By DAVID L. SHAW firstname.lastname@example.org
Fingerlakes Times – fltimes.com
Romulus, NY February 10, 2017 – Most of the 20 people speaking at a Thursday public hearing supported a short term Payment In Lieu Of Taxes (PILOT) agreement between the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency and prospective Seneca Army Depot owner Earl Martin.
The IDA Board of Directors has already approved an initial PILOT agreement that calls for Martin and his Deer Haven Park LLC to pay $50,000 in lieu of taxes for 2017, the first year of a lease.
If the lease extends to a second year, Martin would pay $75,000. That would be distributed among the towns of Varick and Romulus, Seneca County and the Romulus school district.
Martin would pay the $900,000 purchase price up front. The agreement was the subject of Thursday’s hearing. The IDA board can now vote up or down on a final PILOT agreement, possibly at its March meeting.
“I support the lease purchase and the PILOT agreement for Mr. Martin. It would immediately see a payment in lieu of taxes and give him time to get a fair assessment,” said Ralph Lott of Seneca Falls, one of the unsuccessful bidders for the 7,000 acres parcel.
“This agreement benefits everyone, the white deer, job creation and helps the municipalities. If you don’t do this, you have to bid it all over again and there would be no jobs, no tax and no saving the white deer,” Lott said.
Jeff Shipley, president of the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce, also supported the PILOT and Martin’s development plan.
Martin has said he will relocate his Seneca Iron Works manufacturing plant from Fayette to the former depot, make available 10 to 20 farm homestead plots, seek other businesses, including a solar farm, and offer a plan to protect and preserve the rare white deer herd.
“This property has been dormant for two decades. That’s far too long. There’s been some delay for remediation and that has taken a toll on infrastructure, the once-thriving white deer population, which is down,” Shipley said.
He said the time to act is now to preserve the white deer. “This will help the community to prosper. I respect the committee’s decision for the lease purchase. We can’t have any more costly delays,” Shipley said.
Keith Tidball of Fayette, who works for Martin as an ecologist to help with the white deer preservation effort, listed the steps Martin has already taken — before owning the property.
Tidball said Martin installed about 50 acres of food plots to help feed the deer and other wildlife, located an area near the former bunkers to plant more food and help provide tourists a better view of the deer.
He said Martin improved grassland and shrubs for birds, limited disturbances near a bald eagle nesting area and took steps to improve pollination by honey bees and Monarch butterflies.
“This has required investment and Mr. Martin has not hesitated. He is committed to the plan and the community,” Tidball said.
In voicing his support, Tidball said Martin’s plan is the one that makes the most sense for the depot. “Don’t derail it over tax revenue. Stick with the plan and finish what has been started,” he said.
Tom Bouchard, chairman of the Romulus Planning Board, said he is an enthusiastic supporter of Martin’s vision for the land. He said it is compatible with what the town wants to see and is within the zoning code.
“I have concerns about the process. I want to make sure Mr. Martin gets a fair deal. I don’t want to see a further delay that could jeopardize his plan. It’s a well- thought-out plan,” Bouchard said.
Truman Bells of Seneca Falls said the only question is how to get the lease to a sale the fastest way.
“There’s a lot involved. You have 7,000 acres, two towns, utilities, surveying, the Army’s involvement with cleanup and it’s a Superfund site. It’s no small task,” Bells said.
“It could take time. His plan calls for tax revenue, jobs and protecting the white deer. He’s already invested a lot of money before getting title. He’s done his part,” he said.
Making short statements of support for Martin and the PILOT were Michael Olmstead and Steve Clemenson.
Dennis Money, president of Seneca White Deer LLC, said his organization endorses a short-term lease with Martin, stressing the importance of protecting the dwindling white deer herd.
“We’ve joined with him on the white deer. He’s fixed the fence and planted food. Let’s move this forward,” Money said.
Martin Rotz, superintendent of the Romulus school district, said the PILOT would give the small school district additional revenue and his eco-tourism plan for the white deer gives students an educational field trip option.
James Mitchell of Fayette supported Martin and his plan, but was critical of the tax abatement. He blasted the IDA for not developing the depot and making sure the assessment was settled. “The taxpayers get a raw deal,” he said.
Romulus Supervisor David Kaiser said he favored the lease and the PILOT as well as Martin’s development plan.
“His plan is the best for the deer and economic development. Don’t go back. Help him,” Kaiser said.
He said he’s confident the assessment issue can be worked out to everyone’s satisfaction.
John Saeli of Varick said the Martin plan is the best of those submitted, but said the $50,000 payment in lieu of taxes “is not realistic.”
Varick Supervisor Robert Hayssen said he supports Martin’s plan. But he said the assessment can be determined by May 1 and Martin can then challenge it if he doesn’t like the number.
“There should be no PILOT. To be fair and equitable, move to close the sale and pay normal taxes,” Hayssen said.
Fayette Supervisor Cynthia Lorenzetti, liaison to the IDA board, said she wasn’t speaking for or against the lease or PILOT. She said she wanted to apologize for the IDA not doing its due diligence on the sale process.
“We rushed it instead of taking our time. The Army was leaving and we faced a deadline,” she said.
Denise Giroux said she is “frustrated” with the IDA, saying it is too quick to agree to PILOTs.
Diane Potter of Middlesex, an outspoken white deer advocate, urged the board to conclude the deal with Martin. She said the white deer have the potential to be a huge tourist draw.
Brian and Darren Burkholder of Romulus spoke in favor of Martin’s plan, as did Tim Montroy of Palmyra.
Kathleen Russo, a Varick Town Board member, said she agrees with Hayssen on the assessment issue.
Patty Dhondt-Campbell of Phelps said Martin has presented a ”fabulous plan” and the IDA should “keep working together to finish the agreement.”