For the third time, the public has spoken out against granting tax breaks to a developer who wants to build subsidized housing in Mount Vernon.
MacQuesten Takeover Partners has asked the Mount Vernon Industrial Development Agency for help with a $71.1 million mixed-use development next to a Metro-North train station.
he public’s objections are not necessarily aimed specifically at project developer MacQuesten Development of Pelham, so much as at IDA policies and practices.
The fact that a third public hearing was held on Feb. 20 was a happenstance due to procedural oversights and omissions related to hearings held in 2016 and last year.
In short, a group of residents and an attorney for the Mount Vernon school district said that the IDA is too generous to residential developers, too insensitive about the residents’ tax burden and too secretive about its work.
MacQuesten plans to build 189 apartments and 4,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space at 22 S. West St. The building would include 159 subsidized apartments and 30 market-rate units.
The site is a block away from The Modern, an 81-unit workforce housing building that MacQuesten opened last year. The company has also bought the dilapidated Mount Vernon West train station, next door to the project site, for development.
MacQuesten has asked the IDA for an exemption from sales and use taxes worth an estimated $1.6 million. But the heart of the dispute, from the objectors’ point of view, is a proposed deal to abate property taxes for 30 years.
The developer would make payments in lieu of taxes based on $812 for each subsidized unit, $900 for market-rate units and $1,000 for the retail space in the first year of occupancy. The rates would increase by 2.5 to 3 percent a year.
That works out to $157,108 in year one and culminates at $363,098 in year 30, for a total of more than $7.3 million.
Property taxes on the vacant site are $40,000 a year, according to MacQuesten’s 2016 IDA application.
“You are really giving away the store here,” said Thomas Scapoli, an attorney who represents the school district. “That’s an incredible amount of tax relief.”
By his reckoning, the finished project should be taxed at more than $1 million a year.
“But the IDA sees fit to give away $1 million in taxpayer dollars a year,” he said. “That is an extraordinary amount.”
Scapoli said the PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) terms are even more generous than the agency’s financial assistance policy, which calls for payments ranging from $860 to $1,000 per subsidized apartment.
The numbers matter, the school district claims, because the schools get a piece of the pie and the pie is too small to support the additional students who will move into new apartment buildings.
The IDA has rejected repeated requests to include the schools in PILOT discussions, Scapoli said. The district has sued the IDA, alleging misuse of tax abatements and excessive deals in favor of developers.
MacQuesten said its new project will create 300 to 350 construction jobs and 50 jobs after it opens.
Jane Curtis, a member of an informal group of residents who monitor Mount Vernon government, said that residential projects generate too few jobs, and she criticized the IDA for not sharing cost-benefit analyses of proposed projects.
“Our feeling is that there is no community benefit that compensates for the tax loss from a PILOT.”
“What about traffic?” asked Fiorella Kelley, another government monitor. “What about density? What about quality of life?”
The streets and sewers need to be fixed, she said.
“They walk away with the money and leave the problems to us.”
MacQuesten’s project manager, Joseph Apicella, attended the hearing but did not speak.
The IDA board will “take their feedback into account,” said Sean McIntyre, deputy director, “prior to taking further action.”