Saratoga County

Luther Forest campus calls for tax breaks

The developers of the Luther Forest Technology Campus want to be able to offer tax breaks to attract

The developers of the Luther Forest Technology Campus want to be able to offer tax breaks to attract prospective tenants, something they say is now essential to future success.

Under a town zoning approval, the high-tech campus can’t offer those breaks, which may be one reason development isn’t happening faster there. The campus development corporation has now asked the town to allow economic development tax breaks.

“That’s the norm. Companies don’t locate to new areas around the world without some form of incentive,” tech campus President Michael Relyea told the Town Board on Monday.

The 1,414-acre tech park located in both Malta and Stillwater bills itself as “world-class,” but has struggled to attract additional tenants since GlobalFoundries bought land there for its Fab 8 computer chip plant in 2009.

Relyea, accompanied by representatives of the Saratoga Economic Development Corp., presented the Town Board a list of proposed changes to the tech park’s 2004 zoning approval, to start what is expected to be lengthy negotiations with the Town Board.

The Town Board is expected to hold a workshop on the proposed changes in September.

“This is really the biggest thing in town,” said Councilman John Hartzell, who has expressed concerns that the park will run out of money if it doesn’t attract new businesses.

Tech park officials have said successfully marketing and selling development lots is vital to the massive venture’s future. About $100 million in state funds have gone into building the park and its infrastructure, but that money was approved in the mid-2000s, when local senator Joseph L. Bruno was the state Senate’s powerful Republican majority leader, and his frequent ally George Pataki was governor.

But at this point, the campus economic development corporation has had no major revenue since GlobalFoundries bought 223 acres for $7.8 million. The corporation is behind on road maintenance payments to the town, and lacks money for water and sewer extensions, or even to install a prominent identification sign at the Route 67 entrance to the campus.

Excluding the land GlobalFoundries has bought and other land required by zoning to remain green space, the campus still has about 400 acres that can be developed for nanotechnology manufacturing, research and development, or related commercial activity.

Economic development officials have placed much of the blame for lack of activity on the town zoning prohibition on offering new businesses property tax reductions.

The zoning law written by the Malta Town Board in 2004 prohibited business that receive exemptions from local property taxes. The provision was thought at the time to mean little, because the state’s Empire Zone economic development program reimbursed businesses for their local property taxes. The Empire Zone program, however, expired in 2010.

“We have to have the realization that over the last three years a lot has changed,” Relyea said.

Other zoning changes the tech campus corporation is seeking include:

u Making it easier for LED, solar energy, biotech and medical device companies to locate in the park, rather than just computer chip-making companies.

u Allowing a 40-room conference center included in the original approval to instead be a larger hotel, with up to 120 rooms.

Other requested changes would seek clarification on what lands can be counted toward a requirement that 60 percent of the entire tech campus property be green space.

Because it is zoned as a planned development district, any zoning changes in the technology campus require Town Board approval after review by the town Planning Board.

Malta has taken the lead in zoning reviews, though about a quarter of the tech park is located in Stillwater.

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