Officials say it is unfair to transfer tax burden to village property owners
Developer Phil Lundman failed to win any of the concessions he was seeking last week from the Fredonia Village Board for his stalled Stoney Creek Meadow subdivision on the village’s far south side.
Earlier in the summer, Lundman approached village officials asking that he be allowed to have a local farmer grow no-till alfalfa on vacant lots in the development off South Milwaukee Street.
THE FREDONIA VILLAGE BOARD blocked plans by developer Phil Lundman to allow a farmer to grow alfalfa on vacant lots in the Stoney Creek Meadow subdivision. Instead, officials offered to help Lundman with the mowing of grass in the stalled development.
Photos by Sam ArendtHe contended the approval would reduce his maintenance expenses for the languishing properties and lower his property tax bill, because state law requires that farmed land be taxed for agricultural use rather than its residential potential.
The request spurred a three-part consideration by the board — to allow the planting, to allow the harvesting of the hay and to reduce the property tax bill.
Village President Chuck Lapicola asked the village attorney to research the matter, and agreed with the conclusion that the existing residential zoning does not permit farming.
The only exception, Lapicola said, would be if there had been a continuous pattern of agricultural use on the land.
The suggestion of basing the approval on past use drew a quick reaction from Lundman.
“I could return it to a sand pit and hazardous waste dump. We spent a lot of money to clean it up and now we are penalized for it (because lots aren’t selling),” he said.
“I think the subdivision is a nice asset to the village now and into the future. There were no taxes to speak of being collected before. I was trying to do some economic development in the village, but it doesn’t make economic sense not to be able to see some return from the land.”
Lundman said the national economy has resulted in many developers pulling the plug on residential projects.
“The only lots that are being sold today are through foreclosure. I don’t want to go to the bank and dump the lots. I wasn’t raised that way, and it wouldn’t be good for the village, either.”
Lundman said taking a hard-line stand on the request sends the message that the village is “anti-business and anti-economic development.”
Former Village President Joe Short, speaking from the audience during the board meeting, raised several challenges to Lundman’s plan in urging trustees not to grant the approvals.
“The village had no role in planning this development. We didn’t create the problem,” Short said.
His objection was primarily based on the loss of tax revenue. Officials conceded that by designating the parcels for agricultural use, the tax rate would drop 80%.
“Will the same percentage of tax reduction be granted to the other property owners of the village who have seen their property values go down?” Short asked.
Lapicola agreed it would be unfair to reduce the taxes on the land Lundman has been unable to sell.
“I would have a hard time explaining to a neighbor who is having their home foreclosed why we didn’t race to lower their taxes,” he said.
Even though only three lots in the development have been sold, Lapicola said the village takes on considerable expense providing services to the subdivision.
The village maintains the roads and streetlights in the development, as well as providing the usual array of municipal services.
“It costs as much to plow the roads as if all 28 lots were sold,” Lapicola said.
He said there are as many as 75 vacant lots in the village.
“If all were taxed based on agricultural use, property tax revenue would be reduced by $60,000. We’d have virtually no street projects done and everyone else’s taxes would still go up by 2% … and that after we avoided raising taxes for the past three
years,” Lapicola said.
To prove its commitment to the business community, he said the village could help Lundman with some of the mowing. Lapicola said village crews could run their heavy mowers through the development a couple of times a year.
Lundman said he spends as much as $20,000 a year keeping the grass trimmed on the vacant lots. The village assistance would reduce that bill by about $13,500.
“In times like these, we want to work with you,” Lapicola said. “It is better for us to help you sell your lots than to turn the land to agricultural use.”
Beyond the mowing, he said he would like to see village officials, developers and tradesmen get together to find ways to reduce cost.
“With some creativity, I think we can make Fredonia a place where builders and home buyers want to go,” Lapicola said. “We want you to stay and prosper.”