Sale on Hammond Road vetoed

KNOX — Following a county legislative session filled with unanswered questions about the potential conveyance of a 65-acre parcel of land in foreclosure in Knox, the Albany County executive on Wednesday vetoed the resolution to convey the property to a former county legislator.

John Graziano, a former county legislator, had submitted a letter on Nov. 9 to Albany County Legislature Chairman Sean Ward requesting to purchase the land for $60,000.

According to the Albany County assessment rolls, the land — marked on the tax map as 35.-2-9.1 322 and owned by Roberta Moeller — has a full market value of $96,707 and assessed value of $58,024.

At its Dec. 4 meeting, following a heated half-hour discussion, the county legislature voted on a motion to convey the land to Graziano, which passed with 21 votes “yes” and 17 votes “no.”

Several legislators, many of whom were Republicans and some of whom were Democrats, including Travis Stevens, a Republican from Knox, objected to the conveyance because there was not information provided on whether the neighbors had been notified, the land had an appraised value, and if this had been offered to the Albany County Land Bank.

Ward said during the Dec. 4 meeting that the legislature is legally authorized to convey land in the manner being proposed, and that it was one of several ways to convey land, the Albany County Land Bank being one of them.

Ward contended that the amount being offered was twice what was owed in back taxes, and that it was rare that the county would receive such an offer.

“How do we know there isn’t someone willing to spend $70,000?” asked Legislator Paul Burgdorf, a Republican from Latham.

Richard Mendick, a Republican from Selkirk, later said that the high price offered could indicate the property is worth more than it is listed for. William Reinhardt, a Democrat from Slingerlands, agreed, comparing the county’s potential sale to when his parents sold property on Lake Tahoe for $6,000.

Todd Drake, another Republican from Latham, said he had been told by the executive director of the landbank, Adam Zaranko, that the property purchases through the land bank offered some profit to the county. Ward agreed that the county does receive a portion of the profits.

“But it’s certainly not taxes; in this case, twice the taxes,” he added.

Drake suggested that the property be offered to the public, and Stevens agreed that he’d like to see the land go back to the community. Christopher Higgins, a Democrat from Albany, said that he would suggest Stevens be notified so it could be sold to someone who would benefit the community, comparing the situation to when an apartment building in his district was sold and left vacant after that.

While Burgdorf and Gilbert Ethier, a Democrat from Cohoes, said they felt the legislature had not been properly notified, Gary Domalewicz, a Democrat from Albany, said that the item had been on the agenda for the Audit and Finance Committee meeting, which had discussed the sale.

Veto

Albany County Executive Daniel McCoy stated in his Wednesday veto that there were still questions pertaining to the sale price of the property and concerns that that the public had not been properly notified, and that the legislature should consider its options for conveying the property.

“This is a 100-percent political hit job,” Graziano told The Enterprise on Wednesday, of media criticism of his offer. He said he does not understand why the proposed land conveyance is receiving a large amount of media attention.

He said an appraisal is not required, and that the neighbors who would be notified are the ones subject to the foreclosure. The county’s tax map shows a parcel of land at the same address listed under Moeller’s name as well as John Papa’s.

Graziano formerly represented Colonie in the county legislator. He currently lives in the Slingerlands area of the town of New Scotland and owns Capitol Hill Management Services, a firm which offers services in  association management, government relations, and financial planning, he said.

Graziano said he has been looking for recreational property for hunting and so his two teenage sons can ride their all-terrain vehicles. He sought out property without structures because there would be lower taxes, he said.

“It’s a completely public process,” he said, of his procedure in requesting to buy the land.

He said that his finding of the property was not due to political dealings, but because he knows where to access information on property listings. He said he reviewed tax maps on the county’s website and discovered the foreclosed property there. He then contacted the legislature and was told to send a letter to the legislature chair’s, he said.

Graziano said he did not need to conduct an appraisal, and that the property currently has a value similar to what he looking to pay on it.

Graziano said he feels there is suspicious activity being insinuated, when in fact there is not, and he is being “dragged into the political fight.”

“I hope Dan vetoes it,” he said, before McCoy had announced his veto. “Because I don’t want anything to do with it anymore.”

“When this resolution came up, I had questions about whether it was offered to the landbank, was there an appraisal, were there neighbors contacted … ,” said Stevens to The Enterprise on Tuesday. These were questions he said were not answered at the Dec. 4 meeting, which is why he requested that the proposal go back to committee.

The issue was discussed at Knox’s most recent town board meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 12, with Stevens noting his objection to the approval of the sale. Knox Supervisor Vasilios Lefkaditis said that he had texted the county executive and had been told the proposal would be vetoed.

He suggested sending a letter to McCoy asking for him to consider the town board’s opposition to the sale and to veto the proposal. Lefkaditis added that he knows there are several large landowners living nearby in the town who may be interested in purchasing the property.

Zaranko, who heads the land bank, told The Enterprise on Wednesday that the land bank works with property that is conveyed to the organization by the county legislature. The Dec. 4 meeting included a resolution to convey a series of properties foreclosed on in the city of Albany; Zaranko said the legislature had conveyed a list of properties outside of the city to the land bank at a previous meeting.

“If they vote to approve those lists, that’s the list [of properties] the land bank works off to improve,” he said.

Zaranko, as the head of a not-profit-agency, said he could not comment on the county government’s dealings with foreclosed properties. He said the land bank, when selling property, will occasionally notify neighbors of a building if the potential buyer does not live nearby, to give them a chance to offer to buy. He also said the land bank usually relies on signs, listings on their website, listing on real estate websites, and Realtors to notify the public of available properties.

 

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