The Amherst Industrial Development Agency on Friday voted to impose a moratorium on all tax breaks for new senior housing projects until the agency can determine if there’s still a need for them to encourage construction.
Saying it was important to provide clarity and consistency to developers, the board of directors voted 4-2 to stop approving breaks for new senior projects through the rest of the year, effective immediately. Town Supervisor Dr. Barry Weinstein and IDA board member Barbara S. Nuchereno voted against the moratorium.
The resolution called for the agency to review the need for more senior housing in the town, and to solicit input from municipalities, senior service providers and other government agencies, operators of existing housing projects, developers and the public about whether there is a need for more taxpayer support.
Weinstein cautioned that “a moratorium has to be very carefully crafted.”
“We had a moratorium in 2006,” he said. “We just had a $3 million judgment against us. Enough said.”
Weinstein was referring to a lawsuit by developer William L. Huntress, who acquired a wetlands parcel in 1998 without knowing there was a 50-year moratorium on development of the land.
Huntress sued after the Town Board in 2006 reversed an earlier approval of his plan to put an office park on the property.
The IDA’s action on the senior housing moratorium, following a recommendation of the board’s three-member executive committee, comes in the wake of a study by the Regional Institute at the University at Buffalo, funded by the Amherst and Erie County IDAs.
The study found that fewer than 1 percent of senior citizens in the county move away because they can’t find appropriate housing, contradicting a long-held notion that a lack of housing was driving residents away. That raised the question whether there is still a need for IDAs to support the development and construction of new senior housing throughout Erie County.
“There seems to be a lot of confusion on who actually lives in the new independent projects being built and proposed,” said Michael Joseph, a developer whose Clover Management Co. has built 10 senior projects throughout Western New York, and is now surveying almost 1,500 residents who live in the type of projects Amherst is reconsidering.
“There is a misperception as to who these people are because the rents needed to make the projects work tend to be higher than the rents in older, existing apartment projects.”
The vote also came a month after the board rejected an application for $1.3 million in property, sales and mortgage tax breaks by Bliss Construction of East Amherst, through MEL Investors LLC.
The developer wanted to build an $8.9 million project for 99 market-rate apartments for seniors, to be called Maple Road Senior Apartments, but critics on the IDA board questioned the need for taxpayer subsidies when rents would be $900 to $1,000 a month. Opponents also cited the UB findings, and the proposal was rejected by a 4-3 vote.
“We just can’t entertain projects and then bring up these questions,” said IDA board member Edward Stachura. “Based on last month’s proposals, we have a number of questions and issues.”
MEL in a letter to IDA Executive Director James Allen asked the board to reconsider, at least to authorize a mortgage tax exemption and a sales tax exemption on construction materials and equipment. The group said the tax breaks would reduce the overall project cost by $300,000 and make it more likely that a bank would provide financing at a low interest rate.
But the IDA’s executive committee rejected the request before Friday’s meeting, Allen said, because they didn’t want to reopen an issue that the board had already ruled on, and didn’t want to veer from the existing policy.
The discussion and vote by the Amherst IDA came even as its sister agency, the Amherst Development Corp., took action to maintain support for previously approved senior housing projects. The directors, who are the same for both agencies, unanimously:
• Approved a request by Beechwood Continuing Care to refinance a tax-exempt bond that the IDA issued on its behalf in 1999 for construction of the Asbury Point senior living community on 5.3 acres at 50 Stahl Road. The outstanding bonds, originally issued for $8.13 million, now total $6.18 million, and will be refinanced for no more than $6.5 million but at significantly lower interest rate. M&T is buying the bonds.
• Issued a “collateral” mortgage to Weinberg Campus on North Forest Road to supplement the tax-exempt bond that was issued by the IDA in 2010. That mortgage will then be assigned to M&T, which holds the bonds but now wants some extra financial assurance that it will be paid because of “technical defaults” by Weinberg on the bonds.
The board also adopted the local labor policy that had previously been approved by the Erie County Industrial Development Agency. That policy is designed to ensure that tax breaks and other public subsidies help local workers during construction of IDA-supported projects through local hiring standards.