WHEATFIELD – There will be at least a one-month delay in a vote on a tax break being sought by the developers who want to convert a vacant former Lewiston nursing home into apartments.
The Niagara County Industrial Development Agency board lacked the votes to approve the 765 Fairchild Place deal Wednesday, as two members abstained and three others were absent. That left four people who could vote, and five votes are needed to approve anything at the IDA.
However, the board formally voted to table the 15-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, request until July 9 because of objections raised at public hearings in the Village of Lewiston.
IDA Chairman Henry M. Sloma, who abstained because he formerly owned the nursing home, warned that the IDA was setting a precedent, because it hasn’t allowed a lack of local government approvals to block its decisions before.
But an IDA tax break takes effect only if the project wins all its necessary permits, IDA attorney Mark J. Gabriele said.
Sloma said, “If the village says they don’t want it, there’s no PILOT. We’re not going to step on local toes in doing the work we do.”
IDA member Jerald I. Wolfgang said he’s talked to Lewiston Mayor Terry C. Collesano about the Fairchild project. “They are dead-set against apartments because of parking, a lot of things,” said Wolfgang, who abstained.
Robert Savarino, the Amherst developer working on the project, told the IDA board that the problem seems to be that the Village Board approved condominiums for the former Fairchild Manor Nursing Home under a previous owner, who never completed the project.
Savarino said the current owner, James Jerge of Orchard Park, doesn’t want to build condos. “There was some miscommunication. We intend to develop it as luxury apartments,” Savarino said.
He said the plan has been altered in the face of village concerns about parking and density. The number of units has been cut from 30 to 27, and part of the property will be dedicated to off-street parking.
Sloma said the IDA will not aid condo projects, and observed, “It’s not uncommon to take apartments and convert them to condominiums.”
Gabriele said if there was a condo conversion during the 15-year term of the PILOT, the tax break would be lost. Sloma said no one had analyzed whether the IDA could demand a “clawback” of the tax benefits already received on the apartments if they are converted.
Gabriele said it would be up the IDA board at the time of a condo conversion to decide whether to demand money back from the developer.
Savarino said the IDA needs to avoid making developers win all their permits before granting tax breaks because of the expense involved in making designs and seeking approvals for a project that might not win the IDA’s favor.
Wolfgang agreed. “I wouldn’t want to put that burden on the developers, that they have to get all their permits. I think incentives are a great idea to get the project started,” he said.
“I’d leave it to the local jurisdictions to iron that out. Our job is to do this expeditiously,” Sloma said.