Hamlet hears of horses + houses

‘Equestrian community’ idea broached with Chatham officials

NORTH CHATHAM–This hamlet of about 800 people could expand by more than 60 new homes if a development idea discussed in a recent meeting with town officials comes to fruition.

Horse breeder and veterinarian Jerry Bilinski, along with former Columbia County Democratic Chairman Marty Torrey, Dr. Bilinski’s attorney and former Clifton Park town Supervisor Kevin Dailey, and a representative from the engineering firm Infinigy, met with zoning board of appeals Chairman David Everett, Planning Board Chairwoman Marilyn Cohen and Chatham town Councilwoman Jean Rhode at Town Hall May 27.

The planned discussion was noted in the Town Board meeting minutes from May as a meeting with Infinigy “regarding a proposed development on the Bilinski property in North Chatham.”

Mr. Everett said after the meeting that “they came in for a preliminary discussion because Dr. Bilinski would like to develop his property.”

Dr. Bilinski owns acreage along county Route 203 just south of the hamlet. Part of his land is the Waldorf farm, a horse breeding enterprise.

According to Mr. Everett, Dr. Bilinski and his representatives presented the concept of an equestrian themed development, with 60-to-70 half-million dollar homes, horse barns and community riding trails. Brochures from the Vermont based company Connor Homes were used to explain the historical look being considered for the development.

Mr. Everett said the proposal would fully comply with the current town zoning code and that Dr. Bilinski is very interested in preserving open space.

“What Dr. Bilinski is proposing is very, very tentative,” said Ms. Rhode.

Mr. Dailey, Dr. Bilinski’s attorney for the project, said a lot was discussed at the meeting. “First and foremost the use of the property as a horse farm will continue,” he said. But he said nothing has been decided and that several concepts that fit under the existing zoning laws are being considered. He declined to elaborate on the concept of an equestrian community.

“It’s much too early to talk about specifics, but if you want to go on the Internet there are several of these communities south of here.” A Google search does produce hundreds links to equestrian communities located all across the country. Most feature large, open spaces, and some communities target retirement-age populations.

Despite the accounts of others, Dr. Bilinski said in a phone call that he has no plans to build 60 or more homes and that he didn’t know of the engineering firm Infinigy. “I’m not developing anything,” he said.

Dr. Bilinski said his meeting with town officials was only to discuss the town’s comprehensive plan.

The comprehensive plan serves as a guide for a municipality’s future growth, and Chatham adopted its plan last year. But in order for the comprehensive plan to be implemented the town must make sure that its zoning laws conform to the plan, and a committee in charge of overseeing the implementation of the comprehensive plan was recently formed but has yet to meet.

Bob Balcom, president of the Chatham Democrats and a member of the steering committee that helped develop the comprehensive plan, sees a proposal for development in North Chatham as a perfect opportunity to showcase the purpose of the document. “Let Chatham grow, but put controls on the growth so it’s all something we can live with,” Mr. Balcom said.

He called on Infinigy to reach out to the public during the planning for any development that may occur.

Mr. Dailey said the representative of Infinigy’s had attended the meeting to help explain some of the conceptual proposals. “They haven’t been authorized to do anything,” Mr. Dailey said of the firm.

According to town officials, a timetable for possible development on Dr. Bilinski’s property was not discussed.

“We listened, and we basically gave them some copies of the law and some application forms,” Mr. Everett said.

For development to occur on his farm, Dr. Bilinski would first have to submit his application and then go before the town Planning Board.

“As a resident of North Chatham himself, I would hope that he too cherishes what we all cherish and his plans would reflect the best interest of the community in the long term,” said George Vollmuth, president of the North Chatham historical society.

Mr. Vollmuth said possible implications to both the hamlet’s infrastructure and its aesthetics should be considered with any kind of development.

“That open space and those fields are very much a part of the historic character that defines the place,” he said.

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