Montgomery, critical of process, votes no
The Putnam County Legislature voted 8-1 on Tuesday (July 7) to add 11.5 acres of Horsemen’s Trail Farm in Philipstown to the Putnam County Agricultural District.
The county established the district in 2003 as a way to tap into a state program designed to preserve farmland. According to the county, adding farms helps protect them “from the enactment and administration of unreasonably restrictive local regulations unless it can be shown that public health or safety is threatened.”
Legislator Nancy Montgomery, a Democrat who represents Philipstown, cast the lone dissenting vote. She raised no objections to the farm being added to the district but said she felt the public hearing process had been flawed. (On Thursday, July 9, in her monthly report to the Philipstown Town Board, she elaborated: “I’m fully in support of agriculture in Putnam County, including the parcel in Philipstown.”)
Horsemen’s Trail Farm lies near Route 9 in the North Highlands. It was established by David Vickery and his late wife, Mary Ellen Finger, and its animals include chickens that provide eggs to Foodtown. Part of the farm was already in the district.
On July 1, via audio connection, the Legislature conducted a public hearing on recommendations by the county Agriculture and Farmland Protection Board to add the Horsemen’s Trail Farm acreage and the 1.3-acre Pro Brothers Farm in Southeast to the district. Valley View Farm in Putnam Valley also applied for the designation but the board recommended it not be added.
At the hearing, the only members of the public to comment were Putnam Valley Supervisor Sam Oliverio, who opposed the Valley View application; a Valley View representative, who tried to rebut Oliverio; and a neighbor of the Pro Brothers Farm who objected to its inclusion.
Montgomery attempted to speak, but Toni Addonizio, who represents Kent and chairs the Legislature, prohibited it.
In response, Montgomery questioned when legislators “are going to have a public meeting where the public can be engaged and involved,” instead of continuing “months of closing the public and closing legislators out” under the audio-link format favored by the Legislature since the COVID-19 shutdown began.
“This is not good government,” Montgomery asserted.
Other local governments, including Cold Spring, Philipstown and Beacon, use interactive video conferencing that allows communication with viewers.
On Tuesday, at the Legislature’s monthly meeting, Montgomery continued her criticism. “The public were really not given an opportunity to speak at the hearing,” she said. “We failed [them]. We owe it to the public to hold another hearing and hold off [a vote] until everyone is heard.”
Addonizio replied that residents could register for the hearing, as explained on the legislative website. “That was very clear,” she said.
Montgomery said she would vote “no” on Agricultural District matters, despite the Horsemen’s Trail Farm application, “because of the way the hearing was managed and held…. My vote is because of the process and because I don’t think we did the public any service.”
Legislator Ginny Nacerino of Patterson cautioned Montgomery that “voting ‘no’ would be a detriment to the farm in your town.”
“It is a detriment to the entire public to not allow them an opportunity to speak at a public hearing,” Montgomery responded.
Nacerino said members of the Legislature never speak at its public hearings. “That’s not how we conduct our business,” she said.