Migrant housing at former Hillside campus? Relationship between supervisors, IDA still sour in Seneca County

Are there plans in the works to house migrant workers at the former Hillside campus in the town of Varick?

That was the new piece of information that came out during Tuesday’s meeting of the Seneca County Board of Supervisors. The apparent plan was exposed during a testy exchange between multiple supervisors and leaders of the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency.

Fayette Supervisor Cindy Lorenzetti, Romulus Supervisor David Hayes, Seneca Falls Supervisor Mike Ferrara and Varick Supervisor (Chairman) Bob Hayssen all voiced different concerns about the sale and overall operation of the IDA.

Supervisors Lorenzetti and Hayes both voiced concern about knowledge that the IDA would have had about the prospect of migrant workers being housed at the former Hillside campus as the sale process was playing out. At the center of their concerns is the ongoing lack of communication between the IDA and Board of Supervisors.

The two entities have had a strained relationship for several years, pre-dating the sale of more than 7,000-acres of former Seneca Army Depot land to Earl Martin. The businessman and developer agreed to purchase the Hillside property in Varick from the IDA for $65,000.

Officials with the IDA contended that they did not want to go through a winter owning the property. The process of winterizing, or continuing to maintain buildings on it that they called ‘dilapidated’ would have been too much. In fact, Tom Kime, a board member of the IDA spoke with Finger Lakes News Radio last week noting that owning the property was a liability.

“If we don’t get this moved and sold we’re going to have winterization issues, freezing, and all kinds of other problems this winter,” he explained to FLNR. “I’m not sure what the other people want us to do.”

Photo introduced during the meeting by Supervisor Lorenzetti shows the lights on at a dorm building on the former Hillside property. Supervisors say the lights have been on for an extended period of time.

Supervisors have voiced their desires repeatedly, asking throughout the process that the IDA reconsider the sale – sending a letter to Governor Andrew Cuomo – asking the state to intervene.

Further complicating the relationship between the Board of Supervisors and IDA is the forward progress on another PILOT agreement for Martin on the Hillside property. The agreement approved in early-December means that Martin will pay $10,000, which will be shared with Seneca County, the Town of Varick, and the Romulus Central School District.

Not only has the sale process felt rushed to some on the board and in the community, but also leaves many with the impression that Martin had an inside track on the purchase – or was given a deep discount on the overall assets.

Martin’s bid of $65,000 for the 172-acre property that previously housed Hillside was significantly below the independent appraisal of the property, which came in at $350,000. It was even further below the actual assessment of the property, which was $3.8 million. That figure was under dispute as of late-summer.

Only one other person expressed interest in the former Hillside property. Some supervisors, like Ferrara from Seneca Falls, pressed IDA Executive Director Sarah Davis at a September meeting on the topic. “Was there any discussion by the IDA to put it out – another RFP – since there was only one taker?” Ferrara asked at the time.

Davis said the other party that expressed interest was from New York City, and that the timeline they were looking at was significantly longer than that of Martin, who wanted to move immediately on the deal.

Supervisor Lorenzetti introduced new evidence into the debate, as she showed a photo of one building on the property, which is apparently going to house migrant workers. There was further discrepancy brought into the equation when Lorenzetti pressed Davis on what the IDA knew about Martin’s plans to house migrant workers there.

Meeting minutes from the August meeting of the Romulus Planning Board show Specialty Crop Farm Labor Contractors, a Rochester-based company, expressed interest in developing migrant housing in the community. Brandon Mallory, the president of Specialty Crop even appeared at the meeting. Emphasis was placed on the appearance being introductory in nature. The minutes indicate that the appearance was not indicative of an ‘official application’.

Mallory told planning board members that his company was looking for direction and information on migrant labor housing in Seneca County. The planning board stated that they were unsure if any existed in Seneca County. Specialty Crop provides agri-placement services, or contracted labor, to dairy farms around New York. According to Mallory his company handles all of the legal requirements associated with the workers. Some wineries in the region were also apparently interested in the prospect of having local labor available. Mallory said at the time that the wage for these types of workers is $14.29 an hour and that they pay taxes.

That’s when the minutes from that meeting show that Mallory was referred to the Seneca County IDA for information about former Hillside campus. But at this point, Martin’s bid was already accepted.

This is where some supervisors contend that communication broke down again. Up until Tuesday, and with Supervisor Lorenzetti introducing the information, there had been no mention of migrant housing on the property.

Martin’s original bid on the Hillside property indicated that the purchase would be to adjoin the nearby Deer Haven Park, which sits on the original Depot property he purchased in 2016. There were also plans for a new galvanized steel gate and fencing manufacturing plant on the former depot property. The only mention of housing in that original proposal was for new and temporary workers for his business.

All of this leaves uncertainty on the table for the Board of Supervisors, who are in the midst of proposing new members for the IDA Board of Directors. They have lost two members, and have proposed replacements. However, the supervisors say they would like to propose recommendations of their own.

The Board of Supervisors has final approval on appointment of new members.

As for the prospect of migrant housing at the former Hillside campus now under the management and pending-ownership of Earl Martin – the supervisors want to know what exactly is happening on the property.

Click here to watch the exchange between the supervisors and Davis.


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