Schenectady County

Duanesburg Planning Board member retires after 33 years

When Bill Ruther first joined the Planning Board, there were nearly two dozen active farms in Dua

PHOTOGRAPHER:

When Bill Ruther first joined the Planning Board, there were nearly two dozen active farms in Duanesburg, there was no such thing as a Harley Rendezvous and the present-day town supervisor was still in high school.

At the time, Ruther was operating the Windy Hill Farm, a sprawling 295-acre dairy operation off Hardin Road, that had been passed down to him from his father. He was approached by the town supervisor and asked to join the recently established board to represent Duanesburg’s agrarian interests.

“I just figured I could be of some support to the agricultural part of the town,” he recalled. “Lots of times, we think of housing and all that, but agriculture has concerns, too.”

But that was more than three decades ago. Now, the 72-year-old retired farmer and agriculture advocate is ready to conclude his time in office.

Duanesburg officials accepted Ruther’s resignation this month, ending his 33 years of overseeing development in the town. In his decision to leave the board, he said he thought it was time to give someone new an opportunity to serve the town.

“I think it was time for me to step off and let someone with more energy and time come on board,” he said.

Ruther is the second member to leave the Planning Board in less than two months. In May, former chairwoman Laura Silva announced her resignation after 10 years on the board.

“He will be missed,” said Supervisor Rene Merrihew, who was just graduating high school when Ruther joined the board. “His commitment to the town is rivaled by no one.”

Ruther readily admits that much has changed since he first took a seat on the board. The town that once boasted nearly two dozen farms now has fewer than a half-dozen that are still in operation; Ruther’s is among them.

Meanwhile, residential development has grown at a rate that Ruther never witnessed during his first years on the board. During the 1970s, he said, the town seldom received plans for any size of housing development.

“It was out of the ordinary to get a subdivision application,” he said. “Now you can get three or four of them each meeting.”

Through these development pressures, Ruther was always quick to champion the role of town agriculture. He served many years on the USDA’s Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Committee — now called the Farm Service Agency —and is still a member of the county’s County Soil & Water Conservation District.

Ruther also oversaw the planning for the town’s first Harley Rendezvous, an annual motorcycle rally that draws roughly 6,000 bikers each summer. He recalled the uproar that erupted after founder Kemp O’Connell first approached the town for a mass-gathering permit.

“It created a lot of interest to say the least,” he said. “The fire halls weren’t big enough for the crowds.”

But eventually, he said, the board was able to forge a truce between the bikers and concerned residents. He credited the board’s work with creating the framework for the rally, which has allowed the event to continue for 30 years.

“The board played a major part to get the applicant to work with the town so that it wasn’t a big controversy like it looked like it was going to be,” he said.

Board Chairwoman Sandra Scott said Ruther’s keen insight and vast knowledge of the town would be missed on the board. She said his years of service were marked by his ability to view projects in a careful manner and without prejudice.

“He’s always very calm,” she said. “He can listen to everybody and make up his mind.”

Categories: Schenectady County

Leave a Reply