Controversial downtown Batavia project gets new life after mayor's tiebreaking vote
Thanks to tiebreaking votes by Batavia Mayor Jeff Schielke, the controversial $48 million One Washington Place project lives to see an other day.
But don't expect construction soon. As of Monday, developer Shodeen Group hasn't created construction documents or applied for a building permit for the six-story project with 186 apartments, a 350-space parking garage and several stores.
Schielke voted in favor Monday of dissolving the Washington-Wilson Tax-Increment Financing District the council created in early 2017. That district was to pay for $16 million of costs for the project, which will take up much of a city block at Washington Avenue and Wilson streets downtown. He also voted to create a replacement district, called the Near East Downtown TIF, that encompasses the project and several other properties.
The 2017 TIF had 20 years left on it and wouldn't generate enough incremental property taxes to repay the city the $16 million it was going to front the developer, according to city administrator Laura Newman.
Aldermen Jennifer Baerren, Alan Wolff, Michael Russotto, Dan Chanzit, Drew McFadden, Michael O'Brien and Nick Cerone voted in favor of the new TIF and redevelopment agreement. Aldermen Marty Callahan, Elliot Meitzler, Joe Knopp, Abby Beck, Keenon Miller, Tony Malay and Mark Uher voted against all the measures.
Knopp said Batavia should follow the example of the Geneva City Council, which recently rejected a Shodeen plan for a development on the former Mill Race Inn site, saying it didn't fit the city's vision. He and other aldermen noted they had received hundreds of emails from Batavians opposed to the One Washington Place plan.
Malay said the building will be an eyesore due to its fiber-cement board siding, and that it's height will put the summertime farmers market on North River Street in shadows. Uher said "nothing about the building says Batavia -- it's Oswego," referring to a similar project Shodeen is building in downtown Oswego.
O'Brien and Wolff criticized a residents' group, Batavians for Responsible Government, saying it whipped up opposition by spreading misinformation.
"The project is not going to cost the city anything. The TIF will repay," O'Brien said. "I wish they would just shut up."
One Washington Place was initially approved by the city council in 2017 and has faced several plan updates and construction delays.
First, the developer announced in mid-2017 it had underestimated the price by about 20%, especially because it had miscalculated the garage cost. The design was changed.
In April 2018, the city found lead-contaminated soil, and estimated it could cost as much as $595,000 to remove it. In 2019, contaminated groundwater was found. The state Environmental Protection Agency had to approve plans to address it.
In March, the council approved extending the life of the Washingon-Wilson TIF by 12 years. But it needed approval from all the taxing bodies affected and the General Assembly. The Batavia school district voted "no."
In a TIF district, property-tax payments to government bodies are frozen. Any additional property tax income generated is put in a fund run by the city, and used to pay for work and materials for projects that increased the value of properties.
Newman said it could take several months for the city to review construction documents.