GLENMONT — The 80-year-old barn on Sandy Creek Farm is no more.
On Wednesday, April 27, the two-story structure that once housed a dairy farm owned by Thomas and Valerie Newell succumbed to the plans that will ultimately produce a 40-lot residential subdivision, not unlike the surrounding landscape of Meadowview and Chadwick Square before it.
“Too much development,” stated Elaine Wieczorek. The Selkirk resident took to social media once news of the barn’s razing was reported last week.
Town records state the farm had been in the hands of the Newell family since John M. Mabel and Ernest A. Newell purchased the 165-acre property in 1938. That’s approximately when the barn was built, too, according to Birchwood Archaeological Services, which estimated as such when formulating the “Historical Narrative Report: Sandy Creek Farm — Newell Dairy Infrastructure” report in February.
Plans to convert at least some of the land for residential housing was presented to the town’s Development Planning Committee as far back as 2012. In addition to the farm, the Newells had also presided over the non-for-profit organization responsible for the Bethlehem Cemetery that neighbors the middle school. The couple expressed plans to retire from the board last spring. Shortly following their retirement, a handwritten sign was propped in front of the red, wooden barn, advertising that farming equipment was for sale.
Many of those speaking up now are longtime residents who recall the cornfields that once lined Elsmere Avenue and Feura Bush Road, and neighboring farms that have since disappeared underneath housing developments in recent decades. In part, the barn represented a physical tie to Bethlehem’s legacy as a farming community. For others, adding more houses means choking out the area’s natural habitat.
“Where are the deer and the antelope going to roam,” asked Elsmere resident Carol Ann Rose-Gagner.
The Newell’s lived in the two-story, 2,300-square foot home on the other side of the meandering creek that cuts across the farm. It now has a for sale sign. The family was featured on the front page of The Spotlight nearly 20 years ago. Kim and Stephanie, just pre-schoolers, were pictured playing upon their swing set as Shep, the family’s border collie, stood vigil against coyotes. “The coyotes were here first,” Valerie told The Spotlight back in 1997. “We kind of infringed on their property. Though we pay the taxes, it’s their property.”
The general perception on the farming industry is that farms are disappearing to make way to developers. Where the food industry is predominantly sustained by large factory farms, smaller farms are no longer viable. According to a 2013 report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, most farming households derive all of their income from outside the farm, forcing 91 percent of those families to take on a second or third job.
Though attempts were made, the Newells could not be reached for comment.
“I think the town needs to have an active open space program,” said town board councilman David VanLuven. “People who are against it are saying that we have to defend an individual’s property rights. But, the reality is, we have to have an active open space program because I believe that people have the right to develop their properties.”
VanLuven spoke of his beliefs over an open space program while running for Town Board last year. He said landowners should be able to develop their land if they meet zoning requirements. “Because of that, if we as a community want to continue to have undeveloped land in town for farms, parks or whatnot, we have to invest in it. We have to compensate those landowners, and give them options that they may not have now. Because, we’re not investing in it.
“Peoples’ heads are going to explode when that barn on the Newell property gets torn down,” said VanLueven, prophetically, the morning before the barn was razed. “We assume that if [land] is undeveloped now, it’ll be undeveloped forever.”
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