It’s official: Land conservancy buys Bender melon farm

— From the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy

Eighteen months after it was presented with an option to buy the former Bender melon farm, the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy announced this week it had done so. 

NEW SCOTLAND — The Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy announced this week that it had finally closed the sale on the former Bender melon farm. 

“Really, it’s the beginning at the end,” said the conservancy’s executive director, Mark King. “But [it’s] certainly a big step — a big, big step — one that was wonderful to have accomplished.”

The not-for-profit organization had set an ambitious $1.2 million fund-raising goal, which it exceeded when loans and grants were taken into account, to purchase the historic farm.

The conservancy ended up paying $1 million for the 198-acre property at the corner of routes 85 and 85A in New Scotland, according to the deed filed with the Albany County Clerk on Dec. 15.

The conservancy will also have to sell 20 of those acres along Route 85, across the road from Stewart’s, to a potential commercial interest to help cover the purchase price. King said the conservancy hopes to have the parcel sold within a  year, which is how long the organization has to pay back the bridge loan provided by Peter and Barbara Kelly on the property. King declined to say how much the loan was for. 

King also noted that a matching challenge — which started at $50,000 but ended at $75,000 — had been put forth by the family of Matthew Bender, who served on the conservancy’s board of advisors “for many, many years” and was one its “earliest proponents,” King said previously

The conservancy received an anonymous pledge of $250,000 in October.

King was “not at liberty to divulge” the name of the donor at the time, but said in October that the quarter-million-dollar promise “really started the ball rolling in a whole different way.”

Asked if the donor would reveal himself of herself now, King said that the person or persons still wished to remain anonymous. 

Twelve years ago, the former farm — which had produced famous melons served at New York city’s finest restaurants — was ground zero in a battle between the Syracuse-based Sphere Development and town residents over the company’s plan to build a 750,000-square-foot mall on the site. 

Residents rallied against the proposed project, leading to a six-month construction 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 Bender melon farm, whose zoning recommendations were adopted as law in May 2018

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

The area around the former farm has seen some recent development: To the north of the Bender melon farm, Kensington Woods will eventually contain about 170 homes; and west of the farm, Colonie Country Club Estates will be a 40-lot development.

Although the town has fewer residents today than it did nearly 40 years ago, its housing stock has increased by about one-fifth in that time. 

The land was owned by 306 Maple Road, LLC and is listed on New Scotland’s assessment rolls with a full-market value of $807,363, and, as of Dec.1, was still listed for sale as a commercial use for $4 million.

In the short-term, the conservancy does want to make some trail access, King previously told The Enterprise, and one of those trails will be named in memory of David Iselin, the son of Harold and Lauren Iselin, Delmar residents whose generous donation will ensure the not-for-profit’s success, according to the conservancy.

Some big-picture goals King talked about in October were to create trails and access for activities like cross-country skiing, perhaps even mountain biking; institute agricultural programs — the state grant application describes community gardens often seen in city settings; and ecological restoration, for example, a restored wetland or grassland bird area.

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