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State will survey, appraise surplus psychiatric center lands in Ogdensburg

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OGDENSBURG — State officials are preparing to survey 45 acres of surplus land at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center and conduct an appraisal to determine how much it is worth before transferring the property to the city of Ogdensburg.

“I got notification that they are surveying the land next week,” state Senator Patricia A. Ritchie, R-Heuvelton, said Friday. “On June 5 they are coming up from the Office of Mental Health to hopefully go on a little tour with the city and make sure they’re fully aware of what we should be talking about in terms of fair market value.”

Legislation passed with the state’s 2014-2015 budget authorized the transfer at “fair market value.” City officials and Mrs. Ritchie have argued that since the state had twice previously tried to sell surplus lands on the campus and found no buyer that the land should be transferred for $1.

The city plans to redevelop the land for commercial and residential use. The acreage includes land along Route 37 and waterfront property at Point Airy.

City officials also want to use money from land sales to developers for a revolving fund that will pay to rehabilitate or tear down vacant buildings on the property.

State Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn M. Destito told Mrs. Ritchie in a May 15 letter provided to the newspaper by OGS spokeswoman Heather R. Groll that her office “has started drafting a map for OMH review that would accurately reflect the buildings and property set forth in the state budget provision. OGS staff have also undertaken steps to produce a fair market value appraisal for the subject property. With a certified appraisal, OGS and OMH can begin to work with the city of Ogdensburg to effect a conveyance of the subject property.”

Mrs. Ritchie said time will tell what value the state places on the land.

“This property has been off the tax roll for years, and nothing has been done to it other than allowing the buildings to deteriorate,” she said. “The city has a plan to allow any money brought in with the first projects to go toward a fund that will be used to renovate or tear down those buildings. It will be a huge cost. It should be something the state is supportive of.”

If the value placed on the land is too high, she said, it could derail the city’s plans.

“I understand in the final negotiations at budget time they were worried about setting a precedent by giving the land to the city for $1, but if you have land unused for that many years and put it out for bid more than once without any bidders, the state should factor that into what the land is really worth,” Mrs. Ritchie said.

She said she has hope that officials can find common ground because the state wants to divest itself of unused properties.

“I’ve had an opportunity to talk to the governor about the project, and he seemed very receptive,” she said. “I believe at least at this point that the state is really interested in getting something done.”

The 45 acres is among 160 acres identified by city and state officials as surplus, and includes property on which the Ag Energy LP cogeneration plant sits.

Mrs. Ritchie said she will likely have to introduce separate legislation to get the rest of the land transfer approved, but getting the land on which the cogeneration plant sits could take more time.

“The cogen plant property is a little more complicated because of some litigation that was still going on there,” she said. “But this first transfer was the easiest parcels to get something done with that could be very productive for the city’s economy. It’s the first piece of the puzzle. We will continue to work on it until all the land not needed is back on the tax rolls.”

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