The Princetown Town Board may forgive roughly $12,000 in planning and development charges owed to the town by a prominent developer who didn't pay them after his plans for a food warehouse/distribution center fell through.
The Town Board this week voted 2-1 to waive the debt as part of a proposed legal settlement with developer Robert Iovinella, with partners Timothy Larned and T&B Builder/Developer of Rotterdam. That means the motion failed and the issue will apparently come up again. State law requires three votes on a five-member Town Board to pass a resolution, but one councilman was absent at Tuesday's meeting, and another recused himself because he works for the developer.
Board member Sue Shafer voted against the draft settlement, saying she was concerned about setting a precedent in allowing a developer not to pay expenses incurred by the town if their project falls through. She took office last January, and was not in town government when the dispute arose.
"To me, if I was a business owner and see [Iovinella] gets to not have to pay for these things, what does that say for all the poor people who have come in and paid?" Shafer said.
Town Supervisor Robert Myers didn't respond to a request for comment on Friday, but said at the Town Board meeting that the board had been advised that the cost of a continued legal fight could exceed the $12,000 figure, so it was in the town's best interest to settle.
Former town supervisor Michael Joyce, who spoke at the meeting, said he opposes forgiving the fees, saying the town could prevail in court and couldn't afford to give up the revenue.
The $12,000 figure is what the town estimates it paid for legal, engineering and planning advice while reviewing an Iovinella-Larned proposal for a food warehouse/distribution center that would have been located off Route 7 at the Rotterdam-Princetown town line, near Thruway Exit 25A. Rotterdam approved the plans, but there was opposition in Princetown, with many residents concerned about the impact of increased truck traffic and how a distribution center would change a rural area.
The proposed tenant, McLane Food Service, provides groceries, food service and beverages to convenience stores, drug stores and chain restaurants. It wanted to move forward at the site in 2008, but withdrew due to the economic downturn. The plans were revived in 2013, but McLane again withdrew from the project after residents spoke out, and the town Planning Board decided more studies would need to be done.
In most communities, costs incurred by a town to review a development proposal are either reimbursed by the developer or paid by the developer through an escrow account. Joyce, who was supervisor at the time, said it was expected the developers would pay those expenses.
In 2015, the town sued Iovinella and Larned over the unpaid expenses, but the developers also sued the town, after the town cancelled a building permit that a former town building inspector had issued for a garage that would have been a supporting structure for the planned distribution center. The two cases currently remain pending in court while the settlement talks continue.
Efforts to reach Iovinella on Friday were unsuccessful.
At Tuesday's meeting, Myers and Town Board member Thomas LaBelle voted to support the proposed settlement. LaBelle, however, leaves office on Dec. 31. Board member Doug Gray recused himself due to his employment by the developer, and board member Louis Esposito was absent.
Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.