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June 20, 2013

Landlords rip Blodgett tax deal

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — Several landlords, citing years spent investing in city properties, told the Otsego County IDA on Wednesday night of objections to tax breaks for the developer of a proposed student apartment complex in Oneonta.

More than 45 people attended a public hearing on a proposed tax abatement plan for Newman Development Group, and most speakers opposed factors pertaining to the proposed Hillside Commons and projected tax breaks.

The Otsego County Industrial Development Agency, which held the meeting at Foothills Performing Arts and Civic Center, will vote on the abatement plan at a meeting later this month. Under state law, the IDA must have a public hearing about projects of more than $100,000.

Newman Development Group of Vestal has proposed a $23-million project to build Hillside Commons, a four-story, 330-bed apartment complex on Blodgett Drive.

Under the proposed 15-year tax abatement schedule, Newman Development in the first year would pay $92,316 in taxes and in year 15 would pay $418,909 in taxes. Of the payments, 32 percent would go to the city, 11 percent to the county and 57 percent to the school district. In the 16th year, taxes would be $575,301.

Opponents said the project will deflate property values, cost landlords opportunities to rent to students and cause layoffs of employees, among other consequences.

Landlord Nathan Batalion, a local resident for 13 years, said he has reinvested rental revenues into his properties. He and other landlords criticized the city for not conducting an economic impact study as part of considering the project.

“I am furious at what the city is doing,” Batalion, of East Street, said. “This is the biggest boondoggle ever proposed in Oneonta.”

The site of the private-venture project is near the State University College at Oneonta. The SUNY Oneonta administration publicly has remained neutral about Hillside Commons and needs for student housing. Last year, the college postponed a project to build townhouses on campus.

On Wednesday night, Jeffrey Smetana of Newman Development reviewed the project and details of the tax-abatement schedule, referring to a chart that illustrated spikes as the tax payments would increase.

Celeste Brown Thomas of Hudson Street said under the proposed abatement schedule, the Oneonta City School District is on the road to continued cuts in its teaching staff for lack of tax revenue.

“Negotiate a better deal,” she implored the IDA board.

Valerie Fuller, owner of Capresso Coffee Bar on Main Street, said she is concerned with Hillside Commons and its amenities that students will find fewer reasons to spend time and money at downtown businesses.

Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller reviewed the city’s position on the project and the proposed payment-in-lieu of taxes plan. The Common Council approved the proposed PILOT schedule by a 7-to-1 vote and sent it to the IDA for consideration.

In a separate process, the city Planning Commission recently approved the Hillside Commons project site plans after a state-mandated environmental review.

Some speakers criticized the fact that the IDA was considering a project outside traditional parameters of supporting manufacturing and commercial development that creates jobs.

Earlier this year, the IDA board members had recognized the different scope of the Newman Development project, and took two steps to address the issue — asking the city of Oneonta to negotiate the tax abatement schedule with the developer, and establishing a policy regarding housing-development projects.

On May 2, the IDA adopted a policy to address housing projects, saying that such developments wouldn’t be considered by the agency for benefits unless formerly approved by resolution by the governing body of the city, town or village where the proposed project would be located.

Carolyn Lewis, chief executive officer of the agency, said the transcript of the two-hour hearing will be distributed to the IDA board members. The board will meet at 7:30 a.m. June 27 to vote on the plan.