Tractor phobia grips dead end

Copake neighbors of new farmers want quiet street

COPAKE—While people at the church on one side of the hamlet prepare to welcome new farmer residents, people on the other side of the hamlet want the farmers to keep their distance.

With the onset of spring, three recently-arrived farm families connected with ventures at the new Copake Agricultural Center on 197-acres in and around the hamlet have tilled the soil, built a greenhouse and set about the business of growing vegetables and flowers.

But a handful of residents on Taconic Street, off Main Street in the hamlet, believe these farmers are going to wreak traffic havoc by driving their tractors through the hamlet and most importantly down “their” road.

There are six houses on Taconic Street, which is one-tenth of a mile long, including two houses on each corner of the east end that face Main Street. Seven residents of the street signed a petition that was presented to the Copake Town Board at the May 8 meeting.

The petition asks the town to “erect a Dead End sign at the east end of Taconic Street at its juncture with Main Street and also install three bollards at the west end of the street… These alterations will help preserve our present long-standing status as a quiet, low-traffic, dead-end street.”

Town Attorney Ken Dow explained that Taconic Street is a user road and as such is a public highway that has been maintained by the town for 50 years. While the property owners along the road own the land underneath the surface and would have some say should a utility company want to install cable under the road, “the surface of the road is public and landowners have no rights of restriction on the road,” said Mr. Dow.

Supervisor Jeff Nayer said he saw no problem with installing a Dead End sign, but noted, “We can’t stop people from going up and down that road.”
The road is in fact a dead end road with no turn-around area at the end. Where the road pavement ends farmland associated with the Agricultural Center begins.

Several years back, when Housing Resources of Columbia County proposed a 138-unit senior and mixed-income housing development on the land that is now part of the Agricultural Center, the plan called for Taconic Street to be an entry to the development. The housing project, which eventually fizzled due to lack of funding, and its plan for Taconic Street were highly controversial at the time.

During the public comment portion of the Town Board meeting Doug Goodhue, a Taconic Street resident, agreed that the street is a user road, but argued that it is owned by the people who live on it. He quoted from state law saying, “No travelled portion of the road has been established.”

Mr. Goodhue also expressed concern that an eight-foot-high deer fence to be erected around the farmland will decrease the value of properties within sight of that fence.

Taconic Street resident Charles Benansky said he heard that the Agricultural Center was going to put a produce stand at the end of Taconic Street. “There’s no room to park on Taconic Street. Are they going to park on my lawn? People on Taconic Street have paid taxes here” for a long time. “You should take us into consideration.”

“The Town Board is not giving him any special treatment,” said Supervisor Nayer, referring to Bob Bernstein, who was instrumental in bringing the Agricultural Center to Copake. The supervisor said the state Agriculture and Markets Right to Farm Law governs the center’s agricultural activities. “We’ve got a farming community. If they have a legal right to do it there’s no way the town can stop them.
“You want no one to use the road, but you want the town to continue to take care of it?” asked the supervisor, adding that even though the town can put up a Dead End sign, that does not prevent farmers from driving on the road to and from their private property.

“I think it’s wrong; we were here long before he was. It’s dead wrong to make [Taconic Street] a thoroughfare,” argued Mr. Benansky.

Taconic Street resident Diana Wilson said the street is narrow and has no lines. She said all vehicles that enter the street have nowhere to turn around and must back out. She said children run in the street and that farm machinery would “wear down the road. It’s a matter of safety.”

Called for comment after the meeting, Mr. Bernstein said this week that he does not have any plans for a produce stand on Taconic Street. The agricultural center does have plans to install a deer fence around the perimeter of the property, which runs behind Main and Church streets and Farm Road, along Mountain View and Center Hill roads. He said there is no question that such a fence is permitted under the Right to Farm Law and his organization has gone to great lengths to design a fence that is as attractive as it can be and allows the view to be as unobstructed as possible.

Mr. Bernstein said one tractor traveled down Taconic Street and residents’ reaction was “quite strong.” While the center has no plans to use Taconic Street as a primary access route to the farmland, it is his understanding that it is a public road and it would be legal to use it.

Highway Superintendent Bill Gregory said he is going to put up at Dead End sign on the road, but will not install any bollards or blockages at the end of the street.

In the meantime, the Copake United Methodist Church has invited the community to an open house at the Church house, 1668 Church Street, Sunday, May 18 from 3 to 5 p.m. to welcome the new farm families to town.

To contact Diane Valden email .

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