Romero wins bid for parcel to expand horse farm

The Enterprise — Marcello Iaia

Dancing Dreams is the name of Virginia Romero's stable. Her dreams are expanding as she is purchasing 42.5 acres foreclosed on by the county; she wants to use the land to bring autistic children and troubled veterans to her farm.

— Photo from Albany County’s file on parcel No. 309

Shaped like a backwards “P” on this map, labeled “4.31,” is the foreclosed property up for auction with a minimum bid of $68,000. The parcel marked “4.32” is owned by Virginia Romero. The parcel bordering the bottom of the “P” is owned by Timothy Lippert. The forested property on top of the “P” is owned by Donald Stamm.

BERNE — Two neighbors — a man who raises cattle and a woman who keeps horses — were the only bidders for a 42.5-acre property foreclosed on by Albany County, which lies between them.

The parcel was slated for conservation and had a minimum bid set at $68,000.

Virginia Romero’s bid of $81,000 beat the $75,100 bid by Timothy Lippert.

Romero said the land will allow her to bring autistic children, veterans, and their families to visit her farm, which she currently uses to board horses and give training clinics. A retired therapist who specialized in trauma, Romero says she doesn’t profit from operating her farm, called Dancing Dreams.

Romero stressed that she does not want friction with her neighbor. She doesn’t own the parcel until she and the county close on the purchase. The county legislature on July 14 unanimously approved sale of bids for the sealed-bid foreclosure auction. Romero’s winning bid was confirmed by the office of the Clerk of the Legislature.

“Moneywise, it’s taken everything that I have to buy this,” Romero said Wednesday. “So I’m tapped out right now.”

She said she came to her bid amount discussing it with relatives. While she originally planned to bid $75,000, she said, her son-in-law suggested she could lose it by only a few thousand, so she added another $6,000. Romero said she thought Lippert knew she doesn’t have much money and might bid $80,000, so she went up to $81,000. It is a mortgage she will have to pay off, she said. Her daughter had suggested $78,000 for the bid, but Romero said she doesn’t obsess over the few thousand she could have saved.

“It was just like, ‘I don’t want to lose this,’” she said.

Lippert had several letters of support from conservation groups and his attorney, Aline Galgay, that were kept in the county’s file associated with the property. He practices sustainable grazing and hosts educational seminars and bird-watching tours on his farm, which is within the watershed for Lake Myosotis — the source of water for the hamlet of Rensselaerville.

As Berne’s building inspector, Lippert recommended the demolition of a saltbox structure farther down Beaver Road on property that also borders the land that Romero won in the auction. The saltbox owner, Donald Stamm, believes that an offer made for his property in May 2013 through Galgay was on behalf of a client, Scott Green, who lives with Lippert.

Lippert told The Enterprise in April that he doesn’t know anyone trying to buy Stamm’s property and insisted that his decision as building inspector was based on the condition of the saltbox, its lack of residential amenities, and a previous incident when a man unknown to Stamm was growing marijuana and squatting in the saltbox.

Lippert could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Martin Tessarzik, who was hired by Stamm to stabilize the saltbox and groom surrounding land, said he has stopped working on the Beaver Road property, waiting for the outcome of the auction. A beef farmer, Tessarzik plans to have his cattle graze on the saltbox property.

“It does solidify our goal, so to speak,” Tessarzik said of Romero’s bid. “Because, if Mr. Lippert had been the high bidder and had been approved, he basically would have owned right down to that piece of land and it could have been very uncomfortable.”

The auctioned parcel, which is shaped like a backward “P,” borders the state’s Partridge Run Wildlife Management Area and surrounds Romero’s property, where she lives, on all sides not abutting the road.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation originally offered $68,000 to purchase the property but e-mails from county officials kept in the property’s file cite an “unavailability of state acquisition funds” and the deal was never completed. A requirement that the land be used for preservation or agricultural purposes was set on the auction, though, and it had a minimum bid of $68,000.

The vacant land is assessed for $40,600 with a full market value of $60,597.   

Almost two years ago, before the auction, Romero and county Legislator Deborah Busch sent letters to the county, offering $20,000 and asking for right of first refusal for Romero.

In a letter sent to the director of the county’s finance division, Jeff Neal, Romero wrote that, in December 2012, Lippert was brush-hogging the property that was up for auction and said the county had sold it to him. County officials later exchanged e-mails, saying Lippert had been contacted and told to stay off of the land, since the county still owned it.

“The way I knew he was involved in it at all was the fact that I was in my house and it sounded like the woods were coming down,” Romero said of Lippert’s brush-hogging.

She continued about the parcel’s fate, saying, “It’s pretty much right outside my side door, so I would have had no control whether there was hunting around me, I would have had no control what animals were around me…My dogs are free around my house and they’d only have to go a couple of feet and they’d be on his land. I’d really be boxed in.”

The county’s terms and conditions for the auction state that the legislature approving the sale considers the planned use of the property; whether or not it will be owner occupied; whether or not the bidder will rehabilitate the property; the extent of the financial investment and timeframe for the rehabilitation; and whether or not the bidder has previously purchased property from the county.

As Romero saves money and finds volunteers to help her, she plans to buy equipment to bale hay and brush-hog trails on the 42.5-acre parcel, leaving some areas untouched. Her goal is to host families or small groups of autistic children and veterans free of charge, for them to camp on the land and interact with the horses.

She said she has learned from Saratoga Warhorse, an organization founded by Bob Nevins that pairs horses with veterans who have post traumatic stress disorder, sleeplessness, or suicidal thoughts.

“They’re always focused in that fight-flight-freeze mode. They lose their ability to emotionally relate to other people,” Romero said.

Romero explained that a person can connect with a horse by learning its non-verbal communication. For someone who has a particular focus, as with autism, that focus can be expanded through being with horses, she said.

“It’s almost like laying pipes,” Romero said of what the horses can do for people who have emotional problems. “If you have a pipe from a pond or a water source and those pipes are clogged with water and dirt, the water’s going to come out dirty all the time.”

She added, “If you lay a second set of pipes that are not clogged, you can have a free flow of clear water.”

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