Area residents commended businessman Ramon Rodriguez of Home Helpers and Direct Link of Amsterdam, but spoke out against the idea of allowing him to open offices on 267 Market Street, in a building currently owned by the Salvation Army, which has been vacant since 2014. Approximately 15 people were in the audience at the Amsterdam Industrial Development Agency (AIDA) meeting held Thursday afternoon. Ten different people spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting, including First Ward Alderman Ed Russo and Rodriguez.
Before the public comments were heard, AIDA Chairman Pat Baia explained that his agency was separate from the city’s planning board and it was not their authority to make a decision in regards to the use of the property. He said the agency would be making a decision next Thursday on whether to approve a Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) agreement with Rodriguez’s business.
“We are going under the assumption that this has been approved by the planning board,” said Baia. “We are not going to make a motion to vote on this tonight. So you have up until Wednesday to give comments in writing for the record. And unless we hear differently from the planning board, we will go forward with our meeting.”
According to AIDA Executive Director Jody Zakrevsky, given the assessed value of the property, the total annual taxes on the property would be $25,498. Under the proposed PILOT agreement, the business would pay $4,845 the first year, then double that amount the second year, gradually increasing over time to the full tax amount. Currently, the property produces no tax revenue, given it is owned by a non-profit organization.
During the public comments, First Ward Alderman Ed Russo read a letter he received from First Ward resident Pam Ritter, in which she claimed that the city’s planning board had not followed proper procedure in approving the site. According to Ritter, the board did not file an environmental review or submit the proposal to the Montgomery County planning board.
“I am against this project,” said Russo. “No disrespect to the gentleman that is putting this up. I just think the business doesn’t belong in a residential area.”
Later, Russo said he had received 46 phone calls from his constituents, all against the idea of locating the business on the Market Street property. Russo said he would like the planning board to reconsider their decision, but would also seek Corporation Counsel Gerard DeCusatis’ support for legal action to nullify the planning board’s decision.
“I don’t want to go to court if I don’t have to,” added Russo.
Reached for comment later, DeCusatis said he had not yet reviewed details of the planning board’s decision.
Besides Russo, eight other residents, including Russo and mayoral candidate Michael Villa, spoke favorably about Rodriguez’s desire to locate within the city, but opposed the location, which is in the middle of a residential zoned area. Residents expressed a variety of concerns including that a commercial office would change the character of the area, that it could set a precedent for further businesses to locate in the neighborhood, and that residents were not adequately informed of the proposed idea before the planning board’s decision.
During the meeting, Rodriguez gave a short history of his business, which provides home health care services.
“My wife and I decided to take a leap of faith and start a business here in this community because we like the community,” said Rodriguez. “We started in a spare bedroom with no employees and no clients and today we have close to 130 employees in the field taking care of our citizens in Amsterdam. We take care of people and keep them in their home.”
Rodriguez said he currently employs 10 people at his office in the Mohawk Valley Medical Arts building on Route 30 in the Town of Amsterdam, only a short distance north of the proposed new location.
“We’re hoping to be a good neighbor, I hope we can move forward with this,” said Rodriguez.
After the meeting, Rodriguez said he is not considering any other properties in the city.
“The location, for marketing purposes is perfect. I didn’t think that the type of business would be a nuisance in a residential community. So I thought it would be a good fit, a complementary business because we serve the community,” said Rodriguez.
“I can’t put a health care business in a factory building,” he added. “As far as location goes in the city, that is the best location. If the City of Amsterdam doesn’t want us we’ll go somewhere else.”