By STEVE JONES Staff writer
The seven-member Common Council unanimously defeated a proposal to purchase the former Moose Club lodge and turn it into a restaurant.
At the meeting Wednesday, the council rejected a proposal from Mark Schachtler to buy the property at 337 W. Dominick St. for $6,500. Each city land sale proposal that is put in front of the council comes from the city’s internal Real Property Committee, a group of city employees that reviews each proposal. In this case, the property was taken for non-payment of property taxes.
Councilor Kimberly A. Rogers, R-3, who represents the neighborhood, has several concerns. First, the issues brought up by residents of the nearby Madison Plaza apartment complex, who told Rogers at a separate meeting about noise concerns. "The neighbors have very real concerns," she said. She also said the loss of almost all of the $82,000 in back taxes owed was "a financial beating," and she added later of the sale price: "I personally don’t think it’s enough money."
There are two other options, said Rogers. One is to send the property back to the Real Property Committee for review of other offers. Another is to let the county take over the sale at its own auctions, which she noted often receive higher bids.
"This is not a lucrative situation for the city at all," said Councilor Frank R. Anderson, R-5. "I don’t know if it’s the right proposal, but tonight it’s not the right proposal."
Rome Sentinel Co. President and Publisher Stephen B. Waters spoke on behalf of his company, which is next door to the parcel in question at 333 W. Dominick St. "The Codes Department said, ‘We want to see commercial properties back on the tax rolls.’ Great, but they set boilerplate conditions and do not reality check proposal. It makes more sense to prefer businesses likely to stay on the tax rolls."
Waters noted, as did Rogers later in the meeting, that the proposal’s details have shifted during previous meetings between the developer and the city, from restaurant to cater place to bar to host of live bands and back again. The developer also has no experience with restaurants, he noted.
"We support commercial use, but skipping steps isn’t the way to get there," Waters said. "The city sells so little commercial property, perhaps the council should ask professionals to vet business plans before selling commercial property. Ask Mohawk Valley EDGE, SUNYIT, or even local banks to examine business plans before commercial property is sold. A better process would reduce the need to foreclose on property a second time."
The council did approve the other proposed sale. The council voted 7-0 in support of the sale of 410 W. Liberty St. to Sandra Corrice for $501. The single-family dwelling is assessed for $16,600, according to city records.
Whether the city spends $1.4 million to upgrade its commercial water meter system and save an estimated $2.4 million over the next 15 years is now up to the administration. The council voted 7-0 to approve the upgrades. The final approval could come from the Board of Estimate and Contract this afternoon.
The proposal, backed by Municipal Operations Committee Chair Louis J. DiMarco Jr., D-7, and committee members Rogers and John M. Sparace, R-1, expands on the energy efficiency contract with Johnson Controls.
The city has been working with the company, and "based on the finding of (Johnson Controls) regarding the city’s existing water meter facilities and utility metering accuracy improvements, it appears that the city will realize, among other things: cost savings; improved meter accuracy; and improved operational efficiencies by undertaking and implementing upgrades and/or replacements of commercial water meters" and other systems related to the meters, the legislation states.
Councilor Anderson noted that the improved system would help identify leaks and lead to more accurate billing. "I can only see positives here." He continued: "This gives us more answers than questions."
Treasurer David C. Nolan, who sits on the Board of Estimate, said fellow board member Mayor Joseph R. Fusco Jr. had more questions on the plan. He said Fusco wanted the council to table the item so he could get those answers. Sparace noted that the board can table its approval. He said the council has met on the issue four or five times, inviting the mayor in on the meetings. "This is a win-win," he said. "It’s the mayor’s opportunity (Thursday) to act on this and either approve it or table it."
In an act meant mainly as recognition for service, the council also approved a property tax benefit for Cold War veterans in Rome.
At a public hearing before the vote, Naz Fiore, 602 Lynwood St., thanked the council for the acknowledgment of their service. "We really appreciate this gesture," said the Cold War veteran.
Anderson, the co-sponsor of the legislation along with Council President John J. Mazzaferro, said the credit was meant to "give something back to those who deserve it the most." While it will equate to slightly less than $100, it is really "a symbol of thanks."
The vote to approve the credit was 6-0, with John A. Nash, R-6, abstaining because it was proposed before he was appointed to his position. Nash was sworn in as Sixth Ward councilor Tuesday, to replace Anthony E. Darcangelo, who died March 23.