By Eli Ruiz
LIBERTY At last Monday’s Town of Liberty monthly Department Heads meeting, Heinrich Strauch of the Liberty Community Development Corporation (CDC) proposed a novel idea: Applying the concept of “land banking” to some of the properties facing foreclosure within the town’s borders.
According to one definition, land banking involves “the practice of purchasing raw land with the intent of holding on to it until such time as it is profitable to sell it on to others for more than was initially paid. The intended increase in value may come from inflation, conversion for use as housing, or potential for extraction of raw materials. Typically, targeted properties lie in the path of rapidly developing municipalities and the objective is to identify the property well in advance of developers and wait for the value to be realized.”
Mentioned as “a good test-case” by Strauch was the old Fleet Bank building located at 59 North Main Street.
Speaking of the CDC’s views about these troubled properties, Strauch said, “We’d like to avoid these properties from getting into [a… ] circle of speculation, where they get picked up at auction for next to nothing, and then, nothing happens for years.”
Strauch expressed his interest in developing a process in which the town might find some grants that can be applied to 59 Main Street to “improve and make it a viable part of the community again.”
When Liberty Supervisor Charlie Barbuti asked who would ultimately wind up with ownership of the property, Strauch said, “ultimately … until it is sold… I think the county takes ownership.”
Strauch then suggested that once the property is marketable, the county could then, “pull it back into the market, and then either transfer the property to the municipality for use or possibly sell to private investors.… With a purpose attached to it though, and not just keeping it empty.”
Strauch estimated the cost of making the building “marketable again” at between $100,000-$150.000.
Next on the Strauch’s agenda was the county’s new Microenterprise Initiative. Currently, 34 applicants have been invited to participate in the training program. The applicants are evenly split, with 17 having agricultural proposals and the other 17 submitting “Main Street” applications. The classes are being held at Sullivan BOCES and will finish up by mid-April with a select number of the 34 being chosen as finalists after, as Strauch put it, “fine-tuning their business proposals.”
Barbuti lauded the program, saying, “I think it will be a critical factor in the percentage of success that we’ll get out of the proposals. People will have a very clear idea of what it’s like to be in business.”
Strauch closed out his report with a preview of this year’s Sullivan Renaissance project for the Town of Liberty.
This year Liberty will submit a Category C (multi-part, multi-year) application that will be overseen by the Liberty CDC. The project will center, Strauch said, “on the downtown park area.” This is the portion of downtown Liberty that includes the “open air” stage area. After the board agreed to draft a letter of support for the application a necessary step for the realization of the proposed Renaissance project Barbuti said, “We look forward to working with the CDC to complete this beautification project… and for the revival of our community.”
Town Hall air quality
Also on the agenda was the matter of an air quality study conducted in the Town Hall building back in 2009. H&H Environmental Construction and Consulting, out of Saugerties, found evidence of mold throughout the structure, but the study’s recommendations were apparently overlooked.
On Monday the board heard about the report once again. Kevin Hinchey of H&H addressed board members with the same 2009 findings and recommendations.
This time board members agreed to have an environmental hygienist come in and present them with a proper remediation plan, after which, the board will set a date to accept bids on the cleanup project.