Conservation easement placed over Rensselaerville’s Carey campus

— From the Carey Institute 

The Carey Institute campus. 

RENSSELAERVILLE — While awaiting a suitable buyer for its historic 90-acre campus in Rensselaerville, the Carey Institute has implemented a conservation easement that aims to prevent developers from using the land in a way that might leave it — and the rural town it inhabits — fundamentally altered. 

The 45-page easement agreement, between the Carey Institute and Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, is broadly similar to what had been proposed over a year ago: There can be permanent development only within a 16-acre zone known as the acceptable development area, where there are already existing buildings, and the total square-footage of all current and future commercial structures can’t exceed an additional 25 percent of the current total, which is around 38,000 square feet. 

Mohawk Hudson Executive Director Mark King told The Enterprise this week that the easement “is especially important because of the institute’s proximity to Myositis Lake,” which is in Rensselaerville’s Huyck Preserve. It is hoped the easement will protect the lake’s water quality, as well as shield the entire preserve from development next-door, King said.

Preserve Director Anne Rhodes could not immediately be reached by The Enterprise.

“The easement also limits the potential for disturbance of steep forested slopes along Route 85 entering the hamlet of Rensselaerville,” King said. “This helps maintain the visual character of the area by creating a distinct boundary between the hamlet and the surrounding rural and agricultural landscape, something that is frequently lost in communities as development spreads.”

Both King and Carey Institute President and Chief Executive Officer Gareth Crawford said that the easement agreement was made with consideration for local institutions, such as the Huyck Preserve and the Rensselaerville Library. 

“The easement is quite a complex document which is intended to last ‘in perpetuity,’” Crawford wrote in an email to The Enterprise. “Therefore it’s important to a) make sure we get the various parameters right and b) make sure that our community and neighbors understand and are in support of the easement. We wanted to build as much consensus as possible ensuring the overall purpose and technical details of the easement were understood.”

While there was some backlash from interested locals last year when the easement’s early proposed terms were being discussed, the easement had succeeded in its goal when, before it was ever finalized, at least one developer who was hoping to drastically increase the property’s density backed out based on the pending conditions, Crawford said at the time. 

The campus’s eventual sale is arguably the most immediate issue of this magnitude facing the town today, as the Carey Institute, which hosts a world-renowned writers’ workshop, various educational and cultural events, and is the town’s largest employer, has made itself a central part of the town’s identity since its inception — albeit in a different form — in the 1960s . 

It was announced in 2020 that the campus would be listed for sale for $2.75 million due to COVID-related financial difficulties, but there’s yet to be a standout buyer.

“The important thing is, with whoever buys it,” Crawford told The Enterprise in 2o20, “we try to thread the needle of keeping the character of the place while continuing to provide employment opportunities for local people.”

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