Responsible Government?

If a survey were to be done of Batavia residents, it is likely most would favor the redevelopment of the Baptist church property at Washington and Wilson, AS LONG AS the redevelopment were done in a responsible way. So what is it that many are objecting to with this proposed 1 N. Washington project?

  1. Not enough parking
  2. Increased traffic
  3. Aesthetics
  4. Lack of open and honest process
  5. Taxpayer sacrifice and risk

More detail:

  1. Not enough parking — The initial proposal was for 171 apartments units (99 of which were 2 bedroom), but only 300 parking spaces. This project is being billed as a “public-private partnership” which will supposedly benefit the public in providing downtown parking. Yet, when pressed at a meeting, it was admitted City Code requires 300 parking spaces for that number of apartments alone. Never mind the new retail/commercial space slated for street level on Wilson and River Streets. So taxpayers are being asked to front the developer money, ostensibly for a public parking garage, but for the same number of spaces the developer would have to provide anyway for the rental units. Additionally, the public will LOSE 126 parking spaces when the 2 story parking deck on River St. and adjoining parking lot are demolished, the land going to the developer.
  2. Increased traffic — Rush hours on the Wilson St. bridge produce heavy traffic. Traffic on Washington St. (Rt. 25) can be problematic because of the jog in the road. A huge apartment complex on Wilson and Washington would dump more cars at an already busy intersection.
  3. Aesthetics — An immense apartment/retail complex that occupies more than 3/4 of a city block, and looms 4 stories in the air on Wilson street, will dwarf all the quaint, historic architecture in the downtown.
  4. Lack of open and honest process
    • Neither the downtown business owners nor the public were involved in the process of project development. Business owners, especially, are upset they had to learn about this project from newspapers. They have serious concerns this project will negatively affect their businesses, during and after construction. Taxpayers want a say in major community developments.
    • All of this is moving quickly according to a tight schedule, giving the appearance of a “done deal”. No parking studies have been completed. No traffic studies have been done. No economic feasibility studies of the TIF/SSA have been mentioned. No Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district is in place. Yet the first of 2 private properties would have already been purchased had there not been a delay, and a Redevelopment Agreement is set to be signed September 7 [this may be an error, as there is no City Council meeting scheduled for Sep. 7, but there is one on the calendar Sep. 6].
    • The developer, Shodeen, had been approached by recently-retired City Administrator Bill McGrath and the City’s Economic Development Consultant Chris Aiston to bring this project into being. There were no Requests for Proposal (RFPs) put out to other developers, and the Request for Alternative Proposals that is legally required to form a new TIF district was called a formality by the City Attorney, when it was brought to the Council’s attention that the filing period for the proposals was scheduled for just 9 days. And those 9 days are AFTER the Redevelopment Agreement (RDA) with Shodeen is scheduled to be signed.
    • The TIF district establishment must be based on a number of factors. Most of these factors were created by the City:  A) as a result of purchasing most of the properties in the target area and allowing them to go unused and degenerate (“Excessive Vacancies”, “Deterioration”), B) not doing their duty to enforce code (“Presence of Structures Below Minimum Code Standards” in the vacant Marathon station across the street from the church, which has a canopy and sign that the City only recently has tried to enforce code on–AFTER the TIF study was done), C) through invention (“Lack of Community Planning”), and D) through  creative interpretation (“Decline in Equalized Assessed Valuation”–most of the city experienced declines in property value around 2013-2014, with an uptick since; these properties are no different)
  5. Taxpayer sacrifice and risk
    • The City plans to buy the 2 remaining private properties in the Shodeen development target area (the first, the property of former alderman Eldon Frydendall, selling for nearly 2 1/2 times assessed value, 4 times City appraisal), demolish them, along with all the City-0wned properties (including the Baptist church and public parking deck), and sell the clean land to Shodeen for $10. Cost to taxpayers: millions
    • The City plans to issue $14 million in General Obligation bonds, backed by tax dollars, as all GO bonds are, with the hope that the increased taxes (increment) produced by the value of the new building will be enough to pay off the bonds and the required payment to the school district for students the apartments generate. The construction cost will supposedly be backed by an insurance policy, and the post-construction tax increment will supposedly be backed by a Special Service Area (SSA) agreement for special taxes on the developer if the assessed property value falls short. The concern is, it’s not really Shodeen who’s the developer, but a Limited Liability Company, One North Washington, LLC, that Shodeen has set up. By definition, the developer on paper has limited liability. If the LLC should default on insurance payments and declare bankruptcy any time before the bonds are paid, taxpayers are stuck holding the bag. TIF projects have failed before.
    • According to the developer’s latest estimates, the project will result in increased taxes of more than $700,000/yr (already down from $800,000/yr, even as the apartment units have increased to 186 and the parking spaces to 359). The school district is entitled to up to 40% of the increment. Using the initial estimate of $800,000, that’s $320,000/yr for the school district. At $12,500/yr per student as the cost of education at BPS101, that’s 25 students covered by the increment. Any more than 25 students, the rest of the taxpayers pick up the slack (we homeowners in non-TIF areas pay 67% of our taxes to the school district). And if there are even just 25 students, that leaves under $500,000/yr for the bond payments…for $14 million in bonds…plus interest. The TIF district runs just 23 years. The City isn’t worried; they estimate there will be very few children of school age living in the apartments. There are at least 99 2-bedroom units planned.

The current City Council has rated high in the area of responsibility in recent years. Please contact your aldermen (button at right) and ask them to address concerns before signing contracts. There is no reason they can’t wait till they have more answers, bring fairness into the process, and have worked with the citizens to come up with a plan that will truly benefit downtown Batavia and have the people’s support.

For links to documents and articles relevant to this project, please visit our Downtown Redevelopment page. More links may be added as information increases.

Last chance to comment before Redevelopment Agreement is scheduled to be signed: September 6, 7:30pm, City Council meeting. If you have concerns, your presence there is important to show the Council that it’s not just 1 or 2 people who care about this. Come to the meeting and bring a friend!

 

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