Members of the City Council approved the sale of the Collamer lot on Broadway to a downstate developer for $775,000 about two hours after a Loudonville attorney handed them a signed offer for the property that would have netted nearly a half-million dollars more.
Joseph Zappone, an attorney and principal of the Zappone Group, offered the city $1.1 million for the Collamer lot in a bizarre twist that unfolded during the public comment period of the council’s business meeting Tuesday. In making the offer, Zappone said he would ask for an 18-month window to secure land-use board approvals for a mixed-use building for the site.
“It’s a cash offer,” he told the council. “There’s no financing needed.”
Another speaker at the meeting suggested the council sell the Collamer lot — a piece of prime realty on Broadway — to the highest bidder and then use eminent domain to take a suitable property for a new fire station to serve the city’s eastern plateau.
The deal to sell the Collamer lot to Algonquin Building owner Joel Aronson was contingent on a downstate religious organization federally registered in his name selling 14 wooded acres on Union Avenue to the city for $200,000.
“If you were playing Monopoly, the property out by the Northway is like Baltic Avenue,” remarked city resident Sam Brewer during the meeting. “The Collomer lot? That’s like Boardwalk. Swapping the two really isn’t an even trade.”
But the council was resolute after years of discussion and months of grappling with the legalities of the two land deals. They came close to approving the deals in July, only to table the process for a month to work out several last-minute changes to the contract.
On Tuesday, they were also getting pressure from residents living in the developments that have sprung up on the edge of the city bordering Saratoga Lake. None seemed interested in any discussion that would prolong acquiring land for a new fire and emergency medical services station.
City fire officials have estimated response times to the 13-square-mile area would average around eight minutes, but can be upward of 14 minutes if traffic conditions are bad. Residents have argued the lack of a fire station is placing them in jeopardy, since every minute counts in an emergency.
Laurie Wellman, a resident of the Waters Edge development on the lake, recalled her neighbor’s home catching fire after being struck by lightning, which caused $150,000 in damage. And she recounted how another neighbor was stricken by a heart attack and saved only by virtue of a physician who happened to be walking in the area at the time.
“My point is, these are real scenarios,” she told the council. “We cannot keep waiting while people keep quibbling about the number of parking spots downtown. Our lives and our property are at risk.”
Yet even with the council resolved to sign off on the deal Tuesday, there would still be a good deal of waiting. On the advice of the city’s contracted land-use attorney, the council went through a state Environmental Quality Review for both sales — a process that took roughly two hours in the public forum.
Even at the end of the monotonous reading of SEQR documents and after the council unanimously approved both deals, they traded barbs over the process. Mayor Joanne Yepsen said she still had concerns about the contract and the process undertaken to reach the two deals.
“This is no way to do city business,” she said.
Public Safety Commissioner Christian Mathiesen said the deal was done in a transparent manner and bristled at the council having “so many things thrown at us over the last few days and hours.” But ultimately, he said, the deal will be viewed as a landmark for public safety on the eastern edge of the city.
“This is something people will look at 30 or 40 years later and say ‘Thank God they did this,’ ” he said.