The New Paltz Town Board granted time requested by Wilmorite, Inc. on its Feb. 27, 2014 agenda, as was reported on in detail in this paper last week. There is a good deal to be learned from what happened at that meeting and the subsequent interchange of letters between New Paltz Town Supervisor Susan Zimet and Wilmorite attorney Shawn Griffin.
We have learned what Wilmorite really wants.
Wilmorite, Inc., a multi-billion dollar landlord and real estate developer, requested that a $50 to $60 million, 13-building, for-profit rental project be assessed at no more than $10 or $11 million so that it could afford to construct and operate the project for the next 25 years.
Griffin told members of the Town Board that in the ‘real world’ where he said he lived, builders always got deals like this. When he first mentioned his desired assessment, jaws dropped in the audience as well as around the table. This didn’t seem to bother the attorney who several times admonished the members of our Town Board and asked them if they were ready to ‘act like adults’.
We have learned about Wilmorite’s negotiating style.
While this was not supposed to be a negotiation, simply an open meeting with an applicant with a development proposal, we observed Griffin’s negotiating style as he employed age-old techniques. Basically, there are only three things you can do during a negotiation process: ‘push’, ‘pull’ or ‘walk-away’. Griffin ‘pushed’ when he threatened to build the project without paying any taxes at all. How? He didn’t explain. Threats are threats; they either work or they don’t.
Griffin attempted to ‘pull’ by stressing the attractiveness of his project. “We want to be the biggest taxpayer in your town,” he said. Never mind that any payments would not even begin to approach the cost of community services such as police and fire protection, forcing the balance of the bill onto the backs of local taxpayers.
Wilmorite’s representative never quite got to ‘walk-away’ because he cannot. This is nothing like the Lowe’s corporation, which literally did walk away from New Paltz and subsequently built its store about a mile across the town line in Lloyd…where, by the way, it does pay its fair share of taxes.
We have learned that the New Paltz Town Board knows how to deal with Wilmorite.
Town Council member Kevin Barry was selected by the Town Board to speak on its behalf, and he demonstrated his knowledge, experience and skill with regard to the negotiating process by not negotiating at all. He simply asked questions and allowed the Rochester-based lawyer to dig a deeper and deeper hole for himself and the company he was being paid to represent.
Toward the end of the discussion, Barry asked, “You just want our tax assessment on the project to meet your financial needs?” Griffin replied, “Correct.” Clearly Barry understood, as did most of the audience, that this was a ‘show-stopper’. Neither the Town Board nor the assessor has the power or the right to base tax assessments on the ability of the property owner to pay. If that were the way it worked, my colleagues and I, during the seven years we served together on the Board of Assessment Review, would have granted tax relief to hundreds of our neighbors who requested that their assessments be lowered because they couldn’t afford their taxes.
As described elsewhere in this week’s paper, Shawn Griffin continued to negotiate in his March 5 reply to Supervisor Zimet’s letter of the previous day. What he failed to mention is that in a March 3 letter to the Ulster County Legislature’s Economic Committee, he accused Barry of walking out on a meeting with him, while omitting the fact that he himself had failed to share the financial information he had promised to bring.
Exactly one year ago today, as I submit these words, I had the privilege of writing my first column for the New Paltz Times. The title of one of the segments in that column was “Have they got a deal for us.” I was referring to Wilmorite, and the deal has only gotten worse.
The message of full taxation for Park Point was communicated to UCIDA at a January public hearing by almost 500 New Paltz citizens, all speaking with one voice. Our Town Board, Planning Board, Building Department, Village Board, our school district, the Gardiner Town Board, the Association of Ulster County Supervisors and the Ulster County Comptroller have communicated the same message. The only deal that works for New Paltz is full taxation for Wilmorite or no deal at all.