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May 9, 2017 - 12:38pm

City Council rejects rezoning request that would have brought housing for disabled to Batavia

posted by Howard B. Owens in DePaul, batavia, business, news.

Three pieces of property snug in the middle of other housing and commercial parcels should remain, at least for the time being, available for industrial use, the City Council decided Monday night on a 3-6 vote.

The decision ends, perhaps permanently, a bid by DePaul Properties to build an 80-unit apartment complex at 661, 665 and 679 E. Main St., Batavia, that would have provided housing for people with disabilities, elderly residents lacking mobility, and veterans with special needs.

Developer Mark Fuller didn't rule out trying to build the complex sometime in the future -- the property is likely to be rezoned as part of the city's revision of its comprehensive plan -- but he sounded a sour note as he discussed the council's rejection of the rezoning resolution, and hence, his project.

"I really don’t want to go into communities where we’re not well received," Fulle said. "There’s yet to be a community that hasn’t wanted us to come in. If the community is still against it if it’s zoned differently, I just don’t know that I want to put energy into a community that is not behind it."

Fuller is a Genesee County resident and said he was baffled by the community's response to the project proposal, which would have represented a $25 million local investment by DePaul and increased the current tax revenue for the city four times over the current tax revenue, plus generated significant revenue for sewer and water hookups.

The PILOT (Payment in Lieu of Taxes) agreement DePaul Properties was willing to enter into for the project would have actually obligated DePaul to pay more in taxes than otherwise required for a nonprofit under Property & Tax Law section 581(a).

In other communities where Fuller has overseen the development of DePaul projects there has been nothing but positive feedback he said, including West Seneca, which he said saw an increase in property values around the DePaul project there.

"We had a press conference in Rome this morning where 80 people showed up thanking us for coming and every single City Council member came up and thanked me for developing there," Fuller said. "We have a lot of projects across the state. We get calls all the time, so I think I’m going to put my energy into communities that want the redevelopment and investment."

The housing is needed in Batavia, Fuller said, because currently the people who might live in the complex are stuck in substandard housing for their needs or unable to live independently because of the lack of adequate housing for their needs. The market for this housing is very different from standard rentals, he said, and wouldn't be competition for existing landlords.

Fuller's comments came after a lengthy City Council session that included public comments both for and against the project and remarks from council members who both supported and opposed letting DePaul build on the property.

The nay votes came from Bob Bialkowski, Paul Viele, Kathy Briggs, Al McGinnis, John Canale, and Council President Eugene Jankowski.

Many of the DePaul supporters were clients of DePaul or otherwise associated with the organization.

Quentin Call said that DePaul has been an asset to every community where it has built a project and that even though it's a nonprofit, through a special Payment In Lieu of Taxes arrangement, DePaul will increase funding for the city over the property's present commercial use. 

"I’m not sure if any industrial uses have been proposed for the property, however in regards to the PILOT program, any industrial facility that might come in would be seeking that designation as well," Call noted.

Pastor Marty Macdonald, from City Church, and himself a local landlord, said he believes, based on his experience as a landlord and pastor of a large church, that the community needs the additional handicapped accessible housing from DePaul.

"I’m going at this from a humanitarian position, but business side as well, that there is a need for housing and there is going to be a greater need for housing," Macdonald said. "Batavia will not stay the same as it is. There are too many great things going on. I’m thankful for that and I hope you are, too."

Batavia resident John Roach was among the speakers casting doubts on the need for more apartments in Batavia. He said including DePaul, there are an additional 180 to 190 apartment units currently on the drawing board for Batavia.

"You’re already going to have one 100 new apartments in areas that are already zoned for it," Roach said. "We don’t need these 80 rooms."

George Gallegher said something industrial or commercial should go on the property, not apartments run by a nonprofit.

"This isn’t the best use of our land resources that are capable of generating tax income," Gallegher said. "Now they want to add two more tax exempt PILOT programs again right on Main Street. The people that I talk to who are well versed in where properties should be and how they should be used, they said that’s not very smart."

John Gerace argued the property should remain zoned industrial.

"The City Manager apparently must be clairvoyant to say that there will never be any development on that property that is industrial," Gerace said. "Who knew what happened in the city years and years ago --- what’s going to happen down the road a year from now, two years from now, and what that property could be used for and on the tax record."

DePaul, he said, like anybody else, was just looking to make money.

"DePaul is going to receive dollar for dollar tax credits," Gerace said. "That’s $25 million in tax credits. Why do they want to build this? Because there’s money in it. And yes, will it serve a purpose for our community, absolutely, and I’m all for helping our seniors, our veterans, our needy folks. This is not the project for it, unfortunately, and it should not be here in Batavia. I don’t know why it’s not in Le Roy."

It's not clear where Gerace is getting the $25 million tax credit figure. There's no public document available to support the assertion. Also, there already is a DePaul project being considered for Le Roy.

When it came time for council members to address the issue, Councilwoman Patti Pacino spoke up first and said as somebody about to turn 70, her need for a place to live such as DePaul is only about a decade away. She said her and her husband, a disabled veteran, will want a place with the ease-of-access the DePaul project was offering and that currently there isn't an adequate supply of such housing in Batavia.

"You know what, I don’t want to live in Le Roy," Pacino said. "I don’t want to live in Stafford. I don’t want to live in the Town of Batavia. I want to live in the city I grew up in and I helped make better in any number of ways, working with children, church organizations, City Council.

"There are lovely apartments here if you happen to be a young person," she added, "but guess what guys, all the sudden you look in the mirror and you’re looking at your mother’s face and her hand is coming out your sleeve."

She said she favored tabling the resolution until the city completes its comprehensive plan and the county completes its housing study so the council could make a decision with more information available. The motion to table failed on a 4-5 vote.

Councilman John Canale also supported tabling the resolution, but ultimately voted against the rezone, saying it was one of the hardest decisions he's wrestled with in four-and-a-half years on council, but it was what his constituents wanted.

"I feel that at this point I just can’t support this because I know we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about rezoning if DePaul hadn’t come froward with this project," Canale said.

Councilman Adam Tabelski spoke at length about the rezoning issue, arguing that dropping the industrial zone designation was the only reasonable approach the council could take.

"That (industrial zoning) is very difficult to justify in my opinion when nobody is out marketing it as such," Tabelski said. "The fact is, industrial development has not had a history at all at that site. In fact, as Councilman (Bob) Bialkowski mentioned, its history has been residential and commercial. If we are waiting for some factory to be built on this location, we’re waiting for a ship that is never going to come in."

Tabeliski noted that nearly every property to the east of the three parcels is currently residential and all the properties to the west are commercial.

"Across the street, you have an ice cream shop, a gas station, a car wash and an auto parts store," Tabelski said. "It makes no sense to me how a C2 designation is somehow out of character with that immediate neighborhood."

He said keeping the property zoned industrial is just inviting something out of character, that will upset area residents, to be built on the property. The council should listen to the city's own planning board, which recommended rezoning, and the County Planning Board, which also supported the rezoning.

"These are the experts who are supposed to guide us on land use, both in the short term and the long term, and to ignore their expertise and experience does them and us a big disservice," Tabelski said. "We have a reputable developer knocking on our door willing to invest $25 million in our community and our goal is to create opportunities for our residents. I think we need to welcome it."

Jim Urtel Jr
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They don`t want to get behind something that will help the elderly, disabled and vets but expect everyone to clap their hands about a brewery coming with some part-time jobs and more than likely over-priced apt`s. Makes a lot of sense!

Tim Miller
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Thanks for the chuckle (and probably 100% spot on analysis), Jim!

John Roach
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Jim, there will still be more than 100 new apartment units going up in the City of Batavia, with at least half geared for the same people who would be at DePaul. And they do not have a 30 year tax break. And that does not count the expansion planned for the new apartment complex on West Main Street Road in the Town of Batavia. While any new units will be filled mostly by current City residents, where do you think the people will come from to back fill the now empty apartments?

Brian Graz
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And Batavia wonders why it's population is declining... ??? Maybe being unfriendly to some housing growth is a contributing factor.

Worrying about preserving commercial/industrial zoned properties in a community that can't interest any new business without giving taxpayer funded ED/ID subsidizing, and then refusing needed housing because the landlord is qualified for a reduced tax levy, is somewhat of a contradiction I'd say.

Oh well, good luck to the City Council members who turned thumbs down, and whose back it is now on to find that elusive industrial/commercial buyer for another. Maybe they can get Lowe's to try it again in Batavia [on the other end of town], where they are more convenient to Leroy and the residents of the DePaul housing planned for there.

John Roach
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Brian, I though you were against this type of project since it will be taxpayer funded, ED/ID funded and not have to pay property taxes for 30 years. Or, do you support that type of funding and no taxes if it is for housing, but not for businesses?

Howard B. Owens
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As a point of fact, as mentioned in the article, DePaul was voluntarily paying MORE in taxes than it would have been obligated to pay under Property & Tax Law section 581(a).

Also, we don't know what Batavia's demand is for this kind of housing because the housing assessment hasn't been completed yet.

John Roach
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Howard, that's true. But, DePaul could also lower the PILOT payments or stop them. And at the end of the 30 year no property tax break, they still do not have to pay taxes on the full assessment of the property. Property taxes will be based on the income of the renters, not on the value of the property.

And while the housing needs assessment by the County is not done yet, there are still over 100 new apartment units planned to be built.

Howard B. Owens
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They would be paying taxes/fees that won't be collected now, so to make it sound like they wouldn't be paying is a bit misleading. Also the sewer and water fees would have gone a long way toward helping with those capital projects.

Also for all you and I know, 100 units could be far, far short of re actual need.

I also remember what it was like to look for a decent rental when we first moved to town. They're hard to find.

There is simply no empirical data available to say one way or another that there is or us not a need for these units. The decision to skuttle these units was purely flying in the dark with no instruments. Who pilots a plane like that?

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