SARATOGA COUNTY -- Land conservation groups are hoping it's not too late to stop Saratoga County's recent tax auction sale of a forested property in Wilton that they say could be an integral part of a regional recreational trail system.
Saratoga PLAN and the Open Space Institute, the latter of which was negotiating to buy the 50-acre property from the previous owner before it went up for auction, have objected and may attend Tuesday's meeting of the Board of Supervisors in Ballston Spa to urge supervisors not to approve the sale.
"We don't want to ask for special treatment for someone who hasn't paid for their taxes, but we want them to understand this is part of a much bigger transaction and a bigger landscape that could benefit all Saratoga County residents," said Maria Trabka, executive director of Saratoga PLAN.
The property's owner is David Eger, who lives in Costa Rica. He said the 2015 taxes -- about $3,000 -- went unpaid due to an error by his bookkeeper and that he was never made aware of the delinquency or the county's plan to seize and sell the property. Subsequent taxes were paid, but the unpaid 2015 taxes were never paid, and that was enough for the county to foreclose on the property and offer it to the highest bidder at a March 20 tax auction. It was among 47 properties auctioned that evening.
The high bidder on the property was James Boshek of Malta, who bid $6,500. Efforts to reach him Monday were unsuccessful.
Such sales are not final, however, until they are approved by the Board of Supervisors. That approval could come Tuesday afternoon, unless the conservation groups can convince a majority of supervisors to vote against it.
Concerns about the county having auctioned the landlocked property off Woodard Road were aired during an April 9 meeting of the county board's Real Property Tax Committee, though the committee voted 3-2 not to remove the property from the sale approval list.
County Attorney Stephen Dorsey said the county followed appropriate procedures to notify the owner prior to the auction, with numerous notifications mailed to Eger before the county foreclosed, despite his contention that he was unaware of the proceeding.
"We absolutely followed the requirements of the Real Property Tax Law," Dorsey said. "There's no question that the county's foreclosure process was valid, and the county obtained legal title through that."
The land conservation groups say the property could link Moreau Lake State Park in Moreau with the Lincoln Mountain State Forest in Greenfield. Sitting near the state forest, it is one piece of a nearly 700-acre deal that the Open Space Institute has been negotiating with landowners for years. The land is in area known known as the Palmertown Range, the same group of wooded Adirondack foothills that includes Mt. McGregor.
The Open Space Institute is headquartered in New York City but works on land conservation projects throughout eastern New York. It has made other acquisitions in Saratoga County in the past and has already asked the county to reconsider.
"The landlocked parcel owned by Mr. Eger, land offered for sale through the county auction, is an important piece of this conservation corridor and part of a much larger conservation land deal that was on the brink of being consummated between David Eger, [landowner and developer] John Witt, and OSI," OSI Northern Program Manager Katie Petronis wrote in a letter to the county. "OSI remains committed to the acquisition of this parcel for conservation purposes, should it be presented with the opportunity."
Saratoga PLAN, the Saratoga Springs-based land conservation group, is also asking the county to reconsider the sale. It noted that state officials would like to see the Palmertown range preserved for public recreation, given that it is wild land close to the population centers of Saratoga Springs and Glens Falls.
"Due to the property's key location in the Palmertown landscape, its importance for an impending conservation land transaction, and the minor error leading to tax arrears, we ask that you reconsider its sale at this time," Trabka wrote in an April 4 letter to the Real Property Tax Committee.
Dorsey said the possibility of the land being part of a larger recreation project wasn't brought to the county's attention before the sale.
"We didn't know anything about it, and it was not part of any larger plan that the county itself has been involved in," Dorney said. "If the board approves it, it doesn't have to put an end to plans for the property -- all they have to do is turn around and try to negotiate a deal with the new owner of the property."
County Supervisor Tara Gaston, D-Saratoga Springs, a member of the Real Property Tax Committee who voted in favor of taking more time to review the sale, said she hopes to see it discussed by the full Board of Supervisors at Tuesday's meeting.
"It's my understanding there will be some public comment. I would like some discussion. I will probably make a motion for this to be separated out from the other sales," Gaston said.
She said she sees no reason not to take more time to study the situation and see if there would be harm to the county if the larger land conservation project doesn't go through.