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New Scotland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, June 22, 2006

Neighbors object to plan for artist camp in Helderbergs

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — Over 30 escarpment dwellers came out to this month’s planning board meeting, wanting to protect their neighborhood from what they consider to be an invasive camp retreat.

Steve Cosimano wants to build a low-impact three-season retreat on Castle Road, he said. In the plans is a lodge, a central barn structure, and four small cabins on site. He eventually will build a permanent house on the 15 acres for himself, a writer, or his son, a musician. They currently run a technology business together. They want to open the camp to encourage creative-thinking projects for artists or scientists to meet, meditate, or compose.

Most of the residents who spoke against the proposed project during the planning board’s public hearing live in single-family homes along Castle Road and Indian Ledge Road.

They are concerned about sewage, water, the escarpment view, the impact on the environment, traffic, and noise.

Alice Corkrey has lived on Castle Road for 31 years and said she, along with everyone else, moved out there "purposely for harmony and tranquility," and that she’d like that to be maintained.

Nathaniell Greenman, of 80 Castle Road, said he is concerned about health and safety issues, such as having adequate water maintained on the Hill, and that there will be appropriate disposal of waste water. There are a lot of ledge and rock fissures, he said.

He, and many of the other residents repeatedly said they couldn’t believe that such a commercial venture was even being considered in their residential neighborhood.

When Cosimano holds large community events at his camp, such as art-gallery openings, "Where will people park"" residents asked. They also raised concerns about wear on the road, and vandalism.

Elizabeth Smith, who lives in New York City but owns the property known as the Helderberg Castle which abuts the north end of Cosimano’s property, said she already has people, tourists and kids, trespassing on her property as if it weren’t her front yard. Beer bottles are strewn all over the place and hikers wear walking paths, Smith said.

And, while she occasionally does open up her property for the public to see the historic site, a new retreat next door would surely bring more people into wandering on her property, she said.

Smith urged the board to take its time considering this application and to complete necessary environmental studies. "I don't want pieces of the escarpment coming down," she said, "or sewage seeping down the cliff."

Kay Wilkie, of 68 Castle Road, said she likes the rural, quiet neighborhood and is not in favor of a "quasi-commercial enterprise," with noise and traffic. Right now, it is a "very rural, very quiet road," she said, and up to seven buildings on 15 acres is not consistent with the neighborhood.

Joe Koczaja of Indian Ledge, said that, regardless of how the town wants to classify the retreat, the town should be considering a variance for the application not just a special-use permit. He also argued for the project to be classified as a Type 1 action for environmental impact studies.

Martin Pearlman wanted to make sure that the special-use permit would limit the number of building permits and the maximum occupancy of the retreat grounds.

Doug Rivenburg, of 210 Indian Ledge, wanted to know who is going to be checking and enforcing Cosimano’s compliance with all the special-use stipulations.

The board responds

The town does have a building department and code enforcer, but ultimately it requires neighbors watching each other, planning board Chairman Robert Stapf said.

Paul Cantlin, the zoning enforcement officer, reacts as he learns about violations, Stapf said. "We all need to work together to enforce it," Stapf said.

"So there is no enforcement," Rivenburg quipped.

Stapf emphasized to the crowd that this is not a rezone, that the property is currently zoned Residential Forestry and that Cosimano’s project is within the current zoning regulations.

"This is an allowable use here," Stapf reiterated. Besides single-family homes, other permitted uses in this area are day-care centers, restaurants, and taverns.

"What the applicant is requesting is somewhat reasonable," Stapf said, and a lot less invasive than some of the other permitted uses.

Under other town’s zoning laws, this establishment would need a variance, Koczaja said.

"We’re not another town," planning board member Cynthia Elliot responded.

The planning board’s attorney, Louis Neri, informed the public that, based on town laws, this camp venture is not considered a commercial use as some are suggesting.

It is classified as a retreat, which is in a separate category from commercial, Neri said. It doesn’t matter if the camp is for-profit or not-for-profit; a summer camp or retreat has it’s own classification for zoning purposes, he said.

Planning board member Elliott also told the crowd that no subdivision is required for this project either. Cosimano is not creating new lots, each with its own primary structures.

Resident Paul Earl wanted to know how long a person has to reside in one of the "cabins" in order for it be considered a residence and therefore limit the number of buildings per acre. Residential Forestry zones permit a residence only every three acres.

In order for a cabin to be identified as a dwelling, it has to have a bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom, which these cabins won’t have, Cantlin said.

The plan is for food to be served in a central lodge, Cosimano has said.

Also, since a retreat is an explicitly permitted use in this area, it does not need a residence or a home as a primary structure to make the lot conforming, Cantlin said.

More needed

Keith Menia, from the town's engineering firm, explained to Cosimano that the town still needs a lot more information from him. This includes what the county health department will require for the building permit to be granted, what the sewer and water plan will be, and what the county considers the demand for a camp of this size.

Menia said, at this point, Cosimano’s application is not complete.

Cosimano said he plans for the cabins to have incinerator toilets.

Once Cosimano has submitted septic and water information, both the county and the town’s engineers will review it, Stapf said.

A lot of the residents at the public hearing where put out by the limited amount of information Cosimano had submitted and presented.

Stapf said that the planning board is waiting for Cosimano to find out from Albany County’s health department what will be required. It’s up to the applicant to bring the information to the town, Stapf said.

The planning board regularly postpones votes until the applicant supplies all the information it has requested.

Cosimano said that he will only have six to 10 people staying at the camp at one time; there will only be one person per cabin and the opportunity for a few people to stay in the lodge.

"I don’t want to impact the property at all," he said.

He has located existing meadow areas to build his main buildings, and is not planning on cutting down major trees, he said.

"There’s a lot of limestone rock I don’t want to touch," he said.

A number of the current residents testified to the susceptibility of the rocks to fracture.

Dan Driscoll, a founder of the Mohawk Hudson Land Conservancy and co-author of the Helderberg Escarpment planning guide, spoke to the planning board to offer his recommendations.

This particular area is a very visible part of escarpment, Driscoll said. He recommends prohibiting any clear-cutting.

Also, Driscoll said he had completed noise surveys in this area, and the sound levels are very low; amplified music should be properly contained within sound-proofing.

Cosimano has indicated that, down the line, he may want to put a recording studio on site for musicians or a print shop.

The planning board has not yet made a ruling on this application and will be considering it again, at its next meeting on July 11, after receiving more information about sewage management and well-water supply.

Assessment settlement
School to pay country club $96K

By Holly Grosch

NEW SCOTLAND — The Voorheesville School Board has agreed to reimburse the Colonie Golf and Country Club $96,500.

The school district, the town of New Scotland, and the country club after years of negotiations have come to a settlement on what the 244 acres of private property on Maple Road will be assessed for 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006.

The town assessor, Julie Nooney, had assessed the golf club at almost $3.2 million for 2003 through 2005.

After protesting to the board of assessment review, the club was not satisfied and sued the town for a reduction.

The settlement signed by Supreme Court Judge Joseph Teresi in Albany County this month reduces the assessment on the town’s rolls for the past three years, thereby reducing the amount of taxes the club owed, but has already paid, for which it must now be reimbursed.

The school district has to return $96,500, and the town of New Scotland will refund about $6,000. The school’s tax rate per $1,000 of assessed property value is much higher than the town’s.

The country club waived receiving interest.

At this month’s school board meeting, the board moved $96,500 out of the 2005-06 budget into a tax certiorari reserve fund to pay the club. The board resolution states that the money is coming out of "unexpended/surplus funds."

School board member Kevin Kroencke said at the meeting that he thought money had already been set aside anticipating the expected refund liability.

Voorheesville school district’s Assistant Superintendent for Business Sarita Winchell said that the money had been earmarked and now the district is just picking it up and putting into a reserve.

Town Supervisor Ed Clark said he doesn’t know yet where the town board will get the refund money from. It will have to come out of a contingency fund, he said.

For 2003, the country club’s assessment is now $2,082,805; for 2004 and 2005, the club’s buildings and grounds have an assessed value of $1,912,500 — a reduction of over $1 million each year.


Both the town of New Scotland and the country club acquired independent appraisals in 2005, which, along with comparable sales prices, are used to argue what is the true market value of a property.

The country club submitted an appraisal of $1.7 million and the town’s independent appraisal came in at $2.8 million — both substantially lower than the assessor’s $3.2 million appointed value.

The Colonie Golf and Country Club is currently owned by Colonie Country Partners LLC, which bought the property in February of 2005 for $1,918,000. It had been owned by a board of directors previously, but was bought out by a few individual members who now own it privately.

Country clubs are assessed differently than commercial land or vacant land, Winchell said.

There are "only so many golf courses in the universe" to get comparable sales from, school board member Kroencke said, and both parties used three of the same comparables to argue their case, he said.

John Tabner, of Tabner, Ryan and Keniry, represented the country club and Patrick L. Seely, of Hacker & Murphy represented both the school district and the town, which entered into an intermunicipal agreement to jointly fight the petitioner.

The town was advised by its legal counsel that, if New Scotland didn’t settle and the suit went to court, the outcome could be worse, Supervisor Clark told The Enterprise. Additionally, Clark said, "Going to court would be extraordinarily expensive"; often the legal fees cost more than what the municipality gets back for winning in court, Clark said. Seely is a very experienced attorney whose firm specializes in defending assessments for commercial properties, Clark said.

Clark said the town board authorized Seely to negotiate and sign the settlement on the town’s behalf, then through e-mail or phone conversations all the board members agreed to the settlement numbers as they became finalized, which their legal counsel believed to be the best they could get, Clark said.

The school board voted on the settlement after an executive session in May with only board member Kevin Kroencke voting against it.

Kroencke told The Enterprise that he believed it was a good settlement but he "voted against it on principle," because the golf club was the only parcel in town that was not reassessed in this year’s town wide re-valuation.

The lawsuit challenged the assessments of the past three years, but one of the last clauses of the agreement says that the country club will not challenge the 2006 assessment as long as it stays at the value that was announced in its preliminary disclosure notice sent out in February, which still lists the assessment at the old $3,190,000 value.

Nooney confirmed for The Enterprise that she did give the country club on the rolls the same assessment for 2006 as it was assessed in 2003-05 without re-valuing it. She said she chose to not reassess the property because of the pending legal battle. While it is not common for an assessor to not re-assess a sole parcel in town, it is left to the better judgement of the assessor and legal counsel.

"It’s a judgement call," Nooney said.

Best deal"

Winchell considers tentatively setting the assessment for 2006 and 2007 as one of the benefits of the agreement that makes it a good deal for the school so that it won’t have to worry about paying for legal cost in the near future.

However, as Winchell recognized, the 2006 and 2007 tentative assessment of $3,190,000 only applies if the parcel remains unchanged.

As previously reported by The Enterprise, the country club is under contract to sell off about 50 acres to developers Amedore Homes to build a 37-house exclusive golfing residential community, which would then create two separate parcels with two separate assessments.

In the intermunicipal agreement between the school and town, it was agreed that the school would pay 80 percent of the legal fees and the town would be responsible for the other 20 percent, since the school would be reaping or losing the greater amount of tax dollars.

It appears that the country club got the better end of the deal, when comparing the revised assessments for the last three years, with the two 2005 appraisals.

The settlement assessment of $1.9 million is a lot closer to the country club’s appraisal of $1.7 million than the town’s appraisal of $2.8 million.

Winchell told The Enterprise that comparing the revised assessment roll directly to the 2005 appraisal does not give an accurate picture. The settlement was done by true value, Winchell said.

"We were advised by our attorney that, if we went to court, a judge would be inclined to split the difference," Clark told The Enterprise. So, after additional legal fees, the municipalities would not fare any better.

Kroencke told The Enterprise that he was under the impression that the settlement represented a split of the difference between the appraisals.

While the point of the 2006 town-wide reassessment was to bring every property up to 100 percent value, in 2003 a state-set equalization rate had to be applied to the assessed values to get the dollar amount to be taxed, Winchell said.

The equalization rate in 2003 was 88 percent; in 2004, the equalization rate was 85 percent; and, in 2005, the equalization rate was 74 percent, Winchell said. The assessed values over time slipped farther and farther away from the 100 percent full market value. So the $3.2 million assessed value for 2003, 2004, and 2005 was multiplied by the equalization rate of each of those years, Winchell said.

Seely said, when factoring in the equalization rate, the settlement does split the difference of the appraisals.

When asked how he can assure his clients that $3.2 million is a fair assessment for 2006 when there was no new revaluation or appraisal done on the property this year, Seely said that it is true he can’t know exactly, but, it’s a fairly accurate assessment when considering at what rate properties all across town increased in value with the revaluations.

Town-wide, for all classes of property, before the assessment board of review heard cases, the average assessment increased by 67 percent.

So, the court ordered, the revised 2005 assessment for the country club is $1.9 million, and that increased by 67 percent would to be about $3.2 million.

Nooney said that now there are no other pending suits lingering from previous years’ assessments. A settlement with Atlas Copco was reached and reported on last September; it was the other property that was part of intermunicipal agreement between the school and town for legally defending the assessment.

Property owners will be receiving on July 1 a letter in the mail informing them if, and by how much the board of assessment review reduced their 2006 assessment. They then, like Atlas Copco and the Country Club have done in the past, have the right to take their disagreement to court.

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