The Village Board of Trustees passed two measures this month – a new law aimed at addressing an emerging abandoned properties problem and a resolution granting a subdivision request by the Stillwater Union Cemetery Association.
The two unanimous approvals came following separate public hearings at the board’s Jan. 19 monthly meeting.
Faced with a growing number of abandoned buildings in the village due to foreclosures, bank repossessions, etc., Trustees passed a new Vacant Building Law (Local Law No. 1 for 2016). The law will help “establish a baseline” of how vacant buildings will be looked at and regulated going forward, explained Mayor Rick Nelson.
“Obviously this has been a problem here for quite a while,” Mayor Nelson said. “This is our way of establishing guidelines so we can take some control back, know where (the vacant buildings) are and try to get some kind of closure to this issue.”
When buildings are abandoned and no longer maintained they become a safety and liability risk for municipalities. At some point they must be boarded up or demolished leading to cost issues.
Over the years, the village has spent countless hours without success trying to locate owners or banks responsible for the buildings. That has proven to be a near impossible task.
But now that the village has a vacant building law in place, the next step is to contract with Community Champion, a company that has worked with local governments in several states to identify responsible parties and hold them accountable.
Community Champions does an inventory of all village properties and creates a database of the owners, mortgage holding financial institutions, landlords, etc. “so if a red flag comes up we know where to go,” Mayor Nelson said.
The inventory is done at no cost to the village. Property owners in danger of foreclosure pay a registry fee, a portion going to Community Champions, which helps regulate the vacant building law enforcement and compliance.
“They are paid only if we collect registration fees,” said Village Attorney James Peluso, “so there really is no down side to this.”
The next step is for the village to draft a registration fee schedule for vacant building violators.
The new law and relationship with Community Champions is a way for the village to take a “proactive approach to making our village safe so no one gets hurt,” Mayor Nelson said. “It’s a step in a direction we haven’t gone before and we hope it will be the right step.”
Village Trustees granted a subdivision request by the Stillwater Union Cemetery Association to subdivide a small parcel of its Hudson Avenue property in the hopes of selling the lot to a developer to building senior citizen housing there.
Association President Ken Ingersol unveiled the plans at the board’s December meeting, and a public hearing was set for January. Two residents spoke at the short hearing, one who had a question about how the proposal would change the cemetery entrance and a second who endorsed the idea of building senior housing there.
Speaking in support of the idea was former Trustee and Deputy Mayor John Basile. Back when he was a Trustee in 2007, a developer brought forth plans for senior housing at the cemetery site but the village was under a state consent order at the time not to build. That consent order is no longer in effect.
“I would definitely be in favor of something like that,” Basile said. “Myself and the board were very impressed with the proposal at the time.”
As for the cemetery entrance, Ingersol explained any development for senior housing at the site would not change the frontage of the property. He also said in seeking the subdivision, the association’s goal is to create a “win-win” for the neighbors living along Clinton Court and Russell Drive. “Our thoughts are with senior housing things will remain quiet there,” he said.
The parcel that is under consideration for development is a 4-acre lot near the cemetery’s front entrance. The cemetery would keep its remaining 19 acres or so for cemetery business. In addition to board approval, the proposal also had to pass an environmental review, which also received the green light Tuesday night.
The reason the association requested the subdivision is so it could generate income on the property sale and keep the cemetery financially afloat. Ingersol explained that cemeteries are under heavy regulation by New York State and “we live off interest” on investments “to survive.”
It costs about $25,000 a year just to maintain the property, he said. “That comes off the interest. Over the decades our cemetery has been lucky enough to save our reserves but we can only spend the money in a certain way.” By selling off some of the land, “this is one way we can at least keep the grass mowed and keep everybody happy,” he said.
The cemetery association does not have a prospective buyer or developer in the wings, Ingersol explained, “only we have the desire to sell.”
Granting the subdivision was only the first step. Any further development of the cemetery land would require additional Village Board approvals to proceed.