Town of Potsdam authorizes adding recent appraisals of Collegiate Village apartments for lawsuit over taxes
Tuesday, August 20, 2019 - 5:28 pm

BY CRAIG FREILICH
North Country This Week

POTSDAM -- The Town of Potsdam has authorized the company providing appraisals of Collegiate Village apartments on Outer Main Street to add more recent appraisals for a lawsuit challenging tax assessments.

Affinity Potsdam Properties, developers and owners of the college apartments behind SUNY Potsdam, has had a suit in the works against the town’s assessments of their property in order to lower their tax bill.

Francis & Company of Becket, Mass. was engaged by the town to supply appraisals of the property for 2015 and 2016, but Affinity has added 2017, 2018 and 2019 to its suit challenging the assessments, so new appraisals are needed.

The Town Council approved the new appraisals, and to pay the company $2,665 more, for a total of $11,505, plus $175 per hour for related work, as agreed to in the original contract.

The current assessment of Collegiate Village for property tax purposes, which is different from an appraisal, is $9,474,000.

In 2012, Affinity had asked the town, village and school district for a tax break in the form of a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes (PILOT) agreement for their commercial enterprise. They were denied when local governments declined to agree. Affinity built the apartments anyway, and has been adding apartments to the site in phases, but has been trying to get their property tax obligation lowered through legal action.

At a public hearing in 2012, their PILOT proposal received negative reaction from many of the people there.

The project, aimed primarily at college students, drew fire from landlords who said it represented unfair competition with local landlords who would not see such tax breaks.

Others in the community said they would be against a subsidy for a private for-profit business in a commercial enterprise.

The plan also ran into resistance from two of the three government boards with a stake in tax revenue and who had power of approval or denial over the tax reduction.

Potsdam Town Councilor Judy Rich, in opposing the PILOT, said she was not against development, “but I don’t think development at any cost is a good thing.”

Rich also said that Affinity had a record of challenging assessments as soon as initial assessment agreements expire, adding legal expenses to municipalities’ costs.

After that hearing, Chason Affinity Properties Chief Executive Officer Jeff Birtch said that in the absence of a tax abatement, the company might pursue a deal with a charitable organization to make the development tax exempt.

“We would look at working with a charitable fund,” he told North Country This Week. “If the PILOT is rejected we could work with an educational foundation that would own the project. Then it would be totally tax exempt.”