Schenectady County

Rotterdam official looks to turn flooded properties into open space

Town Board member Robert Godlewski wants to give Rotterdam Junction flood victims the chance to sell

Town Board member Robert Godlewski wants to give Rotterdam Junction flood victims the chance to sell their condemned properties to the town so they can be demolished and kept forever wild.

Godlewski wants to apply for a hazard mitigation program administered through the state’s Office of Emergency Management that would allow the town to buy certain flood-damaged properties in the hamlet at only a quarter of the cost, with the remainder funded through the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In a legislative request he submitted to Supervisor Harry Buffardi Tuesday, Godlewski identified 23 properties that received revised assessments this year after being significantly damaged during the flood.

Godlewski said the town could use some of the roughly $525,000 in FEMA aid it’s received so far to pay for its share of the cost. Without at least considering such a program, he predicted that some of the badly damaged homes located in the hamlet’s flood plain might stay vacant for years into the future.

“Do we want Rotterdam Junction to be another city of Schenectady with abandoned buildings?” he asked Tuesday. “I think not.”

The buyouts are aimed at removing homes or buildings from persistently flooded areas. Once a property is purchased through the program, it can never be developed again.

In Rotterdam Junction, many homes along Isabella Street, Scrafford Lane and Lock Street sustained periodic flooding even before Tropical Storm Irene last year. The area is wedged in a low-lying plain between the tow path of the old Erie Canal channel to the south and Main Street to the north — a place where the Mohawk River once flowed centuries ago.

The area was moderately flooded immediately following the storm. But when the Mohawk crested, a wave of floodwater cascaded down Main Street and left the streets submerged for nearly a week.

Godlewski said residents of the hamlet seemed interested in the program last spring and at least a few remained receptive to the idea in recent weeks. He said the regulations for rebuilding some of the condemned homes were prompting some to abandon the existing structures altogether.

“We’re not going to be able to help them all, but there are a number of homes … that are never going to be fixed up,” he said. “So why don’t we move forward?”

Buffardi said the board will likely take up Godlewski’s request later this month. But he said he wouldn’t support such an initiative for the time being because he doesn’t think it would be in the best interest of the hamlet or taxpayers.

Buffardi said offering the program could leave Rotterdam Junction pockmarked with lots that would remain vacant, which could then hurt redevelopment efforts. He said the program would also mean removing tax base from the town rolls forever, which would become a burden on all of Rotterdam’s taxpayers.

“If we tear those houses down and do this FEMA sanction, these houses will come off the tax rolls forever,” he said. “And it’s going to hurt future development in the hamlet of Rotterdam Junction because there’s going to be sporadic areas that can’t be built on.”

Godlewski also demanded an accounting of the FEMA reimbursements the town has already received. He said expenses from the flood were paid in the 2011 budget and he is concerned the FEMA money may be going to expenditures unrelated to the flood in the 2013 budget.

Buffardi said town fund balances were tapped during the flood. He said the FEMA funds will be used to replenish those fund balances.

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