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Norstar would contribute more money for Creek Wood Apartments tax abatement

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A Buffalo developer has agreed to contribute $10,000 a year as part of a tax abatement package for the second phase of Creek Wood Apartments.

Linda L. Goodman, executive director for Buffalo-based Norstar Development USA, told the Watertown City Council Tuesday night the developer would contribute that amount as part of the 10-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes package for the 104 units it plans to build during the second phase of the project off Mill Street.

Councilwoman Teresa R. Macaluso first proposed the $10,000 amount during a meeting with James W. Wright, CEO of the Development Authority of the North Country, and Mayor Jeffrey E. Graham last Thursday. DANC has been involved in the $21 million Creek Wood project as it helps develop additional housing needed for Fort Drum soldiers.

Ms. Macaluso’s proposal came up again during a work session Tuesday night. The $10,000 would go toward fire and police department protection and other expenses the city would incur for Creek Wood Apartments, she said.

That amount would equate to property taxes on about 25 percent of the units set aside as market rate. The other 75 percent would be affordable housing for low-income residents.

On Tuesday night, council members were generally in support of the tax abatement package if it includes the $10,000 payment.

“It’s the 25 percent that I asked for,” said Councilman Jeffrey M. Smith.

But some issues still need to be worked out. City Attorney Robert J. Slye needs to figure out whether the city could receive the entire $10,000 or would have to share it with the other taxing jurisdictions, Jefferson County and the Watertown City School District.

After the meeting, Mayor Graham said “it would be our intention” that the city would get the entire $10,000 for each of the first seven years of the 10-year PILOT.

Norstar had asked for the same 10-year tax-abatement agreement it received in 2010 when the first 96 apartments were built. That plan would include a 100 percent exemption during the first seven years and a 75 percent exemption in the eighth, 50 percent in the ninth and 25 percent in the final year.

After the 40-minute discussion, Ms. Goodman said she was “hopeful” that council members were satisfied and will approve the PILOT when it comes up for a vote next Monday night.

During the discussion, Mr. Wright said Army officials have stressed the need for more affordable housing to keep soldiers at Fort Drum and for possible future expansion. He also noted that vacancy rates within a 30-minute radius of Fort Drum hover below 2 percent.

Stressing the need for housing, he also mentioned that the current waiting list now stands at 125 at Norstar’s three apartment complexes, Creek Wood, Summit Wood and Starwood, while the Watertown Housing Authority’s has grown from a list of 150 to 250 during the past year.

At last Monday’s council meeting, Mr. Smith and Councilman Joseph M. Butler Jr. said they would not support the tax breaks without the city getting more during the first seven years of the PILOT. They both opposed giving Norstar a tax break when the first phase was approved two years ago.

In the past year, tax abatement programs for proposed town of Watertown apartment complexes became sources of debate for the Watertown City School District board. Construction has started on a 394-unit complex off County Route 202, and 296 apartments off Route 3 behind the Target store. Both of those projects were awarded PILOT agreements to proceed.

Council members took no action on proposed fees for concert promoters and organizations that use the facilities at the Alex T. Duffy Fairgrounds. City staff has proposed charging flat fees for patron parking and for operating food concessions at concerts and other events.

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