Islamic Center may lose bid to buy Schenectady site

City fears losing taxes on Brandywine lot

Sunday, June 2, 2013
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Concrete barriers now surround the former Brandywine Avenue School lot at the corner of Brandywine Avenue and Becker Street in Schenectady Wednesday.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber
Concrete barriers now surround the former Brandywine Avenue School lot at the corner of Brandywine Avenue and Becker Street in Schenectady Wednesday.

— The Afghan Islamic Center’s bid to buy the former Brandywine School property may be denied because the church would not have to pay taxes.

City officials said they wanted to sell the large lot on Brandywine Avenue to a tax-paying owner. The property disposition committee began considering the proposals last week.

Even some City Council members said they would prefer to collect taxes on the lot, although they had been sympathetic when mosque members appealed to them personally at a recent meeting.

Councilman Carl Erikson said the city has to find a tax-paying buyer.

“So we can lower taxes for everybody else,” he said, adding, “This is a large property. It’s a block in from State Street. It’s a corner lot.”

But he said he would be willing to lease the lot to the mosque until a developer comes long with a proposal for the entire space.

Currently, none of the proposed buyers plan to use the entire lot. City officials did not disclose the other proposals, but Mayor Gary McCarthy said one was a proposal for veterans’ housing. That might also be tax-exempt.

McCarthy wasn’t at the first meeting of the property disposition committee, but he said the committee would consider each proposal’s tax status.

“Yes, we would want it to be taxable,” he said, adding, “We want to work with the mosque, too. I’m looking for the best utilization.”

Compromise possible

Councilman Vince Riggi said he, too, wanted a taxpayer in that lot, but he said the city could compromise by selling half of it to the mosque.

“I’d like to see a tax-paying party in at least part of it,” he said. “The mosque, they can use some parking, sure. I hope it works out for all. We don’t want to deter religious groups.”

One council member wants the mosque to have the property.

Councilwoman Marion Porterfield said she didn’t care that the mosque is tax-exempt.

“They need parking,” she said. “They’re already here. They talked about a community center. They would be doing things for the city.”

She added that the city could negotiate a payment in lieu of taxes in exchange for selling the lot to the mosque. In that case, a tax-exempt entity can agree to pay some amount of money each year.

“We could certainly ask them about doing a PILOT,” Porterfield said.

Parking crunch

In the meantime, the lot has been blocked off with cement barriers, which cost $5,000. That stopped some residents from storing their boats at the site, but also cut off the informal parking lot that mosque members were using each Friday.

That has created something of a crisis for the mosque, because Ramadan begins July 8. The month-long religious observation will bring members to the mosque every night, and members are worried about parking.

It does not appear that city officials will make a decision on the property sale by then.

But Riggi said the city was right to block off the site.

“I had numerous complaints of people storing junk there — boats and trailers and tires,” he said.

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June 3, 2013
9:58 p.m.
kelleher1025 says...

A few months ago, I was contacted by a member of the mosque regarding the fact that the city was approached about this property to utilize it for parking with plans for a community center in the future. The mosque was informed that there was already a party interested in it. Allegedly, the mosque offered $55,000 which was declined as the city advised it was worth $72,000. Although selling the property to the mosque would take it off the tax rolls, the mosque could pay a PILOT as many other non-profits in the city do already. Inasmuch, after I began to ask a few questions, the blocks went up (coincidence?). While I agree that this city property should not be used for the residents to store personal property, it is vacant, city-owned property which does nothing for the city being surrounded by blocks. The $5000 spent on those blocks would have been better utilized to make it into a timed or permit parking area to at least get use out of it until a buyer came in. If nothing else, it may have increased the value.
As for Mr. Erikson's comment about lowering the taxes by selling this to taxable buyer, the amount of taxes it would save the residents per year would not be enough for a gumball from their favorite vending machine. The city is yet to lower taxes by selling one of it's properties to a taxable purchaser. It's a nice thought, though, Councilman. I'm certain that the people would like to know when, if ever, the city has lowered taxes.
What's done can't be undone as far as initially putting up the blocks. However, once the property is sold or reused, these blocks would make great use as barriers for blocking unauthorized vehicles from the Woodlawn Preserve.
Respectfully submitted,
Joe Kelleher
Candidate for Schenectady City Council

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