Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy acquires land long-slated for development

– Picture courtesy of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy
A plea from the plants: For each new piece of land that the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy acquires, it sets aside funding for long-term stewardship.

SLINGERLANDS – Birds may have a difficult time obtaining a permit to build a nest on the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy’s latest acquisition of 35 acres at the corner of Fisher Boulevard and Route 85 in Slingerlands.

That’s because of the unusual steps taken in order to conserve the land.

The 35 acres is actually three separate parcels of land that were donated to the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy. The conservancy in turn granted New York State a conservation easement on the land. An easement is a voluntary legal agreement between a landowner and a land trust or government agency – in this case, it in an agreement between a land trust and the government – that permanently limits uses of the land in order to protect its conservation values.

The partnership is unusual, said Mark King, the executive director of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, in that, the Department of Environmental Conservation holds a conservation easement over a land trust property.

The more typical scenario, he said, is that the land owner donates the land to the MHLC and then the MHLC would transfer the land to the state, which would then own and manage it.

“In this case, the land owner really wanted to maximize the conservation potential of the property,” he said. “They didn’t want to take any risks that the land could ever end up with a use that they didn’t envision.” King said that the owner wishes to remain anonymous, but is listed in Albany County records as Hildesheim, LLC.

“So, that’s why it was done like this, with [the conservancy] as the owner, and therefore one constraint on the uses of the property and then the state having a conservation easement on the land,” King said. “So, if something were to happen to the conservancy, the easement would protect the land from development.”

In a way, the land is doubly protected from development.

“It’s truly a protected property,” he said, “that’s what’s really unusual – in that, it takes a tremendous effort to get this kind of thing together.” The state system, King said, can be cumbersome and difficult to navigate, but the DEC and state Attorney General’s Office “rallied to make it happen.”

The 35 acres, described by the conservancy as “open fields and shady white pine forests [that] are dotted with vernal pools,” will be incorporated into the adjacent 450-acre state-owned Five Rivers Environmental Education Center.

 

– Map courtesy of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy 

 

In the short-term, King said, not a lot of activity is planned for the property; ultimately, connections will me made to existing trails within Five Rivers. “Some kind of pedestrian bridge will have to be built over the Phillipkin Kill, which bisects the adjacent Five Rivers parcel,” King said. “But that’s the state’s determination to make.”

There is the potential to connect to the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail, at Mason Lane, King said, but he acknowledged that was pretty speculative on his part.

An unusual acquisition

Typically, when a property is being donated for conservation, King said, “It almost always begins with the land owner and the owner’s sense of their property and its place.”

“They’ve got an attachment to the property,” he said, “that’s the seed that sets it off.” In a case like that, King said, the conservancy becomes a facilitator and “encourager.”

With this acquisition, the situation was a little unusual for the conservancy, King said, because communication between the parties was done exclusively through attorneys.

King said that the landowner had tried in the past to build on the land; a proposed eight-lot development ran into a lot of resistance from the town of Bethlehem Planning Board, he said.

In a difficult position, the landowner became a little frustrated with the situation and decided it wasn’t worth the trouble and walked away, King surmised. The property taxes were quite high for vacant land, and, King said that the owner decided that maybe the best answer would be to preserve the whole property.

Although the land has been donated, the conservancy has made significant investment to this point, King said. It has worked on the property for years, and the legal complications and issues surrounding the land have run up costs for the MHLC, he added.

The conservancy is trying to raise funds to recoup some of those costs.

Also, with every property the MHLC acquires, it sets aside funding for long-term stewardship, King said.

With this latest acquisition, the conservancy announced recently that it had received a donation of $5,000 from the Board of Directors of the Friends of Five Rivers citizens’ support group “to kick-start the Conservancy’s effort to protect this property in perpetuity,” according to a release.

“Both by policy and practice,” King said, “the conservancy wants to make sure it sets aside some funding for each piece of property it acquires, because every property eventually runs into issues.”

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