With state grant and extension, land conservancy over halfway to goal of buying Bender melon farm

— From the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy

The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy has received more time to try to raise the $1.2 million it needs to buy the historic Bender melon farm in New Scotland. So far, with a $400,00 grant from the state, the conservancy has raised close to $700,000.

NEW SCOTLAND — Having received an extension in the spring until October on its option to buy the former Bender melon farm, the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy stands about $500,000 short of its $1.2 million goal to purchase the property. 

Conservancy Executive Director Mark King thinks his organization can raise the half-million dollars needed to buy the 198-acre property at the corner of routes 85 and 85A in New Scotland, and said the extension on the option to buy “gave us a little more breathing room.”

But King added, “That breathing room is running out quickly, and so we are still racing to raise money.”

And people are still giving, he said, “Which is wonderful.” 

The conservancy first received the opportunity to buy the property in July of last year.

The vacant land continues to be listed for sale as a commercial use for $4 million; the property is currently listed on the town’s assessment rolls with a  full-market value of about $807,000.

Over a decade ago, Sphere Development proposed a 750,000 square-foot mall for the site. An organized public outcry first led to a six-month moratorium on commercial buildings over 30,000-square-foot, which eventually led to the adoption a size-cap law, and finally to the adoption of not one but two land-use plans:

— A specific plan for the New Scotland Hamlet, which includes the Bender melon farm; those zoning recommendations were adopted as law in May 2018; and

— An update to the town’s comprehensive plan, which was adopted in September 2018; those recommendations are currently being integrated into New Scotland’s existing zoning code. 

The land is owned by 306 Maple Road, LLC. Maura Mottolese, a co-owner of the property and often the LLC’s representative at town board meetings, did not return a message seeking comment.

Well over half of the $700,000 the conservancy has raised so far has come in the form of a $400,00 grant received in December 2019 from the state’s Capital Region Economic Development Council.

King said there’s some anxiety, because of the pandemic, over when or if New York State will have the money to fill its grant obligations.

“Is sort of a big, nagging question,” he said. That’s why the conservancy wants to raise as much as it can: to limit how much it has to rely on the state grant.

“Every dollar [of private funding] we bring in, is one dollar less of uncertainty,” he said. But King said the conservancy is counting on the state grant, and that it’s critical to the organization’s success toward buying Bender melon farm. “And with the grant, we’re in pretty good shape and I can see a way to make this work,” he said.

But the grant is not without its challenges. 

To start, it’s a reimbursement, so the conservancy still has to front the $400,000 it’s going to receive from the state to buy the land.

So there are two questions King is currently working out: Where does the money come from to cover the state’s portion of the transaction? And when can the conservancy expect to receive the grant given New York State’s pandemic-related fiscal position?

The conservancy is exploring its current options, King said. “We’re really exploring every avenue toward how to cover the state piece of this whole picture, and then how to make that work,” he said.

The conservancy is looking at the potential of borrowing money to close the state-grant gap, and then how quickly and readily the conservancy could repay that loan, King said.

There are organizations, like The Conservation Fund, that specialize in loaning money to protect land, King said, and he’s talking to some of those groups right now.

More New Scotland News

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  • “We’re really excited about having it,” said Wendall Thayer, post commander of the Voorheesville American Legion Post 1493, of holding this year’s  Voorheesville Memorial Day Parade.

  • “I never heard applause for an application,” said Voorheesville Planning Commission member Kathryn Scharl on Tuesday following the commission’s approval of Anthony Berghela’s special-use permit request to open a restaurant at 112 Maple Ave., once the home of Smith’s Tavern.

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