A half-dozen residents voiced opposition to tax breaks for a mixed-use development at the Mount Vernon West Metro-North train station at a public hearing on May 12 for a proposal that could be a foregone conclusion.
A year ago, MacQuesten Development LLC, a Pelham company formerly based in Mount Vernon, asked the city’s Industrial Development Agency to exempt it from $1.6 million in sales and use taxes and to abate property taxes for 30 years on a 20-story residential and retail tower at 22 S. West St. The IDA has granted the Pelham company preliminary project approval. The final authorizing resolution is pending.
“We have a signed resolution that is the basis of our financing,” said Joseph Apicella, MacQuesten’s project manager, after the IDA hearing. “This is in full force and effect,” he said, holding the IDA’s 2016 inducement resolution.
Following its preliminary vote of support for the downtown project, the IDA held a required public hearing on the project in December. But the Mount Vernon school district sued the city over how it apportions PILOTs — payments in lieu of taxes — and it objected to the timing and manner in which the IDA notified the public about the first hearing. So the IDA held another hearing.
MacQuesten on May 8 submitted site plans to the Mount Vernon Planning Board for a 17-story building with 174 apartments, scaled back from 20 stories and 205 apartments in the developer’s proposal last year. The estimated $71 million development would include about 4,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and blend market-rate apartments with units reserved for low-to-medium-income households
Several residents who spoke during and after the hearing objected not only to IDA tax breaks and support for MacQuesten’s project but for residential projects in general and for affordable housing in particular.
Pedro Coelho runs Padaminas Brazilian Bakery on Lincoln Avenue in Mount Vernon, owns four properties in the city and pays about $100,000 a year in taxes. “There’s no pilot for Pedro,” he said. “I have to pay the full tab.”
He worries that the city’s support of low-income housing exposes children to too much poverty, motivates good citizens to move away and causes stores to close.
“We’re working hard to restore the city,” Coelho said. “Bring back the glory days. Don’t sell out our beautiful city so cheap.”
“We don’t need more residential housing,” said Bill Cappello.
He said affordable housing tends to deteriorate, adds too many children to the school district and increases the tax burden on homeowners. He said the city needs all the property tax revenue it can get from developers to fix a city that is falling apart.
“We want them to pay their full share of taxes,” said Cappello.
“I can’t see the financial gain for the city,” Marlene Werthem said. “We’re asking that you not continue with the old deleterious decisions.”
Jose Filipe said the city should encourage development of market-rate apartments to foster more business and build a stronger tax base. He asked if the IDA ever gets back taxes from developers that fail to produce the jobs they promised or whose projects put more students in the schools than predicted.
The IDA has a clawback policy, said Sean McIntyre, the agency’s interim director.
“The IDA pays lip service to clawbacks,” said Thomas Scapoli, an attorney who represents the schools. “I would ask how often it’s done.”
MacQuesten’s 2016 IDA proposal says the project will create 300 to 350 construction jobs and 50 full-time jobs when it opens.
The company bought a parcel in 2015 for $1.5 million and has removed underground gas tanks and contaminated soil. Last summer it paid $3 million for the dilapidated Mount Vernon West train station.
Annual payments to municipalities in lieu of taxes would begin at $171,828, based on an average of $838.19 per unit for 205 apartments. It would increase to $397,118 by the 30th year.
“We’re ready to go,” Apicella said. “We hope to break ground in a matter of weeks, not months. We’d like to have a foundation permit by July.”
After the public hearing, Mount Vernon resident Jane Curtis noted that none of the five IDA board members attended. “There was no one from the board to hear our comments,” she said.