Land conservancy nearing finish line for Picard’s Grove

The Enterprise — Melissa Hale-Spencer

Sweeping view: A court-ordered appraisal found the 87-acre Picard’s Grove property, with an historic house and outbuildings, has a market value of $845,000. The 1800s barn is to the left of Picard Road; the farmhouse, across the street, is hidden in the grove of tall trees.

NEW SCOTLAND — The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy hopes to soon secure easements that will protect the once-popular community gathering place known as Picard’s Grove from future development.

“I see the finish line in sight,” said Mark King, executive director of the conservancy, on Tuesday.

Last month, the way was cleared for the conservancy when Judge Paul V. Morgan chose among three separate purchase orders for the property.

Morgan chose Richard W. Glover who is working with the conservancy; Glover had offered $660,000 for the property. Developer Jeff Thomas had offered $665,000. 

“The issue herein is whether the property should be sold to the highest bidder or should the Court consider accepting a lesser offer if consistent with Jeanne Picard Fish’s wishes,” wrote Morgan. “The Court finds the latter is applicable to the proceeding herein.”

Fish is 75 and is living in a Valatie nursing home. She grew up on the Picard’s Grove property, and now owns it. She was declared “incapacitated” on Dec. 26, 2019 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 Joseph L. Kay, a lawyer based in East Greenbush, was appointed guardian of her property.

“We’re pleased with who’s getting it because most of the land will be preserved,” said Suzanne Picard, Herman’s wife, this week. “That’s what we were hoping for all along.”

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.

 

— Photo from Herman Picard III
Rows of empty tables await 1950s' visitors to Picard’s Grove with the Helderbergs as a backdrop.

 

Long legal history

Kay had initially planned to quickly sell, for $500,000 in cash, the property, house, outbuildings and all of their contents to developer Michael Biernacki. Judge Morgan noted in his Aug.14 decision that the current offers were $105,000 to $165,000 higher than the original $500,000 deal with Biernacki.

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.

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. King 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.

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.

In April, Judge Morgan decided, “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.”

In his Aug. 14 decision, Morgan noted that the court-ordered appraisal found the property had a market value of $845,000. He also noted that a July report from Keniry recommended selling the property to the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy “with certain specified conditions.”

 

Current plans

King told The Enterprise this week that the conditions specify that 80 percent of the property must be preserved.

Consequently, two seven-acre pieces of property are being broken off from the part that will be under the conservation easement.

One of the seven-acre parcels is around the existing house and structures, King said. The other is at the northeast corner, where Martin and Picard roads intersect.

“It’s up to the Glover family how they will use the property,” said King. He went on about Richard Glover, who could not be reached for comment, “He’s really stretching to do this … It’s an interesting challenge he’s taken on.”

As the deal is not yet sealed, King said, “It’s a little bit of a cliffhanger beneath the cliff … The biggest hurdle is the last one — to close and make sure the court is satisfied with the results.”

He added, “And I hope the community will be satisfied with the results.”

From the conservancy point of view, King said, the most important part of the property to protect is the west side, at the foot of the Helderberg escarpment. This will preserve the view both from the escarpment and looking at the escarpment, he said.

“The view that people enjoyed for hundreds of years will still be intact,” he said.

The property can be used for recreation or agriculture, said King, noting the land has rich soil.

Judge Morgan had allowed a 20-day window for other offers on the property. Once that deadline passed, King said, “That put us in the driver’s seat.”

There’s still a sense of urgency, working through the legal details to get to the closing. The conservancy is hoping to raise another $10,000 to help cover legal fees, said King, noting the excellent work done by attorney Nicole Clouthier for the conservancy.

“The urgency is to get the funds to Jeanne for her care,” said King. “She’s still in Barnwell in Columbia County … I understand she’s doing well — physically healthy although she suffers from some form of dementia. She’s not aware of what’s going on with her land.”

 

Family

Barnwell Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Valatie, where Fish is now living, costs $13,000 a month. Fish’s brother, Herman Picard III and his wife, Suzanne, had wanted to move Fish to a nicer place, closer to home in Guilderland that costs $7,000 less per month.

However, after visiting, they found out the Guilderland facility, Atria, 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 in April. He said those expenses are being paid by Medicaid and will be reimbursed to Medicaid once her property is sold.

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 in April. “It’s very shabby.”

This week, Suzanne Picard said that Fish was doing better than she had been. Although, because of coronavirus restrictions, her family has been unable to visit her, “Monthly, they keep us up to date with what’s going on … She’s improved a lot. She’s eating better and she’s made friends. They keep her busy,” said Picard.

Once the real-estate deal is closed and once a room is available at Atria, the Picards plan to move Fish there, Suzanne Picard said, although, now that Fish has made friends and is doing better at Barnwell, she said, “I’m wondering what a transition would do to her. It’s confusing to her — she can’t comprehend what’s going on.”

Picard said that Fish can’t understand that her property is being sold. After years of running Picard’s Grove, “She still insists she’s got a party of 700 coming — she has to get a list out,” said Picard.

Fish was a devoted equestrian and took daily care of her horses in her barn. “She’s stopped asking about the horses,” said Picard who earlier had not wanted to tell Fish they were gone. “It was sad when they went,” she said.

Suzanne Picard recently discovered that the historic farmhouse had been robbed.  She and her husband, who live just a quarter mile away on Picard Road, were the only ones with a key, said Picard.

Two of her husband’s cousins hadn’t been to the house in years, she said. “They have a lot of good memories there,” she said and wanted to visit and reminisce before it was sold.

On Sept. 19, she brought the cousins to the house. “I was shocked — the door was unlocked. I went to turn on the light switch. It was broke,” said Picard. “I was glad I wasn’t alone.”

They discovered many pieces of furniture were missing: a huge buffet that took up one wall of the dining room, a corner china cabinet with a glass top, a chair and ottoman, a bed, a dresser, and a nightstand. The china from the buffet had been left on the dining table; the china that had been displayed in the corner cupboard was gone.

The Albany County Sheriff’s Office was called. “They took evidence and made out a report,” said Picard. “Now we’re just waiting.”

She concluded, “This was a shock.”

More New Scotland News

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