WATERLOO — A letter opposing the sale of the former Hillside Children’s Center campus in Varick to businessman Earl Martin will not be drafted and sent to state officials.
At Tuesday’s Seneca County Board of Supervisors committee meetings, a motion to have County Attorney David Ettman compose and send such a letter failed. Had it passed, it may have gone to the full board later in the meeting for a final vote.
The discussion and motion took place at the board’s Government Operations Committee, which is chaired by Fayette Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti. Lorenzetti made the motion over concerns about the sale of the 172-acre campus to Martin for $65,000. It drew a 2-2 vote of the five-member committee; three votes are required to pass a committee motion. Lorenzetti and Kyle Barnhart of Lodi voted yes, while Mike Ferrara of Seneca Falls and Ernie Brownell of Junius were opposed. Ralph Lott of Seneca Falls was absent.
Prior to the vote, the committee discussed the sale for nearly an hour.
Martin was the only person to respond to a Request For Proposals for the property issued by the county Industrial Development Agency, which owns the property that is part of the former Seneca Army Depot site. The 172-acre section, which was used for troop barracks and officer housing, was leased to KidsPeace and then Hillside as a residential treatment facility for troubled youth from 2000 to March 2020.
Martin answered questions Tuesday, as did IDA Executive Director Sarah Davis, IDA attorney Robert Halpin, IDA board chairman Steve Brusso, and staff member Patricia Jones.
Ferrara suggested the IDA could have re-advertised for bids after only one was received. Waterloo Supervisor James Cleere questioned the IDA not getting an appraisal of the property before seeking bids.
Davis said the IDA has spent $98,000 to maintain the buildings and grounds at Hillside since it was vacated in March. She also said Martin’s proposed use as an expansion of his Deer Haven Park on the former depot was acceptable to the IDA.
“It is a money pit for the IDA, and our question is whether that should continue,” Brusso said.
“Is it legal to sell this public property for $65,000 when it is assessed at a much higher amount?” Lorenzetti asked.
“We are not obligated to sell it at market value,” Davis replied. “There are other factors. ... When that happens, we have to notify state officials and they have 90 days to respond. We have done that.”
Ettman said notification of the sale has been sent to the governor’s office, the Assembly, the Senate and the state Authorities Budget Office.
“Does this board have any say?” Lorenzetti asked.
“You can submit comments,” Ettman said.
Lorenzetti said the board should make comments on its concerns about the sale for the low bid, saying she has received phone calls from county residents questioning the sale price.
Davis noted that the property will be assessed by the town of Varick and will generate revenue, although it is tax-exempt now.
Other questions were raised about the decommissioning of a wastewater treatment plant that serves the north end of the depot, including Hillside, and the PILOT agreement that Martin is seeking with the IDA.
“Earl is seeking a PILOT to give him time to work out a proper assessment for the property with the Varick town assessor,” Davis said. “No decision has been made on his request for financial assistance and a PILOT.”
Ettman noted the Board of Supervisors has no say about PILOTs negotiated between the IDA and a company. Ferrara asked about the number of jobs Martin will create at the site, and Davis said there will be some, adding that job creation is not a requirement for assistance.
Davis defended the IDA sale to Martin, noting that he will have to make a large investment to bring the buildings and infrastructure up to standards. Davis and Brusso said asbestos will have to be removed from many of the buildings and Martin will pay for that work, plus he is leasing the property now and will pay utility costs.