Three more offers made for Picard’s Grove 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 — As Jeanne Picard Fish remains in a Valatie nursing home, several offers have been made for her property, once a popular community gathering place, Picard’s Grove, at the foot of the Helderberg escarpment.

Local developer Jeffrey Thomas has offered $601,000 for the property. Richard Glover, working with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, has offered $551,000. And John Hormovitis, who lives in Palm Coast, Florida, has offered $550,000 for the property.

These three offers follow the initial proposal for a quick sale of $500,000 to local developer Michael Biernacki, who had previously bought nearby property from Fish on which he built houses.

Meanwhile, a lawyer appointed to the court to look out for Fish filed a report on Tuesday, saying the quick sale wasn’t in her best interests. He called for an inventory and appraisal of personal items as well as proper determination of fair-market value for the real property.

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. Her only remaining sibling, Herman Picard III, was appointed guardian of her person.

Kay had arranged to sell the property quickly to developer Biernacki for $500,000 in cash; the proposed sales contract set the closing deadline at Feb. 20.

Relatives and friends of Fish told The Enterprise earlier that they believed this quick sale of Fish’s property was not in her best interest and further that she would not have wanted to see a housing development on the roughly 87 acres.

Kay has asserted in his petition that the 1800s barn and farmhouse on the property are to be demolished. 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.

 

Guardian ad litem

Paul V. Morgan Jr., the judge who is handling the case in Albany County Supreme Court, subsequently appointed William Keniry as guardian ad litem for Fish; an ad litem attorney is appointed by a court to act on behalf of a child or incapcitated adult.

Lisa Buccini, Morgan’s clerk, told The Enterprise earlier that the judge would wait for the guardian ad litem’s report before deciding on the case.

Keniry, with the Albany firm of Tabner, Ryan & Keniry, was appointed guardian ad litem on Feb. 4 and consented to serve on Feb. 13. He filed a report on March 10.

In the eight-page report, Keniry says that Kay’s petition, in which Biernacki would own all of Fish’s personal property as part of the $500,000 sale price does not fully identify, adequately describe, or properly inventory or itemize the personal property.

“It is therefore unknown whether or not items of value, either monetary or sentimental may exist,” Keniry writes.

Keniry also says that Kay’s petition “does not allege a sufficient basis for proper determination of the fair market value of the real property. A proper appraisal of all real property, including fixtures, would confirm the fair market value of the real property,” he writes, requesting that the court appoint a competent, qualified, and disinterested appraiser.

Further, Keniry cites mortality tables that show Fish could live another 13 years and says that “it is simply not clear” that Fish’s interest will be promoted by the sale to Biernacki that Kay had proposed. Keniry writes that, while Kay’s petition alleges both he and Herman Picard III, Fish’s brother and guardian of her person, both want to move her, “nowhere is it alleged that her move is dependent upon the sale of the subject property.”

Kay’s petition says that the Barnwell Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Valatie, where Fish is now living, costs $13,000 a month. Suzanne and Herman Picard had told The Enterprise earlier that they wanted to move Fish to a nicer place, closer to home, in Guilderland, that costs $7,000 less per month. However, after visiting, they found out the Guilderland facility does not accept Medicaid, as Barnwell does, so that, if Fish’s money ran out, she would not be able to live there, said Suzanne Picard.

Keniry’s report says a mortgage and all other forms of potential financial security should be considered “in order to facilitate the potential move, reduce attendant costs and assure payment to her residence and service providers.”

Keniry’s report goes on, “The Guardian of her Person and his spouse appear to be quick to heap criticism, yet there is nothing contained in their various writings indicating that they or other members of the family have returned my ward [Fish] to the premises since her confinement … On the other hand, there also is no indication that she will actually derive any pleasure or satisfaction from a return to the premises or retention to title to the premises.”

Suzanne Picard responded on Wednesday, “It’s been determined by psychologists who diagnosed her illness that she could not live by herself. How could we return her to home?”

Suzanne Picard went on, “She was not in our care. Social services took over when she was deemed incompetent until the judge had my husband appointed guardian of her person.”

The Picards have not brought Fish back to visit Picard’s Grove, Suzanne Picard said, because “she’ll think she’s going home. That would stress her.”

When they visit Fish at Barnwell, Suzanne Picard said this week, “She is pretty much the same. She knows my husband but she’ll ask how their mother is, and she’s been dead for years. … If she asks about her horses, we just say they’re fine … Four of them had to be put down but we don’t want to stress her by telling her that.”

As to knowing Fish’s intentions, Keniry writes, “There is much speculation about her desires and intentions, but there simply remains nothing definitive.”

Keniry writes that it is Kay’s “strong opinion that attempted conversation and discussion with her concerning her intentions and desires remains futile.”  Keniry notes that the Dec. 12, 2019 report from the court evaluator “is consistent with his opinion.”

Keniry’s report concludes, “To date, I have found no basis on which to conclude that the property should not be sold. It is manifest then that it should be sold for the highest sum possible and in the most efficient manner in order to maximize the net benefit to Jeanne Picard Fish …

“Respectfully, the interest of Jeanne Picard Fish will be protected if the court defers final action on the instant Petition until such time as the aforestated precondition are accomplished … This would afford the Guardian of her Property the opportunity to negotiate more favorable terms of sale.”

 

Three more offers

The court records show that three different offers, in addition to the original one for $500,000 from Biernacki, have been made on the property.

On a contract dated Feb. 19, John Hormovitis of Palm Coast, Florida agreed to pay $550,000. His lawyer did not immediately return a call on Wednesday, asking what Hormovitis’s plans for the property would be.

Jeff Thomas signed a check for $25,000 on Feb. 26, as a deposit on his $601,000 offer.

Thomas, who lives in Knox on the Helderberg escarpment overlooking Altamont, had been very active in village real-estate development, owning and upgrading what he named the Altamont Corners shopping plaza and the Park House Apartments; and building the Brandle Meadows senior housing on the outskirts of the village. He also owns the gateway property on Route 146 rented to the State Employees’ Federal Credit Union, and he owns the post office building on Park Street where the United States Postal Service is a tenant.

In December 2018, he proposed building a mixed retail and apartment complex at the center of the village, behind the library, but did not get approval for the plan.

Also on Feb. 26, the return date, Nicole L. Clouthier, a lawyer working with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, submitted answers and objections to Kay’s petition, saying that Fish would not want her property sold for development. It further asserts that Kay “did not solicit, consider, or entertain any other bids or offers” and “did not provide Ms. Fish with any level of self-determination, did not consider her personal wishes, preferences, or desires regarding the sale of her real property.

“By failing to solicit bids and consider Ms. Fish’s personal wishes, the Guardian breached his fiduciary duty to his ward,” she wrote.

Richard Glover, who offered $551,000, is working with the conservancy, and, according to court papers, has an agreement to transfer a conservation easement to the conservancy after purchasing the property from Fish.

Mark King, executive director of the conservancy, had told The Enterprise earlier that the conservancy experienced an outpouring of interest in preserving the Picard’s Grove property after stories and an editorial were published in The Enterprise.

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.

“We are waiting to hear what the court is going to decide,” King said on Tuesday. “We are continuing to make every effort to see the property ends up with a conservation easement.” 

 

Viewpoints

Other papers submitted to Judge Morgan include a letter from Alan S. Kowlowitz, president of the New Scotland Historical Association, who wrote, “NSHA is aware that the primary concern of the court is the welfare and maintenance of Jeanne Picard Fish, who is a neighbor to a number of our Board members. However, a rushed sale of her property for under-market value that will lead to the destruction of her family home and other structures of significant historic and community value will not serve her interests and is not necessarily what she would have wished.” 

Kowlowitz states that the house on the property dates to at least 1822 and the site was settled prior to 1789, making it one of the earliest structures in that part of New Scotland. “The main barn is of timber frame construction and dates to about 1850,” he wrote.

The court papers also include a document in opposition to the sale of the property to Biernacki from John A. Musacchio, a lawyer for Fish’s nephew, Greg Picard.

“My client indicated that Mr. Kay refused to entertain his potential offer to purchase the property … he never saw the property listed for sale publicly, and I have seen no public listing of the property for sale,” Musacchio wrote.

He went on, “Mr. Kay informed me that he would not entertain any other offers, even if those offers were higher than Biernacki’s offer, and that he intended to move forward with the subject contract.”

The document also lists similar properties and their values, concluding the average adjusted value for Fish’s 87 acres, is $981,500.67. Musacchio asserts that the property should not be sold for roughly 66 percent of its full-market value.

In a separate document from Greg Picard, he writes, “I contacted Mr. Kay several times and expressed my interest in purchasing my aunt’s property, both before and after the date on the contract with Biernacki … Each time I contacted Mr. Kay, he informed me that he was not willing to entertain any offers other than the offer from Biernacki to purchase the property, even if there were an offer higher than $500,000.00.

Greg Picard also wrote, “I spoke with my aunt about her wishes for the property in May of 2019 after my father passed away, and she told me that she always wants the property to remain in the family and for it to be maintained in an environmentally and socially responsible manner. At the time of our conversation, she was of sound mind and fully competent. She was still driving at that time.”

Greg Picard references Glover’s offer and writes that he has been in contact with the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy and has agreed to make “a significant financial contribution to the Land Conservancy toward the purchase of the conservation easement if this Court denies the Petition for Biernacki to purchase the land and instead allows the property to be purchased by buyers(s) who will buy the land with the conservation easement.”

He concludes, “Also, as a potential beneficiary of my aunt’s estate if I survive her, I am fully aware that a sale for a lower price to a socially responsible purchaser could result in my receiving a smaller inheritance. I am willing to make that sacrifice in order to preserve the integrity of the land and to make sure that my aunt’s wishes are carried out.”

Other letters to the judge are personal in nature.

One is from a woman who says she spent two to three days a week for the past three years with Fish. She describes a conversion with Kay that “reduced me to tears.”

She reports, “He repeatedly said, ‘I want to get paid’ … He stated there was ‘no money, the house was a shit hole, and there was nothing in it worth anything.’” She also quotes him as saying, “I don’t care what Jeanne wanted.”

Another letter is from a friend of over 50 years, who writes, “Jeanne would not want the beautiful property built up to houses. She was a devoted horse owner.”

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