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Joppenberg Attorney Joe O’Connor Speaks to Crowd

A unique viewpoint was expressed at the April 6th public hearing in Rosendale, when Joppenberg Mountain attorney Joseph E. O’Connor spoke on behalf of his client, favoring the town purchase. The attorney‘s comments offer a rare glimpse into the historically opaque corporation.

“I’m not an open space person, per se,” O’Connor said, whose family has lived in Rosendale for 70 years. “I’m not saying it’s a no brainer because of open spaces or conservation easement. I’m saying it’s a no-brainer because of the economics situation which was discussed earlier.” Rosendale pays Joppenberg significantly more in rent than it take in through real estate taxes, as disclosed by officials earlier in the evening. “This deal is the best for Rosendale.”

Riddled with mine shafts and ventilation holes from the cement industry, the threat of injury on Joppenberg poses a common concern. Town councilperson Manna Jo Greene recalled an incident where she nearly lost her life while treading upon the landmark mountain. “I personally experienced how dangerous it can be, if you’re hiking up there and don’t know where you’re going.”

“Apparently everyone’s trespassed on it in the past three years,” O’Connor quipped, “which I’m shocked, but anyway….”

Addressing safety and liability concerns, O’Connor explained that a town owning property has much less liability for someone who is injured on it, if designated as open space, under the General Obligations Law. “I’ve been involved in representing Joppenberg for 15 years, and there’s never been a lawsuit,” he noted. “And we are insured and nobody’s ever brought a claim for injuries for the entire time I’ve been representing them.” O’Connor also pointed out the town lease, which requires Rosendale pay Joppenberg’s insurance bill every year, further bolstering economic incentives for municipal purchase of the land.

Responding to fence sitters seeking a townwide vote, O’Connor said a public referendum would cut the sale deadline too close. “For November, I wouldn’t recommend that to my client.” Were the matter sent to the polls, he would advise the shareholders to place Joppenberg back on the market, and hope potentially there was another buyer. “I understand this deal, if we don’t get something moving — I think it’s weeks not months — the funding opportunity for Open Space to purchase [Joppenburg] may pass.”

The lawyer disclosed some of the corporation’s inner workings. “We just got an order from the judge committing us to sell the property,” he revealed. “There’s a lot of complexities within Joppenburgh Mountain and its corporation, where many of its shareholders are deceased and difficult to find, we’ve lost board members even in the last year.” He added, “We’re very low in the ability for someone to actually sign the contract at this point.”

Past offers to buy have come with strings attached, O’Connor indicated. “If we could have gotten somebody to buy it, and they came up with a legitimate, no contingency [bid], we would have sold it. Open Spaces, and thereafter the town, is absolutely the first bona fide purchaser that we were willing to deal with and go into contract.”

O’Connor characterized the Joppenberg shareholders as elderly old-time residents looking to put the responsibility of owning Rosendale’s mountain behind them. “Whatever money they get from the sale, spread it with the shareholders, and move on with their lives ,” he explained. “It’s time for them to rest, and not have to run a corporation any more.”

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