Schenectady County will auction off a sprawling nursery on the city’s border, a 1950s-era public school building in Rotterdam, a small island in the Mohawk River and an old track in Niskayuna once used to test tanks built during the Korean War.
The eclectic collection of properties are among 75 parcels being put on the block for the county’s annual foreclosure sale later this month. Though most of the properties are in arrears with taxes, some are county-owned and being sold as surplus.
For instance, the Isle of the Senecas —also known as Little Island —in the village of Scotia is among the county-owned properties being offered to bidders. Assessed at $28,400, the 14-acre island is the smallest among four located by the Western Gateway Bridge and can sometimes be reached by foot depending on the level of the Mohawk.
Only a small seasonal stream separates the property from the slightly larger Isle of the Mohawks to the west, leading some to consider them one island. The Isle of the Senecas came into the county’s possession in 1987, according to land records, and remains vacant aside from vegetation.
“It’s just a piece of property we came to own over time,” said county spokesman Joe McQueen. “The county manager and team decided we exhausted all those options to put it to use.”
Indeed, there don’t appear to be many uses for the island, which is zoned for conservation. Glenville Town Supervisor Chris Koetzle said even without the zoning regulations, the island is remote enough that its only real use would be for passive parkland.
“Anything you’d want to do out there would require some public amenities,” he said. “There’s not a lot of options.”
Other properties in Glenville being sold at the auction will hold far greater opportunities for redevelopment. In specific, Koetzle pointed to a pair of large properties on Freemans Bridge Road that could be prime for commercial development.
Among them is the roughly 12-acre former Superfund site that was the subject of a lengthy $23 million cleanup that removed 69,000 cubic yards of contaminated soil. Technically owned by Lyons Ventures — a long bankrupt waste disposal company that owed more than half a million dollars in unpaid taxes on the land — the property valued at $272,000 is located along a major thoroughfare leading into the town.
Also up for bid are the 19 acres owned by the defunct Schenectady Seed Co., a farmer’s market and gardening supply business that operated in the town for more than a century. Zoned for general business, the property is assessed at $631,100 and is located on Freemans Bridge Road near the intersection with Dutch Meadow Lane.
“It’s a key property in one of our key commercial areas, so we really have high hopes for it,” Koetzle said.
Other properties hitting the auction block represent failed hopes. The old Draper School building in Rotterdam is once again up for grabs, after a deal to turn the aging structure into housing for disabled veterans never materialized.
The 94,000-square-foot building located on 3.5 acres in a densely populated neighborhood was last occupied by the International Charter School of Schenectady, which went defunct in 2008 but still technically owns the building. First Niagara attempted to sell the building after the charter school folded, but couldn’t find a buyer and eventually wrote off the millions of dollars worth of debt owed on the building’s mortgage.
County officials also refused to take title to the property until the Disabled American Veterans showed interest in transforming the building into housing for veterans. County officials worked out a deal in 2011 in which the Metroplex Development Authority would authorize $50,000 to be used toward payment of the outstanding taxes, while the veterans agreed to match the amount with $60,000 and the county Legislature agreed to waive the remaining liability.
But the veterans never produced their share of the money or evidence the organization was serious about advancing on the project. The county started quietly shopping the parcel again in May, showing it to developers interested in converting the building for residential use.
“We gave them 90 days and they didn’t produce a plan, financing or anything,” said Ray Gillen, the chairman of Metroplex. “Hopefully now it’ll get some interest.”
In Niskayuna, the former Wells Nursery property now owned by the Sunmark Federal Credit Union is slated to go to auction. The seven acres on Aqueduct Road where Schenectady Concrete Products Co. once operated is valued at $1.15 million and is roughly a half-million dollars in arrears in county taxes.
An even larger property is scheduled to be auctioned a short drive up Hillside Avenue from the nursery. The 112 acres associated with the Hillside Commerce Park could find a new owner by the end of the month.
The sprawling site located behind the U.S. Army Reserve Center is split between 99 acres valued at $1.2 million and 13 acres assessed at $464,300. The land still has portions of a cement track that was used to test tanks for the military during the Korean War and later by Consolidated Diesel and Electric, which tested track vehicles on the property.
McQueen said the county generally “breaks even” with the tax debts on the properties sold at auction, though he couldn’t say how much is owed on the 75 items up for bid. Even if the debts aren’t paid in full, he said the hope is that they will start generating new tax revenue.
“The ultimate goal is to get it back on the tax rolls,” he said.