To the Editor
Earlier this week we learned the exciting news that a couple are rehabilitating a historic building in Hillsdale to convert into a possible brewery and short-term rental spot. The owner noted that “this building is right across from the Harlem Valley Rail Trail. We think it will be a successful location” and with the construction of the rail trail they “see a renaissance on the horizon.” This is by no means the first instance of public trails being an engine of economic development. An internet search yields endless stories about the benefits of trails to local communities. You don’t have to look far in Columbia County to see the investment of countless volunteer dollars and hours of work, with great support from New York state, in a growing trail network. In addition to the Harlem Valley Rail Trail, the Albany-Hudson Electric Trail now has the strength of support from the Governor’s office, with its vision of the Empire State Trail.
Where is our county government in all this? Almost all of the work to develop recreational trails has been done without any help at all from our county government. The county may well be pleased with the benefits of these investments, but when given an opportunity to help, as in New Lebanon, they abdicate. Today’s headline tells us that the County Government Committee, meeting in executive session, has reversed its earlier unanimous approval of a sale of a property to the Corkscrew Rail Trail Association for a nominal amount. The county owns this property because of delinquent taxes after a tragic home fire. This property will now go to auction, with the current assessed value of $25,700.
The Corkscrew Rail Trail Association has already devoted volunteer hours that are worth well above that assessment to advance a regional trail that will run from Stephentown in Rensselaer County through New Lebanon, along the old Rutland Rail Road. Owning a piece of the trail would give added credibility to their efforts and make it easier to raise funds to support the larger project. This trail will be a great gift to the Town of New Lebanon, which has so many capable and generous citizen volunteers. Supervisor Colleen Teal understands this, as do the many citizens who’ve spoken out at two public hearings. The opposition came from, initially, two other council members, then three at the last vote. What’s to oppose? It’s a “red herring” to state that the sale would take the property off the county tax rolls. The trail group could make an annual Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) arrangement, as the Columbia Land Conservancy does for its Public Conservation Areas. And the benefits of the trail far outweigh its taxable value.
It’s very disappointing that the County Government Committee would reverse a prior decision, particularly in a closed door session. Instead, what if the county showed leadership by discussing the issues with the townspeople in an open forum? Such a discussion could help dispel any fears or misgivings, which come from less than a handful of people in any case. If it’s “too controversial” to sell the property to the Corkscrew Rail Trail Association, by definition, that means it’s debatable.