Farm to be Preserved
County seeks to keep 178 acres in Yorktown as open space
Hilltop Hanover Farm has represented the very essence of picturesque open space in Yorktown and this morning (Wednesday) Westchester CountyExecutive Andrew Spano announced a county initiative that would safely acquire 178.5 acres of the farm, along with its pastures, woodlands and vistas.
Spano made the announcement, flanked by Yorktown Supervisor Linda Cooper and Westchester County Legislator Michael Kaplowitz (D/Somers/Yorktown) at a press conference at the historic site.
Upon taking office in 1998, Spano launched a $25 million open space program that has already led to the preservation of more than 2,300 acres in Westchester through various public and private partnerships with other governments, businesses and nonprofit groups.
Earlier this year, he proposed an additional land acquisition program - Westchester Legacy - a program to spend $10 million more a year for the next five years to preserve open space and acquire parkland for active recreation.
"This will be another jewel in our already extraordinary inventory of open space," Spano said.
Under the proposal, the county will pay $2.8 million for the property, which is on both sides of Hanover Road.The 128.5-acre parcel on the east side will be used for open space; a 50-acre parcel and buildings on the west side of the road may be used as an environmental education center, possibly in cooperation with agriculture or horticulture groups, such as the Cornell Cooperative Extension.
"This is a 19th century farm located in a spot where watershed, water quality, agricultural open space preservation issues converge," Spano said. "We want to establish a center devoted entirely to the protection of the natural environment-a working classroom in pesticide-free agriculture, a place to study wildflowers and birds, a laboratory and learning center for county residents."
Located in the southeast quadrant of Yorktown, the farm is about 1.5 miles north of the Croton Reservoir, which has also been a focal point of the proposed acquisition, in order to maintain the safekeeping of the precious water source.
However, the proposal to acquire Hilltop Hanover Farm must be approved by the Board of Legislators.But Kaplowitz, who chairs the Board's Environmental Committee, said he would do everything necessary to get board approval." It shouldn't be a hard sell. They don't make any more of this prime land or at such a fair price," Kaplowitz said.
"This is an excellent opportunity for the county to act to preserve an important piece of property. Once you lose farmland, you never get it back. And this particular farm is on a pristine location, from where you can literally see Manhattan," he added.
Kaplowitz said while there is no immediate date for a decision on the issue, he maintained there could be legislation passed by the end of the year, if not early fall.
"Good legislation takes time," Kaplowitz said.
Cooper echoed both Spano's and Kaplowitz's thoughts on the importance of saving open space and a piece of Yorktown's agriculture history.
Speaking on behalf of the Town Board Cooper said: "We think it's fantastic. We really support the county's effort to turn Hilltop Hanover into a (agricultural/educational) park."
Salvatore Carrera, director of real estate for the county, said, "This was a very difficult negotiation. But we now have a deal that benefits the people of Westchester-as taxpayers and as residents who will get to enjoy this beautiful property."
Spano explained it is the county's goal to preserve most of the existing buildings, which include a 4,000-square-foot main residence, a manager's house, a caretaker's house, a dairy barn, a horse barn and other storage areas.
According to Yorktown history, descendants of Nathaniel Underhill, who settled in Westchester County in the late 1600s, appear to have occupied the property, beginning in the late 18th century, and the main residence was reportedly built around 1785.
The two roads that cross the farm (now called Hanover Street and CrotonHeights Road) are known to have existed before the American Revolution.
A number of historic stone walls are clearly visible around the perimeter and through the interior of the property, indicative of early farm patterns and suggests the land was in agricultural use for as many as 200 years.
Roughly 55 years ago, Hilltop Hanover became a dairy farm, first forHolstein cows, then for Guernseys, which were bred and raised on the farm.
The breeding operation was discontinued in the early 1990s due to a sluggish economy. The cows were sold in the mid-1990s, as the owners sought to sell the farm as well.
The property has been on the market since 1995, originally with a price tag of $6 million, and has been carefully maintained. Part of the property is currently rented by owners of a local farm stand to grow vegetables.
Presently, John Sites and Giles Brophy own the property and would retain 70 acres of the land if Spano's initiative were seen to fruition.
"We are thrilled to do this," Sites said. "It is a good example of public and private organizations converging in a good way for everyone."
"This is a win-win situation for everyone involved," Brophy added.
Approximately 23 acres of the land were approved by the YorktownPlanning Board for residential development last year.
The 12 lot subdivision, known as Dorchester Heights, received considerable opposition over the last year due not only to its infringement on the then questioned status of the historical landmark but also to the influx of traffic, mitigation and environmental issues it could pose.
Brad King, North County News, July 11 - 17, 2001, Volume 35, Number 28
Martin Wilbur contributed to this article
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