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Public comment favors PILOT for Deer Haven Park in Varick

Most of those commenting in person or in writing at Wednesday’s public hearing favored a PILOT agreement for Deer Haven Park owner Earl Martin.

The Seneca County Industrial Development Agency conducted the hearing at the Seneca White Deer Welcome Center on Route 96A. On Jan. 2, the IDA gave tentative approval to a three-year payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement, calling for Martin to pay $20,000 annually for three years in lieu of property taxes before being placed on the regular tax roll.

Martin bought 7,000 acres of the former Seneca Army Depot from the IDA following a public bidding process in 2016. He paid $900,000, and his plans included preserving the white deer inside the depot fences, relocating his Seneca Iron Works business from Fayette, and selling parcels for farm homesteads, primarily to the Mennonite community.

He carved out 2,735 acres for Deer Haven Park and made arrangements with the nonprofit Seneca White Deer to offer guided bus tours of the wildlife and military sites. He sought a PILOT this past fall.

IDA Executive Director Bob Aronson said about 30 people attended, and five spoke, at the public hearing that was required for a PILOT to be granted. County Board of Supervisors member Paul Kronenwetter, Peggy Burke, Hershey Sensenig and John Hunt spoke in favor of the PILOT. Brian Preston, a frequent critic of IDA tax breaks, was opposed.

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