Uncertainty about whether the city planning commission’s decision to issue a special use permit would be rescinded or not, as well as input from local residents and the Common Council, were factors in the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency’s decision on Thursday to postpone voting on a potential Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement for RAMA Real Properties LLC.
RAMA Real Properties LLC is owned by Ramon Rodriguez, who operates Home Helpers and Direct Link of Amsterdam. The commission recently granted a special use permit for Rodriguez to expand his company’s offices by purchasing property at 265 and 267 Market Street. Currently, the property is owned by the Salvation Army and consists of a church building, parking lot, and a single family home.
At a hearing held by AIDA last week, residents spoke out against the project, citing concerns that the business would change the character of the otherwise all-residential area. At the hearing, First Ward Alderman Ed Russo also voiced opposition to the project and cited a letter from resident Pam Ritter who claimed that the planning commission did not follow correct procedures when deciding on the case. According to Ritter, the commission did not submit the plan to the Montgomery County planning board as required and also did not file a required environmental review.
On Tuesday, the Common Council unanimously passed a resolution which expressed opposition to the project. The resolution stated that the project “is highly likely to adversely affect the quality of life of the neighbors” and requested the planning commission rescind it’s approval. Furthermore, the resolution requested that neither AIDA or Montgomery County assist in the financing of the proposed project.
“When you’ve got the leaders of each ward in the community saying that they are showing opposition to this [project] based on the location, we have to take this into real consideration,” said board member Michael LaCoppola.
Board member Michael Rossi had a different perspective. “I don’t think we should be considering anything other than the PILOT. It is not our job to do the planning. The planning has been done. We vote yes or no on the PILOT then [Rodriguez] can go back to planning, he can scrap the project. It’s not for us to be involved in.”
Chairman Pat Baia argued that a company’s financial strength should be a factor in determining whether to grant a PILOT or not. He pointed out that Rodriguez had received a low-interest loan from Montgomery County and cited Rodriguez’s statement at last week’s public hearing indicating he also had also secured funding from Key Bank.
“So he’s credit-worthy,” said Baia. “I don’t think he needs a PILOT project. I mean it would be nice to have. But I think he’s pretty set as a business if he’s credit worthy to get a bank loan. I don’t agree with giving a PILOT.”
Board members Gerald Gallup and Rossi both said they agreed with Baia’s statement.
“For a standard PILOT agreement, as long as they meet the criteria of creating jobs and doing the renovations, that’s what our review process is based on, that’s what the cost-benefit analysis looks at,” said Executive Director Jody Zakrevsky. Later in the meeting, he also pointed out that large, well-funded companies such as Target and Walmart also receive PILOTS as incentives for moving to or staying in a given locality.
Legal counsel Chuck Schwartz also offered his advice to the board. In regards to the claims of problems with the commission’s decision, he said, “Strictly speaking, there was no real evidence that came in, it’s hearsay.”
“But one thing we do know though, is that there could possibly be a problem with the planning board,” said Schwartz. “Having said that…if the applicant, meaning Home Helpers, do not have site control then we cannot issue a PILOT.”
“So my position at this point is since we’re not clear on the site control of our applicant, because we’re not clear on the planning board process, that at least for now it would be prudent to table this until next month, when perhaps we have a better idea of whether or not the planning board did in fact legally grant a special use permit to the applicant.”
In regards to the legal ramifications of the Common Council’s resolution, Schwartz said, “This has absolutely no legal significance to us, nor does it have any legal significance to the planning board. This can’t change the planning board’s decision to grant a special use permit.”
When reached for comment on Wednesday, Paul Gavry, who chaired the meeting of the Planning Commission at which the special use permit was issued, said that he and the board had yet to decide whether to take the issue up again.
While Gavry said he appreciated the position of the Common Council expressed through the resolution, he said, “we don’t agree with the points the Common Council is making.”
Gavry said that the board fully considered the impact the business would have on the neighborhood, and took into consideration factors such as economic impact, traffic and safety concerns. He said that proper notice was sent to neighbors near the building and that two residents showed up at the meeting who voiced only minor concerns about signage.
Addressing the claims made by Ritter and reiterated by Russo, Gavry said that he did not believe an environmental study was required in this case. However, he did admit that the commission should have sent the proposal to the Montgomery County planning board.
“We didn’t do it, and we should have,” said Gavry. He added that he didn’t know if the oversight was grounds to rescind the permit, because the role of the county board was advisory.
AIDA’s next scheduled meeting is October 15 at 6:00pm. The next scheduled Planning Commission meeting is on the same day at 7:00pm.