County seeks to step in on Hideaway lot

SILVER CREEK – The former Hideaway Bay restaurant, located at 42 Lake Ave., has sat empty for years, falling further into ruin. There are holes in the roof. The building has been vandalized. The lot is overrun by weeds, and Lake Erie has thrown nearly every imaginable item of flotsam and jetsam onto the beach.

However, that sad landscape may soon change. In June, the Chautauqua County Land Bank agreed to take on the project after officials got word of the property’s inclusion in the upcoming county tax foreclosure auction.

“We began (discussing the possibility) of acquiring the property at Lake Avenue about a month before the June 18 auction,” said Chautauqua County Land Bank Administrative Director Gina Paradis. “Jim Caflisch, (director of the Real Property Tax Services Office at Chautauqua County and CCLB board chair), pulled it from the auction list about two weeks before the auction.”

The decision to donate the former Hideaway Bay to the Land Bank will not be official until the July meeting of the County Legislature, though board members have “done their due diligence,” according to County Legislator George Borrello, who supports the move.

“The Land Bank prevents bad situations from getting worse,” he said, “and this is the county’s opportunity to fight back against neighborhood decay.”

Paradis said the Land Bank “is hoping to ensure that the property is developed to its highest and best use,” and though she said taking on the site would be “expanding (the Land Bank’s) role a little bit,” it’s a welcome challenge.

“We want to help fill these gaps in economic development,” she said. “If there are areas where we can have a positive role in the acquisition or disposition of problem properties, we’re happy to help.”

The former Hideaway Bay is particularly appealing for rehabilitation due to its size and location. The parcel’s acreage was last recorded as 4.8 with 1,000 feet of shoreline, according to a “for sale” post on www.landandfarm.com from March of this year, when MJ Peterson Real Estate attempted to facilitate a sale of the property for $695,000. Clearly, there were no takers, and in April, the foreclosure procedure began.

The Chautauqua County Real Property Services website lists the property’s assessment (estimated value) as $355,000. The former owner, Crossed Palm Development/Don Beckstein, is recorded as having owed $358,896.25 in back taxes at the time of the foreclosure. The last processed tax payment of $20,680.57 is marked 2006, meaning a decade has passed since that property has brought in any tax revenue.

According to Borrello, the county can foreclose after two years of unpaid taxes, since it’s ultimately on the hook for those. The only thing that can halt that action is a bankruptcy; declaring Chapter 13 brings the process to a standstill and buys the delinquent owner time to pay back the overdue property taxes.

Caflisch could not be reached for comment on this matter Friday afternoon, though Paradis and Borrello said everyone on the board of directors for the Land Bank is supportive of moves that will clean up properties that, under different circumstances, could be real community gems.

Paradis said that at this point, there is no way to know exactly what will happen to the property, even if the Land Bank acquires it as planned. The only sure thing is that the CCLB team and other area leaders will keep the community’s future in mind.

“Our plan is to secure (the property), clean it up, get it on the market, and if possible, we’ll consider demolishing (the old restaurant building) and then marketing (the site). But first, we’ll have to assess the situation, talk with the municipal leaders and do our own homework to see what’s feasible with the property,” Paradis explained.

Borrello said he’s optimistic about the possibilities for the site.

“We might see something residential there, possibly multi-unit, like apartments or condos; or it could be mixed-use, commercial and residential.”

If the legislature votes yes, as anticipated, a request for proposals will be put together. When proposals come in from qualified developers, Land Bank officials will evaluate them and choose the plan that most aligns with their goals for the property, and that may not necessarily be the highest bidder.

“We look for which purchaser’s plans align with the mission of the Land Bank. We’ll work in partnership with the municipalities – here the town of Hanover and village of Silver Creek – and the Industrial Development Agency to identify any potential purchasers. We’re hoping we can incentivize a development to not only bring property taxes back, but to enhance the community,” Paradis stated.

The Land Bank’s agreement with the County Legislature is that the Land Bank will pay one year’s taxes on the property, though with village tax cycles, it ends up being two years’ worth. Then, once the property has been sold, that “tax meter” can start ticking normally again. So while the county will never see the $358,896.25 the former owner never paid, handing the property (or any property) over to the Land Bank stops the financial hemorrhaging. In this way, again and again, the Land Bank turns blight into assets.

The Land Bank’s efforts are funded largely through grants from the Attorney General’s office, as well as from the sales of its rehabbed properties. That money goes back into the pot for buying, clearing, and improving distressed properties throughout the county. To find out more about the Land Bank’s mission and successes, go to www.chautauqualandbank.org.

http://www.observertoday.com/news/page-one/2016/07/county-seeks-to-step-in-on-hideaway-lot/