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Future of Heath Farm property is under discussion in Bethlehem

In November 2022, voters gave the Albany County town of Bethlehem the green light to spend nearly $3 million to acquire a once-bustling 300-acre dairy farm.

Heath's Dairy and Farm, spanning Glenmont and Selkirk, shut down in the late 1980s. The dairy dated back to the 1920s and the land had been farmed for nearly 250 years.

The vote to purchase the property came after a hard-fought referendum campaign. Officials argued that it would cement the land’s use for continued agricultural production for generations to come.

Bethlehem resident Steve Peterson claimed on social media the town used the farm's dilapidated barn as an emotional prop to convince voters to approve the project. He says the barn issue deserves more planning and community involvement.

“The town board meeting a couple of weeks ago was about a report about preserving the barn and how much that would cost," Peterson said. "I took it, put it on social media to get possibly some people discussing it. And people are discussing it. This was never about the barn. That's what I wrote on social media. Never about the barn. It was about the land, it was about grabbing the acres. The barn was used as a marketing piece in order to encourage people to come out and vote. And they did. People came out and voted. No doubt.”

"I would encourage everyone to be very, very careful about the information that they take off social media." said Democratic Bethlehem Town Supervisor David VanLuven, who added "There is an effort to protect the barn that sits at the intersection of Wemple Rd and Route 9W in Glenmont.

“The barn was not maintained for decades, so it's not in great shape. And over the last year, we've been working with structural engineers to get a clear determination of the condition of the barn, and then to identify what we would need to do to restore it to the point where it just stays as a pretty thing on the corner, restore it to the point where it can be used for agricultural operations, or restore it to the point where it can be used for farmers markets or things like that. So we have structural engineers working very hard to come up with the technical side of restoration of the barn,” VanLuven said. 

VanLuven points out that the Heath Farm advisory committee is tasked with developing a long-term vision plan for the land. Lauren Axford is the town's Open Space Coordinator.

“We're undergoing a 12 month period to craft this vision plan," said Axford. "And including that is looking at the barn and silo structure, which was the home of the Heath Dairy Farm, looking at the potential to stabilize the structures, whether we want to pursue a historic registration nomination, and to define some sort of goals for the ultimate end use of the barn. So we look to complete that visioning process by the end of 2024. And, you know, hope to start implementing some things on the land and with the structure, but looking right now to stabilize the barn, and buying the town about 24 to 36 months, to really start to mobilize funding resources, engage our, you know, list of potential partnering organizations and entities, and really go forward in a strategic way.”

Peterson insists there should have been more planning from the get-go. He says right now the committee is running on "dreams and ideas.”

“The barn may not make it that far. It may not. And then it may not even be feasible. Where are you going to get the money to even offset it and renovate it to save the structure,” asked Peterson. 

VanLuven counters had the farm been purchased by a developer, the barn would likely have been torn down by now. He says the level of restoration required is yet to be fully determined.

"And we see that again and again and again, at properties with historic structures. Where the barns are either just razed and the wood is recycled into something else, or the barn is taken apart and move to a new location,” said VanLuven, who stresses that the land development plan is a long-term commitment that includes space for parks, community gardens and traditional agriculture.

Peterson still has his doubts. “I don't think it's ever going to be restored. We don't have the money. No one is going to be giving grants and funding to it, in my opinion. Money is tight all over. And this is something that's not historic, as much as it is nostalgic,” Peterson said.


Dave Lucas is WAMC’s Capital Region Bureau Chief. Born and raised in Albany, he’s been involved in nearly every aspect of local radio since 1981. Before joining WAMC, Dave was a reporter and anchor at WGY in Schenectady. Prior to that he hosted talk shows on WYJB and WROW, including the 1999 series of overnight radio broadcasts tracking the JonBenet Ramsey murder case with a cast of callers and characters from all over the world via the internet. In 2012, Dave received a Communicator Award of Distinction for his WAMC news story "Fail: The NYS Flood Panel," which explores whether the damage from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee could have been prevented or at least curbed. Dave began his radio career as a “morning personality” at WABY in Albany.
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