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Serving the communities of Massena and Potsdam, New York
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Affinity PILOT vote fails; future of development in doubt

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POTSDAM — A vote by the Potsdam Town Council on Monday left the future of a proposed $20 million housing development in serious doubt.

Developer Chason Affinity is seeking a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement as part of its plan to build 100 apartments geared toward students on vacant property near 206 Main St. In order to take effect, the tax deal must be approved by both the town and village of Potsdam, as well as the Potsdam Central Board of Education and St. Lawrence County Legislature. The village board approved the measure at a meeting last week.

But the measure failed in a tie vote during a special meeting of the town board Monday afternoon. Supervisor Marie C. Regan, who is a landlord, abstained. Council members Rollin A. Beattie and Michael J. Zagrobelny voted for the PILOT, and Judith R. Rich and Rosemaria Rivezzi opposed it.

Affinity has said that it will not build in the area without the tax break provided by the agreement, according to Thomas A. Plastino, deputy director of the St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency.

Under the agreement, Affinity would have paid taxes on 65 percent of its assessment for the first five years; thereafter the assessment would go up by 5 percentage points a year until the developer started paying full taxes in the 12 year.

Residents had an opportunity to sound off on the agreement before the vote, and most who did so spoke out against it.

Property owner Lucia “Luke” Dailey said giving a large company tax breaks is unjust to local landlords.

“Would any landlords who feel that this is patently unfair please stand up?” she asked. Nine of the 12 community members present rose to their feet.

“I just question the fairness to the taxpayers in Potsdam,” said landlord Rae A. Hitchman.

Not all were opposed to the PILOT.

“I think it’s a good thing whenever we can get investment into the town,” said Ronald F. Charette, general manager of Potsdam Specialty Paper.

Ms. Regan presented a list of pros and cons before the vote.

“This has been one of the most difficult issues, I think, that we have dealt with in a long time,” she said.

Reasons to approve the PILOT included the much-needed revenue it would provide by creating taxable apartments in a vacant cornfield that has received little interest from other developers. The new apartments may have also made SUNY Potsdam more attractive to prospective students, Ms. Regan said.

However, approving this agreement might set a precedent for other developers to exploit, she said. She added that she received several complaints that the PILOT was unfair to landlords.

Other concerns included the possibility that 300 students in one downtown apartment complex might prove difficult for law enforcement and exasperating for others in the neighborhood.

Ms. Rich said she agreed with the landlords.

“It’s not fair,” she said. “It hurts the little guy.”

Ms. Rivezzi said the IDA, which negotiated the agreement, should have held a public hearing explaining the situation and taking feedback from the community before asking boards to vote.

Mr. Zagrobelny said the need for new development trumped other concerns.

“Developers need to know that this is a friendly place for development,” he said.

After the vote, Ms. Regan said she had mixed feelings about the result.

“I hope we made the right choice,” she said.

Now that the town has denied the PILOT, Chason Affinity’s future in Potsdam is uncertain.

“We have to update Affinity about how the vote went this evening, and we’ll go from there,” said St. Lawrence County Industrial Development Agency CEO Patrick J. Kelly.

Mr. Kelly said it was too soon to know whether any attempt would be made to negotiate a new deal.

“One step at a time,” he said.

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