Batavia aldermen want to stick with 1 North Washington project
Batavia aldermen are likely to vote today in favor of proceeding with the controversial One North Washington Place development.
In a preliminary vote last week, they decided, 13-0, the city should not exercise a clause in a contract between the city and developer Shodeen Inc. that could allow the city to back out due to the expected cost of removing contaminated soil from the city-owned site at Washington and Wilson streets. The cost is now estimated at $400,000 to $595,000.
There is excessive lead on part of the site, where an automotive business once operated.
"If we don't pay for it (removing the soil) for the Shodeen project, we'll be paying for it for whatever project goes up there," Alderman Dan Chanzit said.
"We have a moral responsibility as an entity to remove it," said Alderman Martin Callahan, who voted against the whole project, including changes to the redevelopment agreement in May 2018. Callahan and other aldermen said the cost could be paid with money collected in a tax-increment financing district fund that was established in 2017. The TIF district includes the One North Washington Place site, plus other properties along North River Street, State Street, Wilson and Washington.
In a tax-increment financing district, property taxes paid to governments are frozen for up to 23 years. Anything above that, presumably caused by the property increasing in value, is called an "increment" and put in a special fund the city controls. That fund can be spent on work that improves the value of land in the district.
The city is fronting $16 million toward construction of the project -- the majority of that will go to building a new public parking garage, to replace the current parking deck. The TIF is supposed to repay the $16 million; if funds are insufficient, a special property tax will be levied on the building. The city is also essentially giving $1.5 million worth of land to Shodeen for the development.
Aldermen were also amenable last week to having Shodeen hire the contractors to remove and dispose of the soils. Doing so should speed up the project, according to city administrator Laura Newman. The city will review the bids, and hire a firm to inspect the work.
Resident Sylvia Keppel urged the council to stop the project. She pointed out that Newman's memo said the soil might not have to be removed if another, smaller development were put on the site and not built on the contaminated area.
Failing that, she asked the council to delay a vote until after the April 2 election. At least three new council members will join the board in May, as three aldermen did not seek re-election. Two of those incumbents had voted in favor of the project in a tie vote broken by the mayor.
She also asked that the city council release the minutes of all the closed-session discussions regarding One North Washington Place, as she and other people have sought through the Freedom of Information Act. But Newman said many of the minutes don't have to be released yet because they deal with land contracts with Shodeen that have not been fully executed. Shodeen has not taken possession of the site.
The development will include apartments and some store spaces. Many residents protested the size of the building, saying it was too big and too tall.
The council meets at 7 p.m. at the Batavia Government Center, 100 N. Island Ave.