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December 4, 2017 - 4:01pm

Legislature chair 'disappointed' by decision to nix public hearing

posted by Mike Pettinella in news, genesee county legislature, Old Engine House.

Outgoing Genesee County Legislature Chairman Raymond Cianfrini today said he is "disappointed" by the decision to cancel a public hearing in connection with applying for a Restore New York Communities Initiative grant to possibly turn the Old Engine House into a tax-generating commercial/residential venture.

"I have been talking about disposing of property that we (the county) no longer needs for a couple years, and I had identified this property as one that should be sold," said Cianfrini, who is stepping away from the legislature at the end of this year.

"I am disappointed (because) this is a great opportunity for the city in that somebody is interested in redeveloping it, and a great opportunity for the county as it is an underutilized building. I wonder what impact this delay will have upon the developer."

Cianfrini said he was puzzled by the move to cancel the public hearing.

"From what I understand, (County Manager) Jay Gsell put it on hold by advising (City Manager) Jason Molino that the county needs more time to determine if it should be declared surplus property," he said. "It appears to have been his decision; I was not consulted and am not in the loop."

Cianfrini said that County Highway Superintendent Tim Hens has communicated to him that the facilities management employees and equipment could move to the highway department on Cedar Street.

"We've already moved the History department to County Building II and as far as the public defenders are concerned, I'm sure there is space in the courthouse," he said. "I don't see why we should continue to pay to maintain the building. Why is this happening now, at the last minute?"

John Roach
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Who made the contact with the developer? Was it the City or County Manager. One of them did and seems to have jumped the gun.

Rich Richmond
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We know the Council didn't make an agreement with the developer as most didn't know about the deal until they read it in the paper. It seems our County Legislatures are taking a more reasonable approach by studying and discussing before any decisions are made.

Adam Tabelski
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I generally agree with the Chairman and share his disappointment. This would have been a great Restore NY application/potential project for the city and county. My understanding was that the county was ready to surplus the property, had been moving county offices out of the building, and was generally open to private sector redevelopment proposals (I was in attendance when county officials provided a site tour to one prospective developer two years ago). To suddenly stop moving in this direction means that a large, historic building on Main Street will continue to sit mostly vacant.

John Roach
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Adam, it looks the City Manager jumped the gun. Do you have any idea how this developer was selected? Who at City Hall took that lead and is it not normal to not only do a Request For proposal (RFP) first and get the OK from Council to even start getting involved in the sale of a County building?

Rich Richmond
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Who chose the developer and did he or she contact a local contractor-developer first? Why didn't it go up for a bid?

Mike Pettinella
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According to a reliable source, the City -- in conjunction with the Batavia Development Corporation -- approached the County on this.

Rich Richmond
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Thank you, Mike. We have some very fine developers who live and pay taxes in the City. This begs the question why the Batavia Development Corporation chose a developer who doesn't live in the City or pay taxes in the City.

John Roach
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Mike, do you know who went to the developer?

Adam Tabelski
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The County informed the City that they were in a position to surplus the property. Then, after it came to City Council, the County suddenly reversed its position. So to characterize the situation as the Manager "jumping the gun" is just not right. The real focus should be on why the County did an about face when they have contemplated selling the property for years.

I don't know who contact who first and frankly it doesn't much matter to me. The developer was local, reputable, and appeared to have a good plan to get the property into full, productive use and back on the tax rolls.

Mike Pettinella
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I have not been able to reach anyone re: who contacted the developer, but I believe that Paul Thompson, CEO of Thompson Builds, lives in Byron, and his company's mailing address is a Byron address.

Rich Richmond
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Mike if as you say, the developer is Paul Thomson, and he lives in Byron, and his mailing address is in Byron, then it is a stretch to say he is local. This would like me saying, I shop local when I place an order on Amazon while sitting at home in Batavia.

John Roach
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Adam, as a Councilman, don't you think that this should have gone to an RFP to see what the best plan would be at the best price? And what about telling Council about this with a lot more notice and asking Council if it was even something Council wanted to be involved in?
I have nothing against Thompson, but there are other very good local companies here also that should have had a chance at the project. It seems the City did not consider any of them.

Howard B. Owens
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I just double checked my map. Byron hasn't moved. It's still in Genesee County.

That same map tells me Amazon is based in Seattle, way on the other side of the country, in Washington.

The stretch is to say Thompson isn't local.

Howard B. Owens
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John,

We all now know that every council member was notified before the meeting. Some of them just didn't bother to read their packet.

And how much notice does one need to decide whether to be a pass-through agency for a grant? It's hard to argue since they got the packet, then it was brought up at a meeting, before any meeting where they had to decide anything -- normal council procedure -- that they didn't receive enough notice.

As I said before -- a lot of negativity around this ... people actually complain about moving a property back on the tax roles and putting it to productive use. Unreal.

Adam Tabelski
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John, so you want the City to issue an RFP to develop a property it doesn't own??? There are multiple layers of government here... City, County, State. In order for anything positive to happen we all need to row our oars in the same direction, which is what we thought we were doing until things changed at the County level. Also, the first thing to remember is that the motivating factor here was the Restore NY grant opportunity, which deadlines on 12/15. A successful application could have brought $1 million to the project. Now that date will come and go with the guarantee of exactly $0 coming to the area.

John Roach
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Adam, the County did not go to Thompson. Seems the City picked them, so the question is why? Why them and not another of the very good companies?. Who gave the OK for the City Manager to pick who gets the contract?

John Roach
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Howard, I did not say Thompson is not local. What I am saying is there are other local companies also, and none of them had a chance at this job. Why not?

Howard B. Owens
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John, Richard said he's not local.

John Roach
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At the City Council meeting, it was said that while the owner lives in Genesee County, the company is out of Chili.

But, that still does not answer why this company was going to get the job and nobody else, local or not, did not get a chance at it.

Rich Richmond
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Local means existing in or belonging to the area where you live. I live in the City of Batavia. The last time I looked, the Engine House is located in the City of Batavia. When you ask a City of Batavia Merchant, a person who pays taxes in the City, what it means to shop locally, most likely, he or she will say, “In the City of Batavia.”

A region is a large area of land that is different from other areas of land, in as much that it is not local. The County of Genesee is a region of land existing in the State of New York, etc.

I like the concept of putting the Engine House back on the tax roles. I wish it had happened.

The question remains, why wasn’t another company chosen; locally as in located in the City, or regionally. As in located in the County. Why this one?

Timothy Hens
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It's no secret the County has been trying to sell the Engine House for a few years. Julie Pacatte, the City's Economic Development Coordinator often lets developers know that the County is interested in selling. Several interested parties, from a Billiards Museum to an environmental restoration company from Syracuse, have looked at the building over the past two years, but none have followed through on intentions to restore the building. No contractors from Batavia have expressed any interest in the building.

Thompson Builds, who has successfully restored several buildings in Downtown Batavia, approached the County, via Julie Pacatte, about possibly purchasing the building. No contracts were entered into, no commitments were made and, in fact, Thompson Builds had yet to even put together a floor plan or concept on what they were intending to do with the building. Part of their thought process was that they could secure a Restore NY grant from New York State to aid the development. In order to apply for the grant, Thompson Builds needed the host city to sponsor the grant. There are no matching funds from the City. It is simply a pass-thru grant to a developer. The deadline for the grant application is December 15th. The grant application requires a public hearing which is what City Manager Jason Molino presented to City Council. There appeared to be some misunderstanding as to why the City was obtaining a grant for a County parcel and the process in general and the grant application was tabled.

There was no selection process for developers yet--it hadn't gotten far enough along.

Bottomline, the redevelopment of an old building, with environmental issues, in an historic district that is owned by the County on property with limited parking is extremely challenging. Most developers are going to want to secure outside funding from the State to help the project. You can't apply for the funding without City approval. The County can't sell the property without a public auction or sealed bid process. How does this process work if the interested parties are required to have a city sponsor an application and have a public hearing to discuss their plans AND then somehow submit a sealed bid to the County to purchase the building when everyone, including their potential competition, already know their plans? It's convoluted for me and I've been working in County government for 20 years.

The County has rightly tapped its foot on the brakes.

As a result of the election, a third of the legislature is changing. A new legislature may want to take a different direction with looming legal changes from the state relative to public defense and prosecution. There may be a need to house additional mandated staff. Without investigating options in all of its downtown buildings, the County could very well be selling the building it needs for extra space. Definitely worth taking the time to investigate needs and options.

Howard B. Owens
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Richard, Genesee County is a contiguous community of shared interests and shared economics. To say Byron isn’t local is absurd. Batavia is the county seat of our shared local community and as such, including its businesses, dependent on that entire local community.

Good comment, Tim. It reinforces the info in the story Mike did earlier this evening.

Ed Hartgrove
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Mr. Hens. You wrote that, "No contractors from Batavia have expressed any interest in the building."

Do you suppose you could post a list of the Batavia contractors who were approached concerning the purchase of the Engine House?

Rich Richmond
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No, Howard, it is not absurd. Local is local, and where you live. In our case yours and mine. When you and I mail a letter, our return address is not, "a contiguous community of shared interests and shared economics." When we ask the Postmaster for a local postmark, our letter is stamped with the word, BATAVIA.

The question remains, and it was partially addressed in (Molino: Poor communication at heart of Old Engine House redevelopment turbulence) why wasn’t another company chosen; locally as in located in the City, or regionally. As in located in the County. Why this one?

Howard B. Owens
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It is absurd. Without a doubt.

Jason Crater
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A developer from Genesee County expressed interest in buying and restoring a Genesee County owned property?

Note the two uses of Genesee County...I am in full agreement with Howard on this one.

Tim Miller
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I am not local to Batavia nor Genesee county (not even NYS), so if you'd like an outsider's definition of local, read on.

The building is owned by the county, so "local" should be defined by Genesee County. Yes, the City of Batavia is the pass-through agency for the proposed grant, but as the facility is a Genesee County facility, the it is perfectly reasonable to define any developer in Genesee County as being local.

John Roach
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Tim, to a point you are right. But, it was not the County that picked the developer. It was the City Manager/BDC. And it is clear no other "local" developers where given a chance.

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