Expansion of OSI Conservation Easement
**SECOR PARCEL SURVEY**
In 2000, the Open Space Institute (OSI) donated 112.64 acres to the Village of Nelsonville for scenic preservation and passive recreation. At the time, Nelsonville entered into a conservation easement with OSI to prevent commercial development anywhere on this land. The Village is now considering an expansion to this conservation easement that would incorporate a 4.12-acre, Village-owned parcel on Secor Street (currently zoned for Multi-Family; Tax ID# 38.17-1-6).
In this agreement, Nelsonville would maintain ownership of the 4.12 acres, but it would agree never to sell the land to a commercial developer. The land would remain public to Village residents in perpetuity.
Under the terms of this draft agreement, Nelsonville would keep its right to build a structure on this land (water well, playground, public restrooms, education space) so long as it is deemed a benefit to the community.
Read the draft proposal here (updated July 2020): http://bit.ly/2QKnw6g
View the recent appraisal [$190K] of this 4.12-acre property here: http://bit.ly/34yjWAl
View a map of this property here: http://bit.ly/2XELocV
Read the original 2000 OSI management plan here: http://bit.ly/33k7iU8
Read the original 2000 OSI conservation easement here: http://bit.ly/2RiDlRo
What is a conservation easement?
Conservation easements are interests in real estate that restrict the future development of property while preserving the land and its resources in perpetuity. Terms of agreements can vary depending upon retained building rights, land use, and whether or not public access will be allowed. Once a property is protected with an easement, it is protected forever. The easement holder assumes a perpetual obligation to monitor, enforce, and ensure that the land is conserved according to the terms of the easement.
What is OSI?
The Open Space Institute (OSI) is a land trust that began conserving land in New York State in 1974. To date, OSI has protected 149,000 acres of open space in the Adirondacks, Hudson River Valley, Shawangunks and Catskills. It has also saved significant, large-scale land tracts in Florida, Georgia, Maine, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia. It works with government agencies, landowners, and local land trusts to acquire land to protect diverse landscapes; preserves habitat for rare or endangered species; ensures water quality; facilitates wildlife adaptation to climate change; and enhances recreational access. It also protects land from future development through conservation easements while the land remains in private hands.
What is Nelsonville’s relationship with OSI? Why partner with this land trust over another?
Nelsonville has had a long and positive partnership with OSI for 26 years. In 1993, OSI acquired 503 acres on the slopes of Bull Hill that lie within the Village of Nelsonville from SMG Development Corporation. Over the course of several transactions, OSI donated much of the SMG Property to New York State as additions to Hudson Highlands State Park. In 2000, OSI donated 112 acres of the SMG property to the Village of Nelsonville. Referred to as the Nelsonville Nature Preserve or Nelsonville Woods, this land is identified as 38.17-1-3 on the tax map for the Town of Philipstown, Putnam County, New York. The Village Green (across from Nelsonville Hall) was also acquired by OSI and donated to the Village during this time. As a condition of these donations, the Village granted to OSI a conservation easement encumbering the Preserve to ensure that it is forever protected and used only for passive public recreation like hiking and bird watching. The Village is now considering an expansion to this conservation easement that would add the adjoining 4.12-acre parcel off Secor Street (tax map number 38.17-1-6).
Why is the expansion of the current conservation easement being considered?
The Village is considering expanding the current conservation easement with OSI to include the 4.12-acre property (zoned for multi-family development) that the Village owns off Secor Street to protect it from future commercial development and to place greater protections from potential local, State or Federal impositions on Nelsonville land through "public utility" eminent domain claims.
Who will own the Secor property if Nelsonville grants a conservation easement?
In this agreement, like the original conservation easement on the 112 acres, Nelsonville would maintain ownership, but it would agree never to sell the land to a commercial developer. The land would remain public to Village residents in perpetuity.
Can we ever build on this land in the future?
Under the terms of the current draft agreement, Nelsonville would maintain a right to build a community structure (water well, playground, public restrooms, education space) on the non-wetland portion of the property so long as it is deemed a benefit to the community. OSI has pledged to work with the Village if a future community need arises.
Who will maintain the Secor property from fallen trees, etc?
Currently, OSI does an annual inspection of the 112-acre Nelsonville Woods. They would continue to do this for the additional acreage. If a problematic condition arises, the current course of action is to notify the New York New Jersey Trail Conference (“NYNJTC”) and their Stewards, in conjunction with Village volunteers, who then clear any fallen trees that impede trail access. Fallen trees off trail, and in the forest in general, are left in place as these provide important wildlife habitat. Central Hudson responds to trees that jeopardize power lines. Additionally, the Nelsonville volunteer Trail Committee works in conjunction with OSI, NYNJTC and other entities to plan invasive species removal, debris cleanup, trail marking, etc.
Who is liable if someone is injured on the property or if a neighboring property sustains damage?
As with the current 112-acre Nelsonville Woods and all public right of ways, the Village of Nelsonville’s municipal general coverage extends to protect the municipality. There are also New York State general municipal laws that cover recreational uses identified as appropriate to the property. Some courts have interpreted New York’s Recreational Use Statute to cover public municipalities. NYS General Obligations Law subsection 9-103 limits the liability of landowners who voluntarily allow access to their land for certain recreational activities. These include common trail activities such as hiking, bicycle riding, horseback riding, and cross-country skiing.
Are there any fees or costs associated with granting this conservation easement?
There are no additional future fees associated with granting this easement. The Village currently does not pay taxes on this land, nor would it if the conservation easement is granted. The Village does not collect or save any revenue from this land, so there is not a current source of revenue that would be lost. The Village did pay $750 for an appraisal of the Secor property to ensure the fair market value was known before considering the agreement. OSI would cover the entire cost ($28,000) of an updated land survey of the entire Nelsonville Woods, including the Secor Street parcel, as part of the process.
What did the appraisal find?
The firm Ackerly & Hubbell Appraisal Corp inspected and appraised the Secor Street property in late September of 2019. The firm found that 60% or approximately 2.47 of the total 4.12 acres are wetlands. It is a NYS Department of Environmental Conservation regulation that wetlands are not to be disturbed or built upon. Thus, the appraisal is based on the 40% or approximately 1.65 “usable” acres. A comparison of recent sales of similar acreage provided an estimated value of $190,000 for the Secor Street property. The appraisal did not address what long term benefit or detriment an easement might have on the value of the land.
Isn’t the Secor Street Parcel already a park?
Historically, this 4-acre parcel of land has been utilized for outdoor recreation. The parcel has been identified as part of the Nelsonville Woods on official maps, including at the trailhead and Village park kiosks. Many residents view it as “defacto” parkland. As outlined in the Handbook on the Alienation and Conversion of Municipal Parkland (2017), New York courts place great weight on an “implied” designation of municipal parkland. As such, for Nelsonville to convert this land to another purpose could require a vote of the New York State Legislature. But while there is legal precedent to consider our 4-acre parcel as "implied" parkland, the fact that it has been zoned as multi-family residential creates some ambiguity about the Village's plans for this property. Expanding the existing conservation easement to include this parcel would constitute a "formal" parkland designation and help prevent misinterpretation of Village intent in the future.