Land conservancy hopes to find buyer who will protect Picard property

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
In the shadow of the Helderbergs, Picard Road cuts through the roughly 87-acre Picard farm, with an early 1800s barn on the left and the farmhouse hidden in the trees across the street. 

NEW SCOTLAND — The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy is hoping to find a buyer for the Picard’s Grove property who will put a conservation easement on the roughly 87 acres at the foot of the Helderbergs to prevent development.

After The Enterprise published a story on Jan. 31, “Picard’s Grove set to be sold to developer for $500K,” the conservancy was swamped with inquiries on how to help, according to Mark King, the conservancy’s executive director.

The property’s owner, Jeanne Picard Fish, who is 75,  was declared “incapacitated,” according to a Jan. 28 petition filed with Albany County Court by Joseph L. Kay, an attorney appointed as guardian of Fish’s property. Kay had arranged to sell the property to developer Michael Biernacki.

Fish was placed in a Valatie nursing home, which costs about $13,000 a month, and has debts that outweigh her liquid assets, Kay wrote.

He arranged to sell the property quickly for $500,000 in cash, and asserts in the petition that the 1800s barn and farmhouse are to be demolished. Further, according to the sales contract, all of the contents of the house, barn, and two large outbuildings that served as a restaurant and dance hall, are to become the property of Biernacki.

No Realtor was involved and no appraisal given.

According to Albany County rolls, the property has a full-market value of $764,348. The 86.71 acres alone are assessed at $192,400.

“We’re trying to find alternative buyers that want to conserve it as well,” King told The Enterprise on Tuesday. “It’s really up to the court how it will be handled.”



Paul V. Morgan Jr., the judge who is handling the case in Albany County Supreme Court, appointed William Keniry as guardian ad litem for Fish, Morgan’s clerk, Lisa Buccini, told The Enterprise on Wednesday.

An ad litem attorney is appointed by a court to act on behalf of a child or incapcitated adult.

Keniry does not know Kay, Buccini said. “His recommendation may differ from the fiduciary,” she said.

Kinery of Tabner, Ryan & Keniry, an Albany law firm, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

The petition says an application will be made to the Albany County Court on Feb. 26 although the proposed sales contract set the closing deadline at Feb. 20.

The return date, of Feb. 26, means those with standing in a case are to file by then their cross-petitions or answers, Buccini explained. The proceedings follow Article 17 of the state’s Real Property Actions & Proceedings Law, Buccini said.

“Chambers has received significant phone calls,” Buccini said. “People are under the assumption there is some sort of bidding war.”

That is not the procedure, she said. Rather, as outlined by Article 17, contracts may be submitted for the judge to review. 

“One contract for sale is currently pending,” Buccini said. “Nothing has been decided. The matter is not fully submitted.”

Buccini stressed that she could not talk about specifics of a particular case. Presumably that one contract is the sale contract with Biernacki Property Management submitted by Kay.

Asked if, for example, it would be possible for someone working with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy to submit an offer at this time, Buccini said, “They might.”

She went on, “Someone who wants to make an offer needs to do it in a formal manner with the fiduciary,” who in this case would be Kay. “You enter into a contract for sale,” Buccini said, stressing, “I’m not talking specifics. Normally a fiduciary could not ignore a better offer. He has an obligation to his ward.”

Asked about the timeline for making a decision on what will happen to Fish’s property, Buccini said, “Judge Morgan has a reputation for not dragging his feet.” She said that the standards and goals in the department indicate a decision would be reached within 60 days.

But, in this case, as the judge has to wait for a report from the guardian ad litem, it could take longer. “He was just appointed a couple of weeks ago,” said Buccini of Keniry.

 “He needs to do research,” she said, which could push the case into March.

Asked if the judge would make his decision privately or there would be a court session, Buccini said, “Judge Morgan may decide to hold a court conference with any person who has standing.” The session would not be open to the public, she said.


Seeking an alternative

The court named Herman Picard, Fish’s brother and only remaining sibling, as guardian of her person. 

Herman Picard and his wife, Suzanne, are trying to get Fish moved to a facility closer to home. “She’s not eating the way she should. She’s down to 80-something pounds,” Suzanne Picard told The Enterprise this week, concluding, “She still doesn’t know where she is.”

The Picards are distressed by the proposed quick sale of the property and feel Fish’s interests are not being served.

The Picards, who live nearby on Picard Road, have access to Fish’s house and property, where several generations of the family ran a popular gathering place. They have admitted people to look at the house who have contacted the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy about buying the property.

“We would like to see a buyer that would protect it like the surrounding lands with a conservation easement,” said King.

The conservancy has been working for years to protect lands along Picard Road at the base of the escarpment as part of the larger Helderberg Conservation Corridor, which has about 3,500 acres that are protected or planned for protection.

The corridor has geology that made it world famous, “great history — both human cultural history and archeological history,” and is important for hydrology and wildlife as well as for preserving views, King said earlier.

Fish’s property lies between two protected properties — the Foster Property, about 100 acres known as Locust Knoll, and the roughly 90-acre Snowden property. Nearby is the 80-acre Lehman property, also protected, and behind that is property owned by the Heldeberg Workshop; the conservancy is currently raising funds to buy a conservation easement to protect that roughly 250-acre property as well.

In early February, King said that, aside from not having funds available to protect the Picard property, “We only work with people who want to sell … It’s really unfortunate Jeanne is not the one determining the future of her property.”

Asked this week what changed to have the conservancy get involved, King said it was the outpouring of interest following the Enterprise stories. He noted it is an unfamiliar role for the conservancy, which hasn’t contacted Realtors but is merely working with “people who came to us.”

“A huge number of people have expressed interest in [finding] an alternative to development. We’re trying to wrangle those interests into something we could present as an alternative,” he said, adding that the conservancy is working with its attorney.

“For us, it’s tied entirely with conservation,” King said. “Our hope is an alternative that involves conservation is seen as beneficial by the court in making the same funds flow to Jeanne.”

Those who have expressed interest to the conservancy are told they have to at least meet the $500,000 that Biernacki has agreed to pay for the property. 

Fish’s husband died in 2005, Herman Picard, her brother, told The Enterprise earlier. “She couldn’t keep it up after that,” he said. Fish had already sold land to Biernacki, he said, on which Biernacki built houses; they are on the end of Picard Road near Route 85A.

“The last time I talked to my sister we agreed the vultures are just waiting to pounce,” Picard said earlier.

King said this week he has no clear idea on who might buy the property. “It’s really uncertain at this point who will do what. There were so many calls, so much interest … This is different than anything we’ve done.”

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