The boards of directors of The Cook Foundation and the Otsego Land Trust have approved a merger of the two not-for-profit organizations, according to a media release from the Land Trust.
Under the terms of the merger agreement, The Cook Foundation will transfer all of its assets, including the 22- acre Brookwood property on the western shore of Otsego Lake, to the Land Trust. The agreement is still subject to the approval of the Attorney General and confirmation by the New York State Supreme Court.
``Otsego Land Trust has a professional staff and is in the business of conserving land throughout the Otsego region. We are pleased that they are willing to assume responsibility for this very important property,’’ Cook Foundation President, Robert Poulson said.
The Cook Foundation was established in 1985 by Bob Cook, who donated his family’s Brookwood property to the Foundation. The property has a main house, parts of which date back to the early 1800s, a garden house, extensive gardens, wetlands, flood plains, and over a quarter mile of frontage on Otsego Lake.
The Foundation also holds conservation easements on approximately 110 acres of land in the Otsego Lake watershed that is unrelated to the Brookwood property. When the merger is finalized, the Otsego Land Trust conservation holdings in the watershed will total over 975 acres.
Otsego Land Trust Chairman Harry Levine, said that this merger is a very important step for both Otsego Land Trust and The Cook Foundation as they cooperate to protect a very valuable lakefront property. ``Assuming the merger is approved by the Attorney General and the court, we will establish a clear set of objectives for the property, a budget to meet these objectives, and a sustainable business model. Any such model will be dependent upon the public’s ability to provide both financial support and volunteer time,’’ Levine said. ``We will be asking for public input in looking at the potential for the property.’’
Land Trust board member Francis Nolan will chair a committee to address the opportunities and obligations of the property. The committee will include members of the public and will be charged with advising the Land Trust board about the property.
``Otsego Land Trust recognizes the longstanding and thoughtful efforts of The Cook Foundation. We are excited about planning for the future of this wonderful property.
My sincere hope is that the community will provide the support necessary for us to be good stewards,” Levine said.
``The financial burden of the property exceeds the Foundation’s resources. And while we don’t expect the Land Trust to write the checks, we feel that it is far more capable of working with experts and the public to develop a long term plan for Brookwood,’’ Poulson said. ``Maintaining the property is a daunting task that requires the solid sponsorship of the Land Trust and a great deal of financial support from the public. Realistically, everyone should expect that hard choices will need to be made about what to protect and what to let go. ‘’
In June 2008, the Cook Foundation decided to let go of half the property and accepted an offer from Kim and Richard Hanna to purchase 11 acres of the Brookwood property.
Hanna owned property adjacent to The Brookwood Estate. The Foundation intended to retain the southern half of the property, which contains the historic Brookwood Garden and garden house. The garden has been opened to the public in recent years.
``We have seen many proposed projects to save the house and barn come and go over the years. Unfortunately, we could never arrange the funding to bring those proposals to fruition. This sale will take the burden of maintaining the house and half the property off the hands of the Foundation and enable us to do some of the things Bob Cook wanted to see accomplished,’’ Poulson said at the time.
The sale was subject to approval by the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau, as well as the New York State Supreme Court since it entailed the disposition of a significant portion of a not-for-profit’s assets.
But in October, Hanna, who was running for Congress, withdrew the offer to purchase the parcel.
``We’re disappointed that the offer has been withdrawn, especially since it exceeded the appraised value of the property to be sold. The Foundation will have to look at its options and go forward with the mission of the Foundation,’’ Poulson said when the deal fell through.
The merger agreement announced this week provides that Otsego Land Trust will be the surviving entity.
Three members of The Cook Foundation Board of Trustees will become members of the Land Trust Board of Directors bringing the board up to 19 directors. The remaining trustees will join an advisory committee to provide assistance.
The Land Trust will establish a designated fund to be named for Bob Cook to be used exclusively for the purposes he set out when he created The Cook Foundation, the release stated.