Seeking tax break for senior housing in New Paltz

Keith P. Libolt is looking to bring some relief to a village in the center of a housing crisis: 32 affordable apartments within easy walking distance of the village core, in a LEED-certified building. However, the only way such a project could also be profitable would require an agreement to get the taxes lowered. Otherwise, village trustees were told, it would be a losing proposition unless it was market-rate housing instead.

Libolt is president of Affordable Housing Concepts in Gardiner, and has had a hand in a number of local projects: Christ the King Church and Zero Place in New Paltz, and Energy Square in Kingston, among others. All projects are built to a minimum gold standard in the LEED certification system, which stands for “leadership in energy and environmental design.” Some, such as Energy Square and Zero Place, are built to achieve net-zero energy use for the apartment units. This project, at 52 South Manheim Boulevard, would include enough solar panels to heat the water needed by residents, high-value insulation and temperature control through heat pumps. Aware that there are student-heavy rentals nearby, a “substantial buffer” would be planted to ensure that those who don’t wish to stay up all night won’t be disturbed by those who do.

Ulster County is in the midst of a housing crisis, and this village is one of the worst-hit parts of the county. When large housing projects are reviewed before either local Planning Board, the subject of affordable housing usually comes up, and it’s often in the context of senior citizens. The thinking is that seniors who wish to stay in New Paltz might sell their homes if there were smaller apartments to which they could move, returning those homes to the available housing stock. Libolt believes there is a need, but wants to review census data with local officials to confirm it before anyone agrees to a payment in lieu of taxes.

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Payments in lieu of taxes, or PILOTs as they are sometimes called, are often negotiated through the county’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA), but that’s neither required nor welcome in this case. All it takes is for the leaders of the taxing authorities to strike a deal with the developer, in which a schedule of payments over a period of years would be established. After that runs its course, normal taxes would be assessed. Village of New Paltz and IDA officials have disagreed publicly more than once in recent years, and Mayor Tim Rogers told Libolt that they are “persona non grata” to IDA members. Libolt expressed a preference for working with local leaders in most cases.

Such a deal would be hashed out formally over time, but Libolt offered several ideas to make the idea more palatable. PILOTs are supposed to provide benefits to the community that offset the reduced money coming in, and one suggestion was to keep open books on the project and agree to annual audits to measure that value. Profit beyond what’s projected in the deal could be shared with the taxing authorities, too. None of the ideas that were floated appeared to get any resistance from the developer, including paying recreation fees and contributing to the village’s sewer infrastructure in some way. “That’s part of the planning process,” Libolt said. Adding a master water meter to the building also appeared to be agreeable. Rogers and Libolt seemed to agree that this might be a project that requires fewer parking spots, especially if the idea of shared cars is explored.

Trustees appeared open to discussing a PILOT, but will have to bring in school board and town council members as well.