Acquisition of Switzkill Farm was entirely in keeping with Berne’s comprehensive plan

To the Editor:
I am completely flummoxed by why an auctioneer would be interested in taking on the sale of Switzkill Farm [“Auctioneer wants to sell Switzkill Farm for Berne,” The Altamont Enterprise, Aug. 19, 2022]. I am less surprised by the continued shenanigans of our town board’s efforts to undermine the 2014-2015 purchase and protection of 355 acres of land in our town.

This past March, the Berne Town Board announced a possible collaboration with Albany County that would resolve many concerns regarding town responsibilities vis-à-vis Switzkill Farm but apparently the efforts of some to reverse a legal conservation effort continue “Albany County may take over Switzkill Farm development efforts,” The Altamont Enterprise, March 11, 2022].

While I cannot say whether or not everyone in our town was aware of the town’s efforts in 2014 to buy Switzkill Farm through a partnership with the county, the Open Space Institute, and the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, it was a worthy transaction.

The town’s costs were relatively de minimis because it worked fast to avail the town of available grant funding. The stated goal was “to promote the property for revenue-generating activities and jobs for local residents.” (See Town of Berne Courier, Fall 2014.) That article goes on to list “[c]amping, summer and winter outdoor recreation activities, wedding receptions and conferences,” to make use of a portion of the property.

A committee was established to oversee the administration of Switzkill Farm but this was disbanded with the new town board, seemingly as part of the effort to see the goals for the property fail and further undermine community support.

The town board wants to rewrite the comprehensive plan “Berne moves to update land-use plan,” The Altamont Enterprise, Aug. 24, 2022]. This may be appropriate as time has gone by; however, the acquisition of Switzkill Farm was entirely in keeping with the current (then draft plan of 2011), which emphasizes as values, among other things, “peaceful and quiet open spaces, and its natural resources including dark night skies, water, land air, wildlife and forests ….”  (See, Conservation Easement, Jan. 30, 2015, page 2).

The easement restricts development to 31.47 acres and even in that portion there are limitations. In addition, no subdivisions are permitted. These restrictions were in keeping with the town’s intention to utilize the property as “parkland.”

As noted by reporter Noah Zweifel in his article of Aug. 24, 2022, New York State prohibits the alienation of parkland without an act of the legislature among other things.

So, one must really scratch one’s head to understand why an auctioneer would take on the prohibited sale of parkland that cannot be developed pursuant to a legal easement.

Should the town pursue this path, it will undoubtedly lead us taxpayers to fund the town board’s defense in litigation that would result when enforcement measures were taken on the part of the land trust or the third party designated with enforcement authority in the easement document — The Open Space Institute.

Helene Goldberger, Esq.


Editor’s note: Helene Goldberger is a founding member of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy (then known as the Albany County Land Conservancy), a past board member, an easement donor, and a current supporter.

More Letters to the Editor

The Altamont Enterprise is focused on hyper-local, high-quality journalism. We produce free election guides, curate readers' opinion pieces, and engage with important local issues. Subscriptions open full access to our work and make it possible.