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Sun., Oct. 4
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Potsdam school board questions PILOT agreement


POTSDAM — Board of Education members may hold the future of a multimillion-dollar student housing project in their hands when they meet June 26.

The board will vote on whether to accept a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreement with Chason Affinity, a development group planning to build 50 cottages on a 103-acre site on outer Main Street across from SUNY Potsdam’s Maxcy Hall.

Rejection by the school board, as a taxing jurisdiction, would mean no PILOT.

“It’s all or nothing. In essence each municipality gets a veto,” Superintendent Patrick H. Brady said. “Will they do it if we don’t provide this incentive to them? I don’t know.”

Mr. Brady worked with the district’s business manager, Laura A. Hart, along with representatives of several other involved parties in negotiating the agreement. But other school district officials are leery of giving the housing developer a property tax break.

“I’ll have a difficult time supporting this,” school board President James A. Bunstone said. “We need development, but do we need this development?”

Board member J. Patrick Turbett also questioned the incentive for Chason Affinity’s project. “This seems fairly favorable, and they’re not creating many jobs with this,” he said.

The agreement calls for the development to have an assessment of $5.5 million that would not change over the 11-year life of the PILOT. Chason Affinity would receive a 35 percent discount on its property taxes for the first six years of the agreement; the discount would decrease by 5 percentage points a year thereafter. In the 12th year, Chason Affinity would pay 100 percent of its property tax bill.

Board of Education member Frederick C. Stone Jr. wondered whether Chason Affinity could challenge its assessment once the agreement was signed.

“That wouldn’t be for 11 or 12 years down the road,” Mr. Bunstone said. “They’re agreeing to this for 10 years.”

Mr. Turbett also talked about the potential negative impact the project could have on other landlords in the community.

“We have a lot of landlords who have never gotten tax breaks and over those 10 years their assessments will likely go up,” he said.

Mr. Brady defended the proposal and said the community needs upgraded student housing. “Speaking with officials from both colleges, they agree we could use improvement to our student housing stock,” he said. “Unless you’re talking to landlords, almost anyone in the community would say the same thing.”

“The question is, is this a residential or commercial development?” Mr. Stone asked.

Mr. Turbett replied: “It’s clearly commercial. They’re going to be making money.”

The project calls for 50 cottages to be built over a two-year period, with 20 built this summer in the hope of opening in time for the fall semester at Clarkson University and SUNY Potsdam.

Before the agreement can be finalized it must receive unanimous approval from the school board, village board, town board, St. Lawrence County Legislature and library board (Potsdam’s library board is also a taxing entity).

The board will meet at 6:30 p.m. June 26 in the high school library. It is expected to vote on the PILOT at that time.

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