The Changing Landscape of Andes

By Barbara Mellon

Looking out the window of the Gazette office, located on the 2nd floor of the Andes Public Library, one can’t help but notice the changes. Where once there were 100 foot tall Norwegian Spruce trees flanking the entry to the stately home across the street, today the only plantings between street and house are several large pots of flowering mums gracing the stairs. Hills covered with newly spread topsoil appear brown and bare where only weeks ago dozens, perhaps hundreds, of leafy trees stood en masse.

The house across the road, originally built in 1854 by Duncan Ballantine, was purchased last year by German entrepreneur Andreas Gerdes, who has renamed it “Ballantine Manor.” With an eye toward returning the home and property to the way it looked in the 19th century, while also adding some modern amenities, Gerdes is causing a tremendous stir in Andes. Up and down Main Street, animated discussions about his plans and actions seem to have displaced the recent fervor surrounding the wind turbine issue. As in any small town, these casual conversations between friends and neighbors that constitute local news are a fascinating mix of fact, rumor, and personal opinion.

On any given day, you might hear one resident mourn, “He’s destroying the face of Andes,” while another praises work being done on an historic building too long unoccupied. Some view the hillside next to the house as cruelly denuded terrain, while others admire the delicate curved lines of hills long hidden by the century old growth. Neighbors discuss an individual’s ability to change the landscape of a community versus the rights of a property owner, and to what degree local government should control these things. Rumors run the range of plans for walls to be built around the property to the introduction of a spa or men’s smoking club.

In an attempt to separate fact from rumor, I spoke with Art Reed, Chairman of the Town of Andes Planning Board. He explained that Gerdes has submitted four proposals to the Board for site plan review. Two of these have been approved: one for an addition at the rear of the current building and the other for the installation of tennis courts behind the house. The other two proposals are for the erection of a carriage house on a portion of Gerdes’ property located to the left of the Shaver/Melahn residence and the construction of a helipad behind and to the right of the mansion. Reed said these proposals are still under review, pending further information, particularly an interpretation of height specifications of the carriage house.

A packet of documents outlining some of Gerdes’ plans is available at the Andes Public Library for the public to review. In it is a 19th century view of the house from which some of the current ideas are being drawn as well as architectural renderings of the proposed work. There is mention of numerous plantings to replace the downed old growth, including trees in front of the house of a type and size comparable to what was there in Ballantine’s day and an apple orchard up on the hill.

Among some of the other visible changes already made to the property are the installation of lamp posts along the sidewalk and the construction of a large sign by the entrance walkway outlining some of the building’s history.