Judge says other offers must be considered for Picard’s Grove property

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer
Iconic view: An historic barn sits right on Picard Road. Directly across the street is the farmhouse, half hidden by trees. In the grove are two large white buildings where clambakes were held.

NEW SCOTLAND — A lawyer’s plan to quickly sell, for $500,000 in cash, the Picard’s Grove property to developer Michael Biernacki is off. That deal would have included personal property, too, and would have demolished historic buildings.

A judge has decided, instead, that other offers must be considered, the property be appraised, and the owner’s personal property be properly inventoried.

On April 13, Judge Paul V. Morgan issued a decision that denies Joseph L. Kay’s application to sell to Bernacki Property Management and requires Kay instead “to consider the additional purchase offers referred to herein along with the personal wishes and preferences of Jeanne Picard Fish.”

Fish is 75 and is living in a Valatie nursing home. She grew up on the Picard’s Grove property, a community gathering place for generations, and now owns it. She was declared “incapacitated” on Dec. 26, according to a petition filed in State Supreme Court, Albany County.

At the same time, her brother, Herman Picard III, was appointed guardian of her person while Kay, a lawyer based in East Greenbush, was appointed guardian of her property.

The 86.87-acre property, which straddles Picard Road, with the bulk of it running along the base of the Helderberg escarpment, has an historic house and barn and is also in the midst of the Helderberg Conservation Corridor.

Relatives and friends of Fish told The Enterprise earlier that they believed the proposed 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 family farm.

Fish had sold property to Biernacki before along Picard Road, on which he had built houses. The judge’s April 13 decision does not prohibit Biernacki from submitting another offer.

Kay had asserted in his petition that the 1800s barn and farmhouse on the property were 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, were to become the property of Biernacki.

No Realtor was involved and no appraisal was 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.

After The Enterprise story ran in January, several other offers for the property came in. 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.

Judge Morgan writes in his decision, “The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, a non-profit organization established to protect the natural, scenic, agricultural and cultural landscapes of the Mohawk and Hudson river valleys, filed an answer and objections to the sale of Jeanne Picard Fish’s property to Biernacki Property Management LLC. Their answer includes a formal offer to purchase the property submitted by Richard Glover in the amount of $551,000.” 

Glover would transfer a conservation easement to the conservancy after the purchase.

The conservancy “alleges Jeanne Picard Fish and her closest living relatives seek to conserve her property,” Morgan wrote. “They further contend that Ms. Picard Fish and her relatives are against selling the property to a developer.”

Fish’s nephew, Greg Picard, filed an affidavit, saying that Kay was unwilling to entertain offers other than Biernacki’s, even if the offer were higher than $500,000.

Greg Picard obtained an appraisal of the property that valued it at $981,500.67, the judge wrote, and he “alleges his aunt’s express wishes are the property be maintained in an environmentally and socially responsible way, and the property continue to honor the Picard family legacy and surrounding community.”

Judge Morgan notes two additional offers that were sent to the court and to Kay but states that Kay did not include those offers in his application.

John Hormovitis, of Florida, had offered $550,00, but has since withdrawn his offer, the court papers say.

Jeffrey Thomas offered $601,000 for the property.

Thomas, who lives in Knox on the Helderberg escarpment overlooking Altamont, has 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, Thomas 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.

On Feb,. 4, the court appointed William J. Keniry as guardian ad litem to represent Fish’s interests.

On March 10, Kinery filed an eight-page report, saying that Kay’s petition, in which Biernacki would own all of Fish’s personal property as part of the $500,000 sale price, did 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 wrote.

Keniry also wrote 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 wrote, requesting that the court appoint a competent, qualified, and disinterested appraiser.

Judge Morgan wrote in his April 13 decision, “The personal property must be properly inventoried and sold or distributed in accordance with the petitioner’s fiduciary duties as Guardian of the Property.”

Also, the court “will appoint a competent, disinterested person to appraise the property,” the judge wrote, and any future applications for sale must contain “a detailed description of the real property.”



Fish’s brother, Herman Picard III, said last week that, since coronavirus restrictions were imposed, he has not been able to visit his sister.

“I’m depressed,” he said. “I want something to be done and nothing’s being done … I don’t like where she is. I’d rather have her closer to home. I don’t have the money to do that.”

Barnwell Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Valatie, where Fish is now living, costs $13,000 a month. Picard and his wife, Suzanne, had wanted to move Fish to a nicer place 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.

“Her expenses are now up to $72,000,” Herman Picard said last week. He said those expenses are being paid by Medicaid and will be reimbursed to Medicaid once her property is sold.

“When I’ve talked with her, she’s upset it’s being sold,” he said.

The Picards said that Fish’s room at Barnwell is in the basement and accessed through a laundry room. Four residents share a bathroom, with two residents in each bedroom, they said. “If the bathroom’s locked, you can’t use it,” said Suzanne Picard. “It’s very shabby.”

Herman Picard said he had talked to a staff member at Barnwell to hear how his sister was doing. “My sister watches over her older roommate, makes sure she doesn’t fall out of bed … She feels like she has a job now,” he said. “She has a teaching degree. She used to teach.”

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