POTSDAM Buffalo development firm Chason Affinity likely will begin construction on a 100-unit student housing complex within the next two weeks, whether or not it reaches a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement with local governments.
Affinity representative P. Jeffrey Birtch attended Tuesday nights Town Council meeting to address lawmakers concerns about the project.
Weve already lost this year; were going to lose next year if we dont start construction, Mr. Birtch said.
The proposed PILOT agreement would have seen Affinity paying 65 percent of a fixed $5.5 million assessment for the first five years of the project, then the rate would rise by 5 percent annually until the 12th year, when it would begin to pay full taxes. Normally, PILOT agreements can be negotiated and approved by the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency, but because this project is residential rather than commercial, the deal also has to be approved by the town, village and Potsdam Central School District. The deal was approved by the village but denied by the town. The Board of Education decided not to vote on the proposal based on the towns denial.
Council members and residents said they were worried about several aspects of the project.
Some did not like the idea of giving a tax break to a large housing project, fearing that it would be unfair to smaller local landlords.
Others said Affinity has a history of challenging the assessed value of its property. The company did challenge the assessment of Lawrence Avenue Apartments this year, but Mr. Birtch pointed out this was only the second time Affinity has challenged an assessment in the 32 years it has owned that apartment complex.
Both sides agreed on one thing: the process of voting on the PILOT was too disjointed. The St. Lawrence County IDA did not hold a public hearing on the project until after all of the local governments were expected to vote. In most cases, lawmakers did not meet with Affinity developers at all during the process. Instead, the IDA acted as a go-between between voting bodies and Affinity.
Its not easy for most communities to deal with a PILOT, said Mr. Birtch, who added that Monday night was his first meeting with some town board members.
Even as the project begins construction, Affinity will continue to try to persuade the town and school board to make the PILOT a reality. If the PILOT is turned down, the company has several other development options it can pursue, although Mr. Birtch declined to go into detail on what these are.
We will in all probability begin construction soon, Mr. Birtch said.
Town Supervisor Marie C. Regan said she might be willing to discuss the issue again, but not until all affected parties could meet up at once to discuss possible issues.
Im not ready to revote or rethink until all the taxing entities can meet again, she said.
Many people have praised the town for its initial decision to turn down the PILOT, Mrs. Regan said, and have urged her either to not bring it to another vote or to reaffirm the towns original decision.