Batavia City Council OKs building purchase

BATAVIA – Work to remodel a warehouse building in Batavia’s industrial park for use by the Public Works Department is likely to get underway later this spring.

Before the year is over, the property at 400 N. Raddant Road also is expected to be the new home for the Interfaith Food Pantry and Clothes Closet, as well as the annual Christmas Toy Drive.

The Batavia City Council on March 1 voted to approve a purchase agreement for the 58,300-square-foot building, but just barely and in dramatic fashion.

Approval of a property deal requires a three-quarters majority, or 10 members of the 14-member council. Yet when the roll call was taken, only nine voted in favor of the purchase, with three against and two absent.

City Attorney Roman Seckel pointed out that in such a situation the mayor as one of the “corporate authorities” is entitled to vote.

Mayor Jeff Schielke voted yes, authorizing the deal.

Now, the city has 70 days from the execution of the agreement to perform is due diligence, an investigation designed to nail down a cost figure for the renovations and to determine if there is a deal-breaking problem with the structure.

Under the agreement, the city will purchase the building, which is located directly across Swanson Drive from the overcrowded Public Works Garage, at a cost of $3.55 million.

The city plans to issue bonds to cover the purchase and the yet-to-be-determined renovation cost, now roughly estimated at between $500,000 and $1 million.

City Administrator Laura Newman brought the proposal to the city council after Public Works Director Gary Holm noticed the building was for sale.

Newman argued that the opportunity to solve space problems for public works, the food pantry and the toy drive is one not to be passed up and will save money for the city in the long run.

Aldermen opposing the plan said the city administration should have been planning long-term for an expansion of the Public Works Department and worried about adding to the homeowner tax bill.

“We have a lot of capital improvement projects facing us,” 3rd Ward Alderman Elliot Meitzler said. “I cannot charge in good conscience more on the backs of the property taxes that it’s going to take to bond us out.”

However, Meitzler’s 3rd Ward colleage, Alderman Dan Chanzit, later commended Newman for recognizing an opportunity and making a compelling case to the council.

“That’s the kind of bold leadership we need from city hall and a willingness to strike when the time is right,” Chanzit said.

Newman’s argument seemed to be just enough to convince 5th Ward Alderman Mark Uher, who had initially been opposed to the plan.

Uher indicated he was reluctantly voting yes.

“The more I thought about it, if we were to buy something later it would cost more,” Uher said. “I just don’t want to be put in this position again. I will not vote for another of these things if it’s just dropped in our laps like this again,” he said.

At the end of the due diligence period, the city would have another 30 days to issue the bonds and close on the property.

The building is divided into three large spaces. The biggest, at about 24,200 square feet, is at the north end of the building and would provide storage space for street department equipment.

During the fall, when the street department’s leaf collection equipment is in use, the north space would be available for the annual toy drive and distribution program.

The middle space, covering roughly 20,200 square feet, would become the new home for the food pantry and clothes closet, which has long outgrown its city-owned space at 100 Flinn St., next to the Wastewater Treatment Plant on South Shumway Avenue.

The pantry receives free rent and utilities from the city. It would pay to remodel its portion of the industrial building to suit its needs.

In addition, a portion of the middle space might be used to house offices for the Retired Senior Volunteer Program, which now occupies cramped quarters in Batavia City Hall.

The south space, at about 14,600 square feet, is now occupied by a warehousing business. The city would continue to lease out the space, providing revenue to help pay back the bonds.

The owner of a home valued at $300,000 would pay an additional $24 a year in city property taxes over the 20-year bond repayment period, based on a $5 million bond issue.

However, the bond issue is expected to be considerably less and will have to be approved with another council vote.

Schielke is suggesting that the city sell two pieces of property it owns west of Randall Road to help cover the overall cost of the project.

One is located on the north side of Main Street near McWayne School and would be suitable for a residential subdivision of 11 single-family homes, Schielke said.

The other property is a commercially zoned parcel located near the Tower Car Wash on the south side of Main Street, Schielke said.

The city may be in a position to abate taxes on the bonds, both Schielke and Newman said.

Voting in favor of the plan along with Chanzit and Uher were 1st Ward aldermen Michael O’Brien and Jennifer Baerren, 2nd Ward Alderman Alan Wolff, 4th Ward Alderman Tony Malay, 5th Ward Alderman Abby Beck, 6th Ward Alderman Michael Russotto and 7th Ward Alderman Drew McFadden.

Those voting no along with Meitzler were 4th Ward Alderman Joe Knopp and 7th Ward Alderman Keenan Miller.

Absent from the meeting were 2nd Ward Alderman Marty Callahan and 6th Ward Alderman Nick Cerone.

If the city purchased the building, it would clear the way for demolition of the structure currently occupied by the food pantry, allowing for a reconfiguration of the bicycle path as it winds its way around the sewage plant.

The city also would be in a position to tear down the city-owned building in the 100 block of North River Street. The three-bay garage building, now used to store public works equipment, is being eyed by the city to sell and have redeveloped.