Controversy over tree cutting in Saratoga

SARATOGA, N.Y. (NEWS10) – A developer who owns forested land in Saratoga County wants to build 31 homes, but neighbors in this area say the property was never supposed to be developed.

“He was adamant that he wanted to have this land kept forever wild,” Paul Murphy, Town of Saratoga, said. “He bequeathed it on his deathbed to the Bethesda Episcopal church in Saratoga Springs with that understanding. Father Tom Parke was the pastor at that time had made that agreement with him.”

Paul Murphy who lives next to the forested property on Hill Road says that promise to former owner Roy Ensley was broken when the 100 plus acres was sold to developer John Witt in 2014.

An old friend of Ensley’s who did not want to be identified for fear of backlash was almost brought to tears when he saw our cameras filming Ensley’s old farmhouse.

“Yes is it. It is very upsetting to me because a man who put all his faith in the church has now been, it wasn’t his wish,” A person who remained anonymous said.

The current rector of the Bethesda Episcopal Church told me over the phone that Pastor Tom Parke did not have the authority to make the promise he made to Ensely.

“His intent was to give it to the church so that it would never be developed,” A person who remained anonymous said.

This week the town of Saratoga lifted a moratorium on clear cutting trees and enacted a law that would come with a $1,000 fine or one year in jail for clearing trees for anything other than agricultural use.

John Witt says he will be clearing part of the land for farm land and will also plant an apple orchard. He also says he will clear trees for home views but says half the acres will be open space and remain forested.

“It would totally change the quality of life here to look like an airport on the ridge over Saratoga Lake rather than the beautiful forested land it is today,” Murphy said.

Murphy says he’s concerned about interrupting his own well.

“We’re all on wells. Every time you touch you know the water system here you know everybody’s feeling it.”

Developer John Witt says that his conceptual plan has been approved but he says he will not be cutting down any trees until he has the full approval.

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