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April 9, 2013

Oneonta city considers PILOT for developer

By Denise Richardson
The Daily Star

---- — The city of Oneonta is negotiating directly with the developer of a proposed student apartment complex on terms of a possible tax abatement plan, which at least one Common Council member and several landlords said they opposed Monday night.

Newman Development Group, which proposes building a four-story, 325-bed complex on Blodgett Drive, submitted an application for a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement on Thursday, Carolyn Lewis, chief executive officer of the Otsego County Industrial Development Agency, said Monday.

At the request of the mayor, Common Council committees already are reviewing issues tied to a possible PILOT plan. The Facilities, Technology and Operations Committee met Monday afternoon, and the Community Improvement Committee met Monday night. The Finance Committee will meet in City Hall at 9 a.m. Wednesday. 

About 20 people, including residents who live near the site of the proposed project and landlords of downtown apartments, attended the meeting Monday night. They voiced concerns about the effect the proposed complex would have on the student housing market and on property values. They said an economic study on the feasibility of the project was needed.

Several landlords, concerned about having a level playing field in the marketplace, objected to the developer being considered for a PILOT and raised issues about having enough opportunities to ask questions and voice objections. 

Council members David Rissberger of the Third Ward, Michael Lynch of the Fourth Ward and Bob Brzozowski of the Seventh Ward and City Manager Michael Long listened and responded to comments Monday night. Long also reviewed the distinction between the council’s consideration of a PILOT and the Planning Commission’s independent review of environmental factors of the project, called Hillside Commons.

Lynch has issued a statement opposing any PILOT agreement for Newman Development. Lynch said he welcomes the developer but added that Newman Development is a multimillion-dollar corporation that should pay its real estate taxes. He also expressed surprise that the Oneonta City School District, which would be part of a PILOT plan, hasn’t entered discussions.

Jeffrey Smetana of Newman Development made no public comment during the meeting except to say, when asked, that limiting the residence to full-time students was a permitted restriction. 

Oneonta Mayor Dick Miller said he and Long have been talking with Newman Development representatives about costs to the city. Miller said the council would decide if it was ready to consider a PILOT at Tuesday’s regular meeting. 

The IDA, which has jurisdiction to approve a PILOT plan, asked the city of Oneonta in a letter dated April 5 to negotiate with Newman Development come up with a structure for a tax abatement plan. Usually, the IDA prepares a PILOT structure and seeks comment from the host municipality, Lewis said. 

This change of approach is the first time the IDA has turned over the process to the host entity, Lewis said. The IDA asked the city for direct involvement because potential infrastructure and service improvements might cause increased financial demands at the city level.

If the Common Council returns a PILOT plan to the IDA for consideration and the IDA decides to move forward, a public hearing must be scheduled and other entities notified, a process that would take at least a couple of weeks, Lewis said. 

Meanwhile, the Planning Commission has declared itself lead agency in the mandated State Environmental Quality Review of the proposed project. At 6 p.m. Wednesday, city planners will meet at Oneonta High School to hear engineering reports on environmental impacts of the project. 

Long said engineers have been asked to be ready to answer questions from the public.