AMSTERDAM -- The Common Council is backing a petition from the owner of an 111-acre parcel in the town of Florida to be annexed into the city. The site is targeted by the Tribes Hill Heritage Center for its proposed $42 million museum project.
Deputy Mayor James Martuscello, who represents the 5th Ward, said the parcel of land, if brought into the city, would be nearest to his ward on the south side, which is on the southern bank of the Mohawk River. Martuscello said he's seen past annexation fights where efforts to bring land into the city have failed, but he feels like the potential for tourism and economic development brought by the Tribes Hill Heritage Center project would make it worth the attempt.
"I've been through this many times before, and annexation is never a good feeling when you cross borders with a town. So I'm a little weary of it, because I don't want to anger the town of Florida," Martuscello said. "But when it was first presented, I saw they have the land, and we don't have any land available in the city of Amsterdam, and it seems to me that this isn't going to hurt anybody. It's not a housing development. Its not industry. It's a museum that can be shared by all. I just don't want there to be any bad blood with the town of Florida."
Martuscello said the Common Council has voted unanimously to approve a resolution supporting the anexation.
Florida Supervisor Eric Mead said he intends to fight to keep the acres, currently assessed at $169,000, from being removed from his town.
"In the 14 years I've been on the Town Board, this is the first time we've faced anything of this sort. I think this might be the first time ever," Mead said. "We're absolutely going to contest this. We're going forward with our comprehensive plan, changing the zoning, but we're not doing things with changes that are project-specific."
Mead said a meeting date will be set soon for town officials and city of Amsterdam officials to meet and discuss the annexation. After that the matter will likely head to court.
In New York state, a three-judge panel will be appointed to determine the outcome of a contested annexation. The judges typically decide annexations on the basis of whether the annexation has an economic benefit and is deemed to be in the public interest.
Dr. Pervaz Choudry is the owner of the land and the petitioner seeking to be annexed.
Marjorie Dancing Wind Heacock, founder of the THHC project, said her organization has an option to purchase 55 acres of the land. She said moving into the city of Amsterdam may be the best option for her project, which would include a multistructure Native American themed museum, with an educational center, space for arts and crafts, an area for Native American powwows, a restaurant, agricultural gardens and a culinary incubator.
She said being inside the city of Amsterdam would give the project access to water, sewer and enable it to be zoned as commercial, allowing for items to be sold at the museum. She said she believes the annexation process will be faster than waiting for the town of Florida to finish a comprehensive plan process that might not allow for the rezoning she's seeking anyway. In the meantime, she said her organization continues to receive Native American artifacts – to add to the 14 different collections she already has – and continue to operate the temporary exhibit space at the former Gap store in the ViaPort mall in Rotterdam, open Wednesday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
"We've come to the conclusion that it would be better to be in the city of Amsterdam. That's also where a lot of the people who would work for us would come from," she said.
The THHC has not raised the money it needs to build the proposed project yet, Heacock has said most of the fundraising will only become possible after the land is purchased, which will only occur if the annexation is approved.