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Lowville Plaza poised for lower assessment, new tenants

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LOWVILLE — The Lowville Plaza appears poised for a much lower assessment and some new tenants.

The Town Council on Monday by a 4-1 vote approved a reduction in the assessed value of the three-parcel plaza from $2.5 million to $1 million, pending court approval. Councilman Stephan M. Zubrzycki was the lone dissenter, but Councilwoman Ruth I. Laribee also indicated that her affirmative vote was cast “with heavy heart.”

MSF Audubon LLC, Buffalo, which in summer 2010 purchased the plaza for $860,000 at a foreclosure sale, filed a state Supreme Court lawsuit about a year ago seeking an assessment reduction to $799,800.

The proposed assessment is more than the purchase price, and a settlement “avoids the expense of further litigation,” said Raymond A. Meier, the town’s attorney.

Meanwhile, the village Planning Board is reviewing a pair of applications for proposed signs promoting Family Dollar and Advance Auto Parts at the Route 12 plaza. Public hearings for both are set for 6:30 p.m. Monday at the municipal office, 5535 Bostwick St.

The plaza includes an 89,190-square-foot main building that currently houses only Tops Friendly Markets, a smaller structure housing Community Bank N.A. and a former McDonald’s Restaurant that has been vacant for the past decade.

According to a concept site plan submitted with one of the sign applications, Family Dollar would locate in an 11,100-square-foot space next to Tops, while Advance Auto Parts would be in a 7,000-square-foot space on the south end of the building. The plan also includes a 10,000-square-foot Peebles department store next to the dollar store and two additional retail spaces that would be available for lease.

Peebles, which has stores in Gouverneur, Ogdensburg and Malone, sells name-brand apparel and accessories “to small town America,” according to the company’s website.

No sign application for the department store has yet been submitted.

Village and county planning officials said any new retail stores that locate in the Lowville Plaza’s main building should not need to undergo site plan review, since the structure has never been completely vacant.

An email Monday seeking comment from a representative of Benderson Development Corp., the parent company of MSF Audubon, received no response.

McDonald’s and Kinney Drugs moved out of the plaza into nearby free-standing buildings in October 2001 and September 2002, respectively, and the southern end of the main building was vacated in October 2002 when all Ames department stores closed.

Renovation work in the old Kinney and Ames stores is apparently in progress, with paper covering all the windows and a myriad of signs indicating that work is ongoing.

First-year Town Supervisor Randall A. Schell said part of the Town Council’s frustration during ongoing assessment discussions was that much of the plaza had remained in a “state of disrepair,” so the renovation work is a positive step.

While there was some sentiment not to accept the settlement, the challenge would have cost the town at least $15,000, while the reduction will mean a town refund of about $4,100, he said.

However, the village, Lewis County and the Lowville Academy and Central School District would also be responsible for refunds. Village officials estimate they would return nearly $15,000 of the company’s recent $24,000 tax payment.

Mr. Schell said he met in January with village and county officials to discuss the notion of cooperatively defending assessment challenges, providing more leverage against large corporations, and hopes to continue those discussions.

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