PINE BUSH – No ordinary public hearing this — about 120 people turned out to get a better feel for or comment on Zeke Alenick’s plan to develop his Corny Cattle Ranch and related properties into a gated agri-community for well-heeled investors hankering to get back to nature.
Anticipating a crowd, the Crawford planning board had moved the hearing to the Community Center next door to Town Hall, where less dramatic hearings play out. Beside community members, a half-dozen police officers were on hand June 27, as were town board members and supervisor Charles Carnes.
Many speakers began with some variation of "I’m all for it — if it’s developed as planned," and Alenick’s representatives did spend a lot of time dispelling fallacies such as a rumored slaughterhouse and the existence of members of some unnamed group who would descend on the property.
With the exception of one speaker who claimed — to scattered support — that the board did not represent the people and should be tossed out, most seemed to have come to the hearing willing to listen.
John Fuller of Port Jervis, the project’s civil engineer, began with an overview of the community to be called Farmhood Fields. The location is stunning — in all 610 acres now divided into twelve parcels, spill off of Route 302 in the Thompson Ridge section of town and in gentle rises and swales, some wooded, some clear, make for the imposing backdrop of the Shawangunk Ridge.
Under the plan, Alenick would consolidate twelve parcels he owns into one large parcel. Then 31 lots of at least two-and-a-half acres each would be sprinkled throughout the property. Prospective homeowners would buy a lot and also a share of the farm. The cattle operations would continue as would the cultivation of feed crops and vegetables and, in turn, perhaps cheese making and bee keeping for honey production.
Homeowners will able to do farm chores if they wish. They will also share in any profits or losses from farm operations.
The lots are designed for single-family homes, with individual wells and septic systems. The roads, primarily upgrades of existing farm roads, will remain private. Main entrances to the property, for example, those off of Crans Mill Road, Route 302 and Route 48, will be gated.
Agri-communities, sometimes called farm-to-table communities, have sprung up across the country. Most are built an easy distance from major cities. Atlanta, Chicago, Cincinnati, Denver and Phoenix all have such communities in their orbit. Farmhood Fields is targeting well-to-do investors. If not gentlemen farmers with the resources of Gilded Age industrialists, local investors must have a net worth of least a million dollars, according to figures quoted at an earlier meeting by project attorney Richard Stoloff of Monticello.
Planning board chair Linda Zwart did her best to keep the hearing orderly. Signup sheets were put out for would-be speakers, time limits were imposed and shouts from the crowd were discouraged. The crowd did let speakers, pro and con, make their point and many comments were greeted with applause.
Steve Motola of Crans Mill Road wanted to know how big the houses would be. Fuller explained that the homes would be four-bedroom, single-family structures in the 3,000- to 4,000-square-foot range, not mammoth mansions.
Keith Ingber of Burlingham Road, another property boundary, said the town needs projects like Farmhood Fields to help maintain the character of the town. But he was adamant that the view, especially from Route 302, be preserved. It’s a precious asset, he said. Indeed, part of the project does lie in a so-called scenic overlay zone, which imposes another layer regulation on anything built in the zone.
Ingber objects to fences and trees that Alenick has placed along the property on Route 302. When the trees mature they will detract from the view, he contended.
Environment Front And Center
"Why is the fence there?" he wanted to know. He wants the fence removed and the trees cut down. The owner can do it voluntarily or the board should make its removal a requirement of any permit, he said.
But at least two other speakers commented that farms need fences to keep the animals penned in.
Like many speakers, Ellen Rogan, who also lives on Burlingham Road and has clashed with Alenick in the past, zeroed in on the environment, saying efforts must be made to disturb as little as possible.
And Lynn Butler, who has a 20-acre horse farm on Andrews Road, said work already being done at the site has caused huge dust clouds and flooded part of her property. Butler’s attorney, Bruce Dunn, was given more time by far than any other speaker and took Alenick to task, questioning if he even ran a farm or was simply a developer masquerading as a farmer.
There wasn’t any doubt in Jenny Poley’s mind that Alenick is a farmer. She told the crowd about how thrilled she was to be surrounded by livestock on a visit to Corny Cattle Ranch. Poley is a businesswoman. Her company, Volum8, in Montgomery, is designing a logo for Farmhood Fields, working on branding and developing a website.
Her face lit up when she said the development will be something "Pine Bush can be proud of."
Other business people spoke in favor of the farm community. Skip Chambers who sells tractors and other farm implements in Montgomery, said Alenick runs a top notch operation. And others spoke about the jobs the project would bring, and the new neighbors who would add vitality to Crawford.
The planning board kept the hearing open, the public will be more chances to comment as the project wends its way through the approval process.
It was a long night, and at times even Zwart did appear vexed by the proceedings. Alenick, however, might want to take the advice of one woman who commented after the hearing on the demeanor of his representatives. She spoke particularly about Stoloff, the attorney. At times he did seem exasperated by some of public’s questions and reluctant to explain the project’s point of view. "He’s supposed to represent" the owner, she said, put on the best face possible and not look like he’s doing everybody a big favor by being there. "If I was the owner, I’d fire him," she said.