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Some Call It Progress. . .
Dozens of families along the Mohawk River may lose their homes to a development project, because they don’t own the land underneath

By Travis Durfee
Photos By Joe Putrock

That’s what the units will look like,” Gail Krause says, pointing a manicured finger at the easel at other end of a conference table cluttered with environmental impact statements and project narratives. On display is a poster-sized mock-up portraying the interior of a luxury condominium unit, one of many Krause is hoping to bring to the town of Halfmoon as part of a major development project.

The pencil-and-marker drawing offers a colorful view of a spacious condo from its front door: Transom lighting crowns the wall opposite a large kitchen, which is bordered by a snaking, wraparound counter. Deeper into the unit, armless high-back chairs are clustered around the center of the living room, adjacent to the fireplace. Bedroom and library doors dot the opposite wall. A view of the Mohawk River is visible through two tall windows at the far end of the room. This unit doesn’t have access to a veranda, but others will.

“You like it?” Krause asks, smiling, beaming really. “I’m very excited.”

And what ambitious businesswoman wouldn’t be? The project is huge: Thirty-two acres, 254 luxury waterfront condominiums, 24 units available for overnight stays, an expanded version of the restaurant she currently runs, a meeting facility, parking for 761 automobiles, expansion of the town’s municipal sewer, natural gas and water lines. That huge.

The project would also reinvent a once-thriving recreational spot that the town lost years ago: Halfmoon Beach, which is currently under water. Over the years, as barge traffic from Erie Canal steadily declined, so did the state’s annual upkeep of the Mohawk’s silt deposits, town officials say. The lack of dredging, coupled with generations of unchecked milfoil and water chestnuts, backed up the river and turned the beach into something that today more resembles a swamp. Krause’s plan, titled the Northshore Revitalization Project, would undertake a massive dredging operation to clear out the muck, refill the area and re-create the beach where Krause’s father-in-law turned a successful hotdog stand into the restaurant and clam-steam pavilion that the family operates today.

Krause also wants to add a marina with docking for 50 to 60 boats, which surely would pique the interest of recreational boaters along the Mohawk River, she says. Ed Esposito, a landscape architect for Bast-Hatfield, the region’s second largest general-contract construction company, began working with Krause toward the end of last summer to develop this resort- condominium-marina concept.

“Visually, it’ll be a nice addition to a Thruway billboard to see that we have an improved, regrowth version of Krause’s Restaurant that has this public-gathering element,” Esposito says. “The true benefit of this project to everyone is to just say ‘Out with the old and in with the new’. . . . ‘And I think the town needs to accept this plan in its entirety to see its true benefit.”

Krause wholeheartedly agrees.

“I think Halfmoon needs something like this,” she says. “I drive down the road [to my restaurant] every day and I see that it’s just so beautiful, but this property is being destroyed. . . . I’m not doing the property justice.”

But when Krause speaks of her property’s destruction, she has more on her mind than silt or invasive species. Krause is talking about the nearly 40 families that live on her property and have done so, in some cases, for the last quarter-century. These are families that will have to go for this project to be realized, and Krause says that she is ready to evict. But she took her sweet time telling her tenants.

It was a typical mail run that Saturday late last November, Nancy Glaser thought. And the score didn’t seem too out of the ordinary at first—mostly junk mail, as usual. But there was that one letter, the one from the New York State Canal Corporation. Glaser had no idea what it could be about and was even less sure after she opened it.

The letter said that as of Jan. 1, 2004, she no longer could have use of the slice of land connecting the lot that she rented from the Krauses—on which sits the home that she owns—with the shoreline of the Mohawk River, which is owned by Canal Corp. This didn’t make sense at all. Glaser and her husband had been granted access to that land ever since they purchased their house and started renting lot space, currently at $300 a month, from the Krauses in 1985. Glaser and her husband had maintained the strip of land all those years, too, mowing and weeding. To lose use of it without a given reason seemed more than a little strange. And Glaser had the rest of the weekend to stew on it. First thing Monday morning, she placed a call to Canal Corp. for some answers.

“They said my state permit was canceled because the Krauses were developing the land. I said, ‘The Krauses are developing the land! Oh, really,’” remembers Glaser, 57, a retired insurance underwriter.

Glaser and a friend made a trip to Town Hall later that day and, sure enough, filed in the clerk’s office was a multipage booklet describing the Krause’s Northshore Revitalization Project. The report didn’t even mention the 40 families living on the Krause’s land, and referred only in passing to “40 assorted 1200 SF –1600 SF Camp structures.” “Camp structures,” Glaser thought? This seemed a bit insulting to someone who’d called her “camp structure” “home” for the past 20 years.

These camp structures existed at Halfmoon Beach long before the town of Halfmoon began recording things like building permits and tax parcels, back when the town was strictly farm country. The cottages had already been constructed back when W.D. Ryan owned the land in the 1930s. They remained when the Carlsons bought it from him, stayed put when the Sicko family purchased it years later and were still standing when Stephen Krause—Gail’s father-in-law—purchased the 17-acre plot in 1959. What scant evidence of these cottages exists at Town Hall estimates that many were built during the 1910s and 1920s. The camps changed hands from private owner to private owner, and the cottage owners paid lot rent to whoever owned the land.

Though the camps were mostly used for seasonal lodging, that changed over time, say Glaser and a half-dozen other year-round residents on the Krauses’ land. In the early- to mid-1980s, Stephen Krause started letting families winterize the summer cottages and convert them to year-round residences, Glaser and others say.

“It was a handshake agreement with the father and a 99-year lease. You had to pay annual lot rent and that was it,” Glaser says.

Krause vociferously disputes this point.

“My father-in-law wouldn’t have said that, ‘a 99-year lease,’ ” Krause mocks. “He wouldn’t have even used those terms.”

“She has no idea what she is talking about,” Glaser says, shaking her head in disbelief, and questioning whether Krause had even met her father-in-law. Glaser says it’s easy for Krause to deny their previous rental agreement because there was never a written contract drawn up between Stephen and his tenants.

When Stephen Krause died in 1990, his wife Helen kept the property. When she died in 1996, the property went to all their children. In 1999, Gary, Gail’s husband, and Gail bought out all the other siblings. Gary has since transferred ownership to a limited liability company, Krause Properties, LLC. Gary Krause elected not to speak to Metroland for this story; Gail says that she is in charge of the Northshore Revitalization Project.

After leafing through the copy of the Northshore Project at the town clerk’s office that Monday, Glaser paid for a copy and took it to her house, a single-story with a wooden deck facing the Mohawk. Once home, Glaser scanned the report into her computer and printed up copies for her neighbors. For a few weeks prior, there had been chatter in a few local watering holes about a development project of some sort, but no one was certain about the Krause’s plans until Glaser made her delivery.

“The people living down here have a right to know what’s going on,” Glaser says, raising her voice. “People are going to be displaced.”

Krause says she didn’t want to tell the people renting land from her what she was planning until it was moving ahead for sure.

“I was not going to inform everybody of what we were doing because at that point we didn’t know what we were doing,” Krause says. “Did I think I should have came to them early and told them? No, no. The project, when they found out about it, it was just a plan at the town. . . . It wasn’t a project at that time.”

But it sure looked like a project to the people renting from Krause.

James Pratt, 50, has owned his home on the Krauses’ land for the past 12 years. Pratt says he sank nearly $15,000 into his home over the past few years redoing his bathroom, kitchen, living area and bedroom and feels especially slighted by Krause’s decision not to inform her tenants of her plan considering a chance interaction the two had last fall.

Pratt says he was mowing his lawn last October when Krause, driving by on a golf cart, stopped to pay him a compliment on the upgrades he’d made to his home.

“She said, ‘Boy, the windows look beautiful. When are you putting the siding on your house?’ ” he remembers. “This was in October. Next thing you know, boom.

“My house is going to be a parking lot,” Pratt barks. “It sucks.”

The situation at first smacks of an old-fashioned landlord-tenant dispute, which typically ends up in small claims court where allegations are sorted and settlements are reached. Disputes like that don’t usually warrant this much ink, but in the case of Krause’s property, “dispute” seems like an oversimplification and a “settlement” doesn’t appear to be anywhere in sight. At stake here are people’s homes, the homes of families who’ve called this land home for decades, under threat from a $60 million real-estate-development project.

Not that the homeowners aren’t partly responsible for the mess they find themselves in; in the eyes of the law the tenants never had anything more than a 30-day lease. Krause says since she took over in 1999 she has required signatures on written 30-day leases every year, and in 2003 she added a reminder to those leases about not making building improvements and not transferring property to others without her approval. Does it make sense to sink thousands of dollars into renovating your home when you don’t own the land underneath it?

“This is a pretty unusual case,” says Ted Wimpey of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic opportunity in Vermont. Wimpey works with the Vermont Mobile Home Park Program, which educates mobile-homeowners of their rights. “The best advice I could give would precede where things are now,” he says. “[My advice] would be, from the very start, get documentation. If you’re going to invest money in improvements beyond superficial ordinary stuff that people do as tenants, you need to get some kind of legal document that protects you from displacement, or else.”

But Glaser, Pratt and others didn’t think they needed a legal document stating that this was their home. Because families had been living on Krauses’ property before them, Glaser, Pratt and others thought they had some assurance that this was more than a temporary living situation. Glaser says there were six other families already living on the Krauses’ property year-round when she purchased her home in 1985.

“All of the new folks that have moved in here over the past two or three years asked me, ‘Is this a safe place to live?’ and I’d tell them, ‘I’ve lived here 20 years, I’ve never had any problems and I plan on living here another 20,’ ” Glaser says. “I’m just so guilt-ridden, but how was I supposed to know something like this would happen? I feel like they set a precedent by letting people live down here for so long.”

Glaser and others say they would like some kind of compensation for their homes, but Krause hasn’t offered any. Glaser says she has spoken to a number of lawyers, all of whom have told her that without a document describing the initial rental agreement she doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Wimpey says the lack of an older lease may allow the Krauses’ decision to pass legal muster, but doesn’t account for Krauses’ moral responsibilities as landowners.

“As an advocate for tenants I would say that the landowner should have more consideration and respect,” he says, “but that is just not necessarily the way some people are—they’re out to make a buck.”

Not only are the Krauses’ pockets likely to see a few extra bucks from this plan, but the town of Halfmoon could see major benefits should this project go ahead. Halfmoon also could be eligible for New York state improvement funds for dredging the Mohawk, and money from Saratoga County for expanding the gas, sewer and water lines, according to the project.

“It’s certainly an economic development project,” says Halfmoon town supervisor Ken DeCerce. “It’s certainly a change for the better for the waterfront area in this town.

“Looking at this plan from every perspective, excluding the perspective where people are going to be displaced, it’s a good project,” DeCerce adds. “To try to waltz your way through that one element is very difficult. . . . On the other hand, we don’t have a right to tell someone he or she can’t bring a project in. We don’t have a right to tell a landlord that he or she can’t tell their tenants that they have to leave.”

Before Krause can formally submit the plan to the town (the Northshore Revitalization Project is considered only a concept at this point), she must await approval from Canal Corp. on an easement for roughly 10 acres of contiguous land that would help her meet the town’s density requirement for new development. That land is currently occupied, too. Four separate houses sit on Canal Corp.’s land, three of which are occupied.

John and Jean Mayo, who live on the Canal Corp.’s land, received an eviction notice last December saying that they were to abandon their property by Jan. 1, 2004. “Oh, we just had a real nice Christmas this year,” Jean Mayo says.

“What I want to know is, why didn’t Canal Corp. ask us if we wanted to purchase the land? We’ve been here for 25 years,” John Mayo says.

The Krauses actually filed for the land from Canal Corp. first, but the Mayos have since submitted a letter stating their intent to place a counter offer. Canal Corp. did not return multiple calls to comment for this story.

And as far as the planning process is concerned, this project is still in its infancy. The plan needs clearance from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the dredging project, and the state Health Department for the sewer-line expansion, to name a few. After all that, the project has to go before the town’s zoning board, which will include public comment. Krause and her developers have filed the necessary paperwork to get things under way, and all parties involved acknowledge that there might not be a groundbreaking on this project for at least three years.

When we spoke in mid-March, Krause said she hadn’t made any formal announcement to her tenants yet, but this sure sounded like an eviction notice:

“If this project doesn’t happen, which I’m sure it will, I’m not going to have tenants down there anymore. I’m out of that,” Krause says. Indeed, shortly thereafter she sent eviction notices for nonpayment of rent to about half her tenants. Then last Friday (March 26), she mailed 30-day notices to everyone else.

Krause stops short of calling her last few years as a landlord a nightmare. She says she has had difficulty keeping track of who is living on her property. Homes have been bought and sold right under her nose and she isn’t even given the courtesy of an introduction (or a signed lease). There have been drug and alcohol problems, she says. Her tenants also have taken to building additions on their homes without asking Krause for permission or filing for the proper permits with the town.

A few weeks back, Krause says she shot 20 rolls of film to document her tenants’ unwillingness to maintain their lots. A visit to the Halfmoon Beach will find that her concerns are not unjustified. Loose and bagged trash, appliances and old tires line the shoreline facing Canal Road behind a number of homes on Krause’s property. Krause says she has repeatedly asked her tenants to maintain their lots, but not everyone has been compliant. “I’m not doing this anymore, destroying this land, I’m saving it,” she says.

Krause admits that not all of her tenants are so troublesome, but says no longer cares to act as a landlord in such a high-maintenance relationship.

“If I have five good ones, it doesn’t make up for the rest who are destroying the property, and there probably are about five good ones down there,” Krause says. “The free ride is over,” she later adds.

While Glaser doesn’t exactly consider her 20-year stay on Krause’s property a free ride, her tenure at Halfmoon Beach is definitely over. Glaser and her husband recently bought a house in Rotterdam, along with the land underneath. That’s not to say that Glaser is exactly thrilled about moving.

“Here I am at a time in my life when things are supposed to be getting easier, and they’re going to get harder. I’m not 20 or 30 years old,” she says, throwing her hands up in the air. “I wasn’t anticipating taking out a 30-year mortgage I’ll be paying till I’m 90 years old,” she adds, laughing at the ridiculousness of it all.

Glaser is not alone in her path to the exit door; a number of houses on the Krauses’ land were already vacated before she closed on her new home. All that’s left on one lot is a pile of insulation and wiring atop a bare concrete-slab foundation: Whoever lived here totally dismantled his or her home and took it away. (Glaser says she looked into moving her home but balked at the estimated $20,000-per-mile cost.) “For Sale” signs dot the front lawns of a few homes, but these just seem like cruel jokes.

But Glaser isn’t exactly the leader of a mass exodus from the Krauses’ land; Krause estimates that 25 or more families are still living on her property.

Mike, who asked that his last name not be used in this story, is in the sedentary crowd. Following his retirement three years ago, Mike moved from New York City to Halfmoon Beach for its rustic, outdoorsy splendor. Mike believes there are too many planning and zoning clearances the plan needs to pass before he’s ready to pack up and leave.

“Is the project going forward or isn’t it? That’s the question right now. Until there are answers coming from them . . .” he says, pausing. “Where is this project? It could be alive and well, or it could be as dead as a doornail. Nobody knows.”

James Pratt isn’t ready to shove off either. He’s invested too much in his home over the past few years to call it quits just yet. Prior to hearing about the Northshore Plan, Pratt was one room away from finishing a complete interior renovation of his home.

Some of the residents who want to stay have also hired a lawyer, Carolyn Snyder Lemmon. In late February, she filed a petition on their behalf against the development project with the Thruway Authority, Canal Corp., Canal Recreation Way Corp., the DEC, the state comptroller, the state attorney general’s office, and the Halfmoon town board.

The petition makes three major arguments: First, the residents should have some rights to their homes because they made substantial improvements to them with the knowledge of the Krauses. “To fall back on ‘You can’t have any permanent structures’ when you were aware of what was going on” is questionable, says Lemmon. Second, the petition argues that there has been “lack of public notice, hearing, or competitive bidding for sale of public land, which we believe the statute requires,” according to Lemmon. And third, it says that the potential environmental impacts of the project, including effects on migrating birds and wildlife along the shoreline, have not been taken into account.

“For a lot of people there, their homes are their only significant investment; they don’t have the ability to go out and buy another home,” says Lemmon. “If there are evictions, where do they go? Some of them are single mothers, a number are retirees, they’ve put their savings into these homes, with the Krauses’ full knowledge might I add.” Lemmon would like to see “public hearings by the town and the state, to figure out this development proposal, what it means and where it’s going.”

But for now, it’s a matter of wait and see, she says. She has gotten no response to the petition, and said recently that she would deal with the eviction notices when they arrive. She believes the residents will have legal recourse even if the evictions are not related to the development.

James Pratt and his girl- friend have been looking to buy another house, but aren’t having much luck. In the past few weeks, tensions have been running high in the Pratt household as he and his girlfriend have lost a couple of bids on homes they were looking at. But after a conversation one day, they decided to just say fuck it. “We’re not going to let her [Krause] control our lives anymore,” Pratt says. He went out and bought a new Ford pickup, and he’s going to go ahead and remodel that last room. If an eviction notice comes in the mail, Pratt says he’ll gut the place.

“I’ll be damned if I’m going to leave this here for anybody,” he says.

Pratt’s decision to wait for the process to go ahead and continue to invest money into his home was no surprise to Krause.

“This just shows you the kind of people I’m dealing with,” Krause says. “I can talk to them till I’m blue in the face and they don’t listen to me. What I have to say is just not what they want to hear.” or 463-2500 ext. 144.

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