AMSTERDAM -- The Amsterdam Common Council and the Florida Town Board held a joint public hearing Thursday night to discuss a land annexation petition crucial to the proposed $42 million Tribes Hill Heritage Center project.
The Common Council in September passed a resolution backing the annexation petition from Dr. Pervaz Choudry, the owner of 111 acres of land located off Route 5S in Florida near the eastern side of Amsterdam's south side. The parcel is vacant farmland assessed at $169,100.
Choudry wants the land to be annexed so he can sell 55 acres of it to the Tribes Hill Heritage Center, which wants the land to be zoned for commercial use before it exercises an option to purchase it.
THHC founder Marjorie Dancing Wind Heacock has expressed frustration with the Florida Town Board and has said she's "not willing to fight with them" over her organization's need for commercial zoning for the project. The need being the THHC's plan to sell items at the heritage center, which would be a Native American artifact museum and an educational center.
Town of Florida officials have indicated they will oppose the annexation bid in order to preserve the property as a part of their tax base.
Choudry did not send an attorney to the annexation hearing, but authorized THHC attorney Ben McGuire to speak on his behalf.
McGuire argued that Choudry's property would derive economic benefit from being connected to water, sewer and police and fire protection if it were annexed into the city of Amsterdam. He said substantial sales tax would be generated by the heritage center if it is constructed.
Florida Supervisor Eric Mead said his town and Amsterdam participate in a sales tax sharing agreement, so the city would still benefit if the heritage center were built within the town of Florida boundaries. He said Florida also has a water and sewer sharing agreement with the city that allows town properties to tap into Amsterdam utilities for a rate 1.5 times that of city properties. Mead also questioned whether the city would be required to pay for the water and sewer connections in the event of an annexation.
McGuire said the THHC would pay for the connections.
Town Board member Harold Alikonis asked McGuire if the THHC was aware that their proposed project is in the vicinity of a county garbage transfer station.
"We're aware it's in the vicinity, yes...," McGuire said, adding that the project backers believes it would have enough acreage to handle any issues from the transfer station.
Several Florida residents said they oppose the annexation because it would reduce the overall tax base in the town, causing higher taxes to be redistributed to the other land owners. Several also cast doubt on the success of the Tribes Hill Heritage Center concept.
Mead said his town is looking at the possibility of creating planned unit developments, known as PUDs, within several areas of town that would enable the Town Board to approve different zoning for properties that applied for a PUD designation. He said the process would give ultimate authority to the Town Board as to whether to make a property a PUD. He said the Florida Town Board will likely approve allowing any parcel within the town greater than 25 acres to apply for PUD status in December.
"This is not our response to the Heritage Center. The way I see it, the Heritage Center is very impatient. They don't ask questions to see what's going on in the town. They just jump to conclusions," he said.
McGuire said it remains to be seen whether becoming a PUD would be a viable option for the THHC.
If the Florida Town Board chooses to contest Choudry's annexation petition, which appears likely, 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.