NL residents urge support for land sale to rail trail

NEW LEBANON–Well over 80 town residents showed up for a public hearing May 17 to share their concerns and views–the majority of them positive– about the sale of a parcel of county land to the Corkscrew Rail Trail Association.

The hearing was held to discuss the proposed private sale of 16 Lover’s Lane in New Lebanon for use as part for the Corkscrew Rail Trail. The trail follows a portion of the former Rutland Railroad. Currently, the Corkscrew Rail Trail Association (CRTA) does not own any land—the group receives permission from the owners of the land where the railroad once ran to maintain the path for recreational use for the public.

A few months ago the 16 Lover’s Lane parcel was foreclosed on for failure to pay taxes and became the property of Columbia County. Parcels of land such as this would normally be put up for auction through the county’s tax foreclosure bidding process. But in this instance, the Town of New Lebanon will make a recommendation to the county as to whether or not it should be privately sold instead.

At a March 13 Town Board meeting, the public learned that the CRTA had sent a letter to the county requesting that this parcel of land be taken off of the block for foreclosure and instead sold to the CRTA in a private sale. After a lengthy public discussion, where an overwhelming majority of those attending supported the private sale, the board was deadlocked by a tie vote on whether or not to recommend the sale to the county. Council member Mark Baumli was absent from this meeting.

At the next Town Board meeting April 10, four of the five board members voted to send a letter to the county Board of Supervisors, asking the county to postpone any decision about the Lover’s Lane parcel until a public hearing on the matter could be scheduled in New Lebanon.

Terri Ann Koepp of Lebanon Springs, who had spoken in favor of the sale when it was first discusses, spoke again last week at the May 17 hearing, and once again voiced her support. “I have a great interest in children and their health, and families, and the families and children together have nothing in this town,” Ms. Koepp said. “We should, and why don’t we, use the Rutland Railroad bed as a drawing card to our town, to our businesses, and to our history, while gifting many families and visitors with the healthy benefit of the biking and hiking history trail of Lebanon, and be proud of this town.”

Bruce Shenker, a member of the Corkscrew Rail Trail Association, said in a separate interview that owning a piece of land would lend legitimacy to the CRTA, because the organization would finally have its own piece of the trail as opposed to merely gaining permission from landowners to use their land to maintain the trail.

Various other members of the community spoke out about the need for recreational areas in New Lebanon, for families and children to be able to spend time outdoors in a safe environment. Only a handful of residents spoke in opposition to the private sale.

The board took no action on the matter after the hearing, but the Town Board only has the power to recommend to the county how to dispose of the land. Town Board members will decide what their recommendation to the County will say when they meet June 12.

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