State awards over $800K in grants for New Scotland projects

The Hilton barn

Enterprise file photo — Michael Koff
The Hilton barn, rescued from demolition for a development, rolled across Route 85A in New Scotland in March 2016 to its new location where it is now the centerpiece of the town’s Hilton Park.

NEW SCOTLAND — Two grants from the state’s Capital Region Economic Development Council will affect the “big picture” both economically and environmentally, according to Mark King.

King is the executive director of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, which received $400,000 to be put toward the purchase of the historic Bender Melon Farm property in New Scotland.

In a separate grant, the town of New Scotland was awarded $411,000 to support improvements to the town’s Hilton Park including restoration of the historic Hilton Barn as well as restrooms, an amphitheater, and skating rink. Hilton Park is next to the Bender Melon Farm property.

The grants were announced on Thursday.

“This is game-changing for New Scotland,” Adam Greenberg said on Friday. Greenberg is one of two New Scotland councilmen who worked with planner Nan Stoltzenburg of Community Planning & Environmental Associates on submitting the grant application. The other is Councilman William Hennessy.

Greenberg went on, “We received our grant at the same time as the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy, which allows us to coordinate our efforts in that area.” He termed the area “one of the jewels of New Scotland.”

The Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail, which stretches nine miles from the city of Albany to the village of Voorheesville along the old Delaware & Hudson line, runs alongside Hilton Park.

Hennessy said perspectives have changed since a similar application was turned down two years ago.  “It’s a great validation of the direction our board is going,” he said.

Asked to describe that direction, he said, “Patience with development and business and tying it in with open space and agricultural use — not to overdevelop an area without thinking it through first.”

Hennessy noted that the town has adopted zoning that does not restrict development but centers it.

Greenberg said that some residents had initially opposed the rail trail but went on, “Now all we hear is how wonderful it is.” He said, with the planned development of Hilton Park, more people will be attracted to New Scotland, supporting businesses like restaurants.

The park development is to cost $1.2 million. Some money had already been raised by grants — the councilmen mentioned particularly Assemblywoman Patricia Fahy in being instrumental in securing funds and also Senator George Amedore — leaving $822,000 to be funded.

The Capital Region Economic Development Council grant is to cover exactly half of that, leaving the town to come up with a matching $411,000.

Greenberg said in-kind services, such as the town’s highway crew working on trails, will count toward the matching funds.

Also, he said, developers pay into a parks fund if they haven’t set aside open space. Currently, that totals over $250,000, said Greenberg, noting, “That is not taxpayer money.”

Further, fees collected for park rentals will go toward the project.

The project will include recreational trails that connect to the rail trail, and an ice-skating rink that is to be established as a natural pond drainage area, helping to solve stormwater management issues at the barn.

The enormous Hilton Barn is the centerpiece of the project. Captain Joseph Hilton had the barn built in 1898; it is 60 feet high and twice as long. The barn currently has a slate roof and the plan is to replace it with a new slate roof.

The councilmen were surprised, they said, that bids for a slate roof came in lower than for a shingle roof; they also noted that a slate roof has a life of 75 to 100 years while a shingle roof lasts from 25 to 50.

Roofing costs are estimated at $400,000 to $500,000, with about half of that for the slate and the other half for structural upgrades needed because of building-code changes and to replace rotted beams and roof decking.

On the inside of the barn, the plan is to create a center core that will afford views of the barn’s rafters. “We want the public to see that wonderful historic timber-frame construction,” said Hennessy.

The first floor will have a warming room for skaters and winter hikers, restrooms, and perhaps a café and a room for arts and crafts, all opening off the center core. There are no other public restrooms along the rail trail, the councilmen said.

At the end of the barn near the rail trail will be a “blue room” leading to a patio or stage that will face onto a “nearly perfect natural amphitheater,” said Hennessy.

“People sitting on the slope would have a perfect view,” said Greenberg.

“And we’re only talking about the first floor,” said Hennessy. “The second floor is still untouched.”

He also said, “We have all the designs done. We are shovel-ready.”

Greenberg noted that, at times, including the recent November elections, the town board had been criticized for saving the Hilton Barn. “This validates what we’ve done,” he said of receiving the grant. “We’re trying to take a longer view.”

Hennessy concluded, “I’ve always said, ‘If you build it, they will come.’”


MHLC half-way to buying Bender farm

“We’re thrilled,” said King on Friday of receiving the $400,000 grant. He said, because of funds already raised, the conservancy is now half-way to reaching the $1.2 million needed to purchase the 198-acre Bender Melon Farm property located at the intersections of routes 85 and 85A in the center of New Scotland

“We’re a little more than half-way on the timing,” King said. Last summer, when the conservancy acquired the option to buy the property from 306 Maple Road, LLC, it had about a year to raise the funds.

The property continues to be listed at $4 million, a price that has not changed since 2008. At the same time, the town’s assessment roll lists its full-market value as just under $800,000.

“We hope the community will pitch in and put us over the top,” said King on Friday.

The old farm property is important for “a bunch of different reasons,” said King, as he went on to list them.

It will be a benefit to the Albany County Helderberg-Hudson Rail Trail, which bisects the old Bender Melon Farm property and has about a mile of frontage along the trail, King said.

Second, he said, the property reflects the community’s agricultural heritage. The New Scotland Historical Associated recently posted on its website a history of the farm, written by Voorheesville village historian Dennis Sullivan. In the early part of the 20th Century, Charles Bender’s melons were sold at the finest hotels in New York City.

Third, King noted, the old farm property was the center of a “contentious” issue that led the town to define its vision for the future. The property became the focus of a grassroots uprising a decade ago when Sphere Development proposed building a 750,000-square-foot mall on 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 a plan for the New Scotland Hamlet, which includes the Bender Melon Farm, and an update to the town’s comprehensive plan, both adopted in 2018.

Fourth, King said, “The property forms a buffer between the towns of New Scotland and Bethlehem as suburban sprawl spreads.” He said that an aerial view shows housing developments moving in from both sides with a clear patch in between, which is the farm property.

Fifth, King said, “It’s a huge opportunity with its proximity to Hilton Park, a centerpiece for the rail trail.”

He concluded that preservation of the land can serve as a model. “It’s another way to go rather than just throwing up your hands and giving in to suburban sprawl.”

King went on, “Multiple studies show the cost of residential development to communities; it does not pay for itself.”

The conservancy and the town of New Scotland worked together when a developer was going to tear down the century-old Hilton Barn. The converancy acquired one acre of property across Route 85A from where the barn was built and, in March 2016, the barn was rolled across the road to its new site.

“It was an emergency at that point,” said King. “A generous donation from one of the Hilton heirs, Jennifer Hilton, allowed for the barn move.” Jennifer Hilton is the great-granddaughter of Captain Joseph Hilton. Additional land was then added, through donations, to create Hilton Park.


“One big picture”

The town and the conservancy decided to file separate applications to the Capital Region Economic Development Council for the current grants, using the same grant writer, Nan Stolzenburg “so she could coordinate the grants,” said King, adding, “They complement each other.”

The conservancy focuses on land preservation, King noted, while the town has expertise with the bidding process and construction. Also, by submitting separate applications, “it got around maximum limits of funding,” said King.

“We’re treating this as one big picture, coming up with a beautiful vision, making sure we don’t duplicate efforts,” said King.

King credited the local politicians and groups that supported the application. “It so critical to have the community behind us,” he said.

He finds it “really heartening” that the mayor of Albany, Kathy Sheehan, supported the application.

“We look at this as not a New Scotland thing,” said King, “but a regional project with regional benefits.”

He went on to say that the Capital Region Economic Development Council, as it name implies, focuses on economic development. The preserved land is about more than recreation, King said, noting it improves the quality of life for residents.

“It allows you to attract and maintain a skilled workforce,” King said.

He also said that the acquisition would help in reducing the climate crisis. The rail trail, King said, provides a carbon-neutral way for residents to get around. “People might pause before they jump in the car, and ride a bike instead.”

Finally, King said, the conservancy focuses not only on connecting people to nature but on connecting them to each other. “The rail trail links very different communities together,” he said. “It connects suburban communities to an urban community … There are people in Bethlehem who might otherwise have no reason to set foot in the South End.”

Eventually, King said, the rail trail will link to the Empire State Trail plan. “That linkage will allow someone to ride from Voorheesville to Buffalo someday,” King said, concluding, “It’s a really big-vision picture with local benefits.”

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