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Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 2:51 pm

The problem of distressed properties complex and easy solutions elusive

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, abandoned properties

There are an estimated 53 vacant and abandoned homes in the City of Batavia, which creates a drain on city resources, brings down property values for neighbors and are black holes in local economic growth.

It's a problem.

How we go about solving that problem was the subject of a 45-minute talk Monday evening by City Manager Jason Molino.

Forty-five minutes. It's that complicated of a problem.

The city can't legally seize the properties, except for the nine or so that are falling behind in property taxes, and with banks that hold mortgages leaving the properties in legal limbo, there's no way for the city to enforce code violations.

Fixing the problem will take a mixture of tactics: research to locate responsible title holders; trying to locate mortgage holders and convince them to move the title one way or another; convincing Albany legislators to change state law regarding abandoned properties; and creating programs locally to make upgrading abandoned homes more economically feasible. 

It's relatively easy to identify which homes in the city have been abandoned. They've stopped using city water.

The 53 homes believed to be abandoned have been vacant an average of three and a half years.

On average, they've generated five visits each year while vacant from code enforcement officers, and one police patrol response per year.

The code enforcement efforts cost taxpayers about $8,000 per year.

Often, the code enforcement citations result in no action because the previous owner who occupied the property can't be located. And though a bank or mortgage holder is continuing to pay taxes on the property, the bank hasn't taken title so it can't be held legally accountable for code violations.

Molino said there's no one answer, and no firm reason is really known, as to why banks don't take title on abandoned properties.

It could be that a large institution is dealing with so many mortgages, nobody is even aware a particular property is on its loan rolls or is abandoned. It could be the company is dealing with so many abandoned properties, some fall through the cracks. It could be that a bank is so bogged down by bureaucracy that it takes years to deal with the paperwork of an abandoned property. It could be the bank has no financial incentive, and some disincentives, to deal with the property.

"We really have to dig into that issue," Molino said. "That's one of the things we really need to look into in the coming months to really understand who are all the lending institutions and why are they not moving on title.  ...  We really need to get a good understanding of that, because everything hinges on moving title for these properties."

Once a property is back on the market -- either the bank puts it up for sale or auction or the city somehow obtains title -- it becomes subject to the market forces that determine value and the value of restoration.

Molino spent some time explaining supply and demand as it relates to the local housing market.

Since 1960, Batavia has lost 2,700 residents. At the same time, there has been a slight increase in housing stock. During the same time period, people have become more mobile, thinking nothing of driving 20 or 30 minutes to work or an hour and a half to outlet stores. As time as passed, Batavia's housing stock has also aged.

All of this affects the value of properties, the interest of people in living in a place like Batavia, and the affordability of remodeling and restoration.

While there are economic growth activities in and around the city that could lead to more jobs, a population boom isn't necessarily a given.

"Obviously, we'd love to have another 2,000 or 3,000 people come back in the city and increase the demand for housing stock," Molino said. "Realtors would love it. People would be demanding houses and prices would go up. Truth is, that's probably not practical."

Even if economic growth doesn't bring a few thousand more people to Batavia, economic growth is still vital to increasing the value of homes locally.

"If that median income number doesn't go up, then you're limiting your ability to do things, and we can't do a lot of what we want to do or achieve what we want to achieve," Molino said.

What we need, he says, is enough growth to fill the housing stock we have, and then make it economically viable for owner-occupants or speculators to buy and invest in those properties.

Molino used the example of a house currently valued at $50,000. With upgrades, its value might rise to $75,000, but a modernization and restoration project might cost $45,000. That means the owner would need to sink $95,000 into a property that wouldn't be worth more than $75,000 when ready for occupancy.

That's where "gap financing" tools come into play. There are various government programs available. A single program the city could create -- laws would need to be changed by Albany to make it possible -- would allow for abated taxes on the increase in assessed value.

If the assessment goes up by $25,000, the city would tax only on the original $50,000 for the first eight years after restoration, foregoing tax revenue on that $25,000.

That makes economic sense for the city, Molino said, when you consider that's only $230 annually on a property that may currently be costing the city more than $1,000 annually on code enforcement, law enforcement, and lost fees for a property that is abandoned and vacant. Moreover, if a family lived in that home, it would generate from $10,000 to $20,000 in local buying power.

The state needs to pass legislation that would allow Batavia and other cities to create such a program.

Changesare also needed in the laws giving cities more power to deal with banks who let abandoned homes sit fallow, so to speak.

Some of these homes may not be worth saving, Molino acknowledged. While the city may not want to seek demolition of all abandoned homes, some may need to go. That will be a policy decision for the city to make as it learns more about the abandoned housing stock locally.

In the bigger picture, home values are also affected by things related to quality of life, and those, too, are issues the city is taking steps to address or needs to address as part of strategic planning, Molino said.

"When somebody wants to invest on a street," Molino said, "are they going to want to invest on a street on a street that has potholes? Are they going to want to invest on a street that has sidewalks that are turned up? Are they going to want to invest on a street where the neighbors don't talk with each other? Are they going to want to invest on a street where they've got to pay another $1,500 in flood insurance? Who wants to invest there? They don't."

Among Molino's recommendations is creating a home expo, which would bring together representatives of all the various private, government and nonprofit agencies that offer assistance to owners of distressed properties. There's several programs available, but few people know what they all are. Giving residents that kind of information, Molino said, might spur activity that would lead to better housing stock.

Molino's presentation was video-recorded by Alecia Kaus and will be posted to the city's Web site at a later date.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 8:56 am

Photos: BDC recognizes businesses that successfully complete loan program

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, bdc, business

During Monday's meeting of the Batavia City Council, three local businesses were honored by the Batavia Development Corp.

Each received a plaque in recognition of the owners' successful completion of a loan program that helped them expand or grow their businesses.

Above, Susan Francis, owner of The Color Salon, with the her husband John Zola, receiving a plaque from Ray Chaya, a member of the BDC Board, Council President Brooks Hawley, and BDC VP Gregg Torrey.

Steve Mullen, owner of Larry's Steakhouse.

Mary Valle, co-owner of Valle Jewelers.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 at 8:30 am

Possible transformer explosion reported on State Street

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia

A possible transformer explosion is reported in the area of 235 State St., Batavia.

City fire responding.

UPDATE 9:37 a.m.: A problem was found with a transformer, but no sparks or smoke. National Grid needs to be notified.

UPDATE 10:25 a.m.: City fire back in service.

Monday, October 27, 2014 at 2:56 pm

Batavia to receive $750K for bike path in city

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia

The governor's office has announced a $750,000 grant for a community bike trail in the City of Batavia.

From the press release:

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced approximately $70 million in awards to fund 68 bicycle, pedestrian and multi-use path transportation projects in New York. The projects, funded by the Federal Highway Administration and which leverage a total investment of $103.7 million, will promote walking and biking, and boost tourism and economic development opportunities in dozens of communities across the state.

"These projects will help communities become more walkable and bicycle friendly, as well as show off the natural beauty that exists in every corner of this state,” Governor Cuomo said. “I thank the Federal Highway Administration and our representatives for helping the state secure this funding so that residents and visitors alike can enjoy New York like never before."

The projects include the addition of accessible sidewalks, improved pedestrian access to public transportation services, construction of new bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and the preservation and conversion of abandoned railroad corridors for trail use.

New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joan McDonald said, "We are investing in projects that meet the increasing public demand for walkable and bikeable communities, while promoting sustainable transportation alternatives, tourism and recreation, and local and regional economic development. Governor Cuomo has shown a historic commitment to investing in transportation infrastructure in New York State, including making bicycle and pedestrian safety a priority."

The funds are made available to the State through the Federal Highway Administration and are administered by the State Department of Transportation. The program provides up to 80 percent of the cost of each project, with the remaining share coming from the project sponsor. The funds are dedicated for strategic investments in transportation alternatives and with a local sponsor match of more than $33.6 million, support a total investment of nearly $103.7 million.

The projects announced today were chosen through a competitive solicitation process and rated on established criteria that included public benefit and community support for the project; connectivity to an existing transportation system; how well the proposed improvements benefit walking and bicycling; impact on local or regional economies; availability of matching funds; and ability to deliver the project within federally required timeframes. (A total of) 135 applications were received.

Selected projects relate to one or more of the following categories: on-road and off-road trail facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists and other non-motorized forms of transportation; infrastructure-related projects and systems that provide safe routes for non-drivers to access daily needs; use of abandoned railroad corridors for surface-transportation related trails; scenic byway turnouts and viewing areas; safe routes to school; construction of boulevards and complete streets thoroughfares; and storm water management related to highway runoff.

The full press release goes on to list the other projects in the state.

UPDATE: The DOT sent over this supplemental information about the Batavia project.

  • City of Batavia: Healthy Schools Corridor: $720,657 -- Sidewalks on Summit Street, Liberty Street, South Liberty Street and Washington Avenue; Benefits schools and businesses.
Monday, October 27, 2014 at 2:23 pm

Former Batavia city councilman and Le Roy HS grad to be remembered Sunday at Terry Hills

post by Billie Owens in batavia, Le Roy

Former Batavia City Councilman and Le Roy High School graduate Barry W. Bower died Wednesday (Oct. 22) at the University of Maryland Medical Center. He was 81 and a resident of Hanover, Pa.

Born Oct. 26, 1932, in Batavia, he was the son of the late Roland H. and Vivian (Chapman) Bower.

He was retired from Scott Foresman Company in New Jersey after working there many years. After graduating from Le Roy HS, he attended the State University Teachers College in Geneseo. He was an Army veteran who enjoyed bowling and was an avid golfer. He loved the Batavia Muckdogs, but especially enjoyed spending time with his family.

Friends and colleagues are invited to join the family for a Celebration of Life from 2 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 2, at the Terry Hills Restaurant and Banquet Facility Conference Room, 5122 Clinton Street Road, Batavia, NY.

Online condolences and memories may be shared at:  www.murphyfuneralhomeinc.com

For his full obituary, click here:  http://thebatavian.com/obituaries

Monday, October 27, 2014 at 1:48 pm

City police chief reminds trick-or-treaters that Halloween activities are from 5 to 9 p.m. - use caution, have fun

post by Billie Owens in batavia, Halloween

The City of Batavia will observe Halloween activities from 5 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 31st only. Police Chief Shawn Heubusch reminds trick-or-treaters to use caution when crossing any street; always use a clearly marked crosswalk; and look both ways before entering the crosswalk. Younger trick-or-treaters should always be accompanied by an adult. Be safe and have a Happy Halloween!

Monday, October 27, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Photos: Auction at Delavan's clears out building

post by Howard B. Owens in auction, batavia, business, Delavan's Restaurant

Dozens of people, including a few local business owners, packed into the former Delavan's Restaurant, 107 Evans St., Batavia, this morning for an auction of the building's contents.

Everything sold, except for the kitchen sink and the building it's attached to.

The real estate is still available, so here's your chance to own your own bar and grill, or maybe the ultimate man cave.

The auction was conducted by Bontrager's.

Monday, October 27, 2014 at 12:48 pm

Law and Order: Allegations of domestic violence, pot possession, skipping out on hotel stay

post by Billie Owens in batavia, crime, elba, Oakfield, Pavilion, Stafford

Carolina M. Frias, 34, of Law Street, Batavia, is charged with theft of services, petit larceny and criminal mischief. She was arrested Oct. 23 at about 6:20 p.m. in front of 140 W. Main St. for alleged petit larceny, criminal mischief, 3rd, and theft of services stemming from an incident on Oak Street on Oct. 22. Frias is suspected of damaging and removing various items from a hotel without permission along with not paying for her stay. She was jailed in lieu of $2,500 cash or bail. The incident was investigated by officer Nedim Catovic, assisted by officer Eric Foels.

Abner C. Black, 60, of Liberty Street, Batavia, is charged with third-degree assault and criminal mischief, 4th. Black was arrested in front of City Centre on Oct. 25 following an incident on Oct. 24 in which he was allegedly involved in a domestic dispute on Chandler Avenue. He allegedly shoved a female against a refrigerator and took her cell phone when she tried to call 9-1-1. He was jailed in lieu of $3,000 cash or bail. The incident was investigated by officer Nedim Catovic.

Donna Ann Corcoran, 41, of St. Mary's Street, Pavilion, is charged with criminal possession of a controlled substance, 7th, unlawful possession of marijuana, and second-degree promoting prison contraband. She was arrested in the Town of Pavilion on Oct. 24 and brought to jail for an incident related to a DWI investigation. While inside the Genesee County Jail, it is alleged that Corcoran possessed a controlled substance and marijuana, which led to the aforementioned charges. She was issued an appearance ticket and is to answer the charges in city court on Nov. 19. Corcoran was also charged with driving while ability impaired by alcohol, failure to keep right and consumption of alcohol in a motor vehicle in the Town of Pavilion. She received traffic tickets for those alleged offenses and is to appear Nov. 18 in Pavilion Town Court. The incident was investigated by deputy Joseph Graff.

William J. Mellema, 50, of Almay Road, Rochester, is charged with unlawful possession of marijuana, aggravated unlicensed operation, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, and driving over state 55 mph limit. On Oct. 11 on Route 98 in Elba, Mellema was arrested on the charges following a traffic stop in which he allegedly admitted to having a bag of pot and a glass smoking pipe. He was arraigned in Elba Town Court and jailed on $800 cash bail or $2,000 bond. He is scheduled to reappear in Elba Town Court on Nov. 18. The incident was investigated by deputy Joseph Loftus, assisted by deputy Joseph Graff.

Harold Chinn, 49, of North Main Street, Oakfield, is charged with petit larceny for an incident that happened on Sept. 23 on Veterans Memorial Drive. Chinn allegedly stole a cell phone that another patron of Walmart had left behind at the check-out counter. He was arrested Oct. 19 and issued an appearance ticket for Batavia Town Court on Nov. 3. The incident was investigated by deputy Joseph Loftus.

Monique Annette Mcmillian, 30, of Elmdorf Street, Rochester, is charged with aggravated unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, 3rd, and operating a vehicle with a suspended registration on Oct. 9 in Stafford. Following her release from Monroe County Jail, Mcmillian was turned over to the Genesee County Sheriff's Office and subsequently arrested and jailed on $175 bail or $250 bond. She is to reappear in Stafford Town Court on Nov. 13. The incident was investigated by deputy Joseph Graff.

Monday, October 27, 2014 at 12:18 pm

City will flush hydrants this week north of West Main and west of Bank Street

post by Billie Owens in batavia, city maintenance

Press release:

The City of Batavia Fire Department will be flushing fire hydrants on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 28, 29, 30 at approximately 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the general area north of West Main Street and west of Bank Street. Homes and businesses nearby will be affected. These tests may result in a temporary discoloration of water in that area. As in the past, please do not attempt to wash any clothing if your water appears discolored.

Sunday, October 26, 2014 at 3:10 pm

Photos: 22nd Annual Halloween Parade

post by Howard B. Owens in batavia, Halloween, halloween parade

Several dozen children in costumes turned out in blustery weather for the 22nd Halloween Parade in Batavia this afternoon.

The event was sponsored by The Batavia Area Jaycees, Batavia's Original, Oliver's Candies, Batavia Youth Bureau and Vibrant Batavia.

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