that — for whatever reason — residents can decide they’d prefer Switzkill Farm to remain in the town’s possession. 

But in so doing, they’d be all but eliminating the last hope the town has to no longer be responsible for the property, since, as parkland, state regulations significantly complicate the process of selling to a private buyer. Further, the conservation easement on the property makes it unattractive to would-be developers. 

To force a permissive referendum, a petition has to contain the signatures of 5 percent of the people in the town who voted for governor in the last general election for the resolution to go to a town-wide vote. 

More Hilltowns News

  • Despite concerns about a worsening leak, Huyck Preserve Director Anne Rhodes maintains that the Lake Myosotis dam is expected to work normally under typical weather conditions, referring to a 2022 inspection report from the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation that found it to be well-maintained.

  • The Berne Town Board voted 5-to-0 last week on a resolution that would allow it to sell Switzkill Farm to Albany County. The sale is subject to a permissive referendum.

  • The town had discovered that health benefits for retirees were being paid without authorization, necessitating a resolution to that effect. In addition to formalizing an existing practice, it also adjusts the way benefits work for employees hired after Jan. 1, 2024. 

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