New Paltz’s open space fund is up past half a million dollars, benefiting from a sharp rise in real estate prices last year. The fund comes from a local real-estate transfer tax, approved by voters, and the committee tasked with figuring out how to get the best bang for those bucks should have a good nest egg to begin that work. In the meantime, Town Board members took a small but significant step at their July 7 meeting, agreeing to spend just over $2,800 to buy 50 acres that no one ought to try to develop anyway.
The property was foreclosed on for taxes, and according to Supervisor Neil Bettez, this is not the first time. Bettez believes that once an out-of-town investor learns that this land is all-but-impossible to use for profit, they tend to walk away. This land was pulled from the tax sale this spring, and if this sale goes through it won’t be on the block again. The spending of $2,816 is subject to a permissive referendum, meaning that anyone opposed to the idea could force this question onto the ballot by gathering enough signatures of residents. Given the amount of money in question, that may not be likely.
If all land targeted to keep as open space was this inexpensive, the $500,000 now in the fund would be more than enough. Since that’s not the case, committee members are reviewing strategies for deciding how to get the most impact from those dollars. Bettez explained in an interview that the hope is that strategic purchases could be expanded, if neighboring landowners agreed to place conservation easements over areas that are unlikely to yield commercial enterprises anyway. In New Paltz, that’s most likely going to be because of the presence of wetlands. The foreclosed property slated for purchase can only be accessed wearing waders, Bettez said.