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Guilderland Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, Decemer 16, 2010

How much is Star Plaza worth?

By Melissa Hale-Spencer

GUILDERLAND — The owners of Star Plaza want to cut the mall’s assessment by more than half.

The plaza, built 46 years ago, is a strip mall at the corner of routes 20 and 155. The neighboring 20 Mall, owned by William Lia, has been in the process of challenging its assessment for over a year.

The Star Plaza is currently assessed at $2,970,100, according to Guilderland’s assessor, John Macejka; Star Plaza, Inc. claims the mall is worth $1,275,750.

The Guilderland School Board last week voted to work with the town to defend the assessment. The school will pay 70 percent of the cost for legal counsel and an appraisal.

Neil Sanders, the assistant superintendent for business, said that the school district calculates whether the cost of litigation is less than the money lost through taxes before recommending that the district proceed.

In this case, Sanders told The Enterprise, the district would lose $33,950 annually in taxes if Star Plaza were able to get the $1.7 million reduction. “They would set that for three years,” he said, meaning the three-year loss for the district would be over $100,000.

Guilderland’s supervisor, Kenneth Runion, said the town board would vote on taking up its 30-percent share at its next meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 21.

If the $1.7 million reduction went through, Runion said, the tax loss to the town would be just $491 annually; the county would lose $6,167; and the school district and library combined would lose $35,750.

“We’re the tiny player in all this,” Runion said. “It’s tough for us because the appraisal costs more than the tax.”

The town has never asked the county to chip in when defending Guilderland assessments because, Runion said, “They have so many municipalities and, if they did it for one, they’d have to do it for everybody.”

He concluded of the town working with the school district on defending the Star Plaza assessment, “This one is important to work together on because we joined together for 20 Mall…The value of Star Plaza and 20 Mall will be similar.”

On July 22, 2009, the 20 Mall filed a notice of application for review of assessment with the New York State Supreme Court, the lowest court in the state’s three-tiered system. The 20 Mall claims it is worth $8,008,000 while the town has assessed it at nearly $12 million.

Paul J. Goldman of Segel, Goldman, Mazzotta & Siegel, represents both the 20 Mall and Star Plaza. Girvin & Ferlazzo represents the school district and the town in both of the assessment challenges.

“It seems like a very active and busy mall and it looks like, during tough financial times, it’s generating income,” said Macejka of 20 Mall last year.

Goldman responded at the time that Guilderland’s assessments were no longer at true value since the town had a state-set equalization rate of 79 percent. “The property is over-assessed,” he said, stating a fair full value would be $10 million; with the 79-percent equalization rate, that would bring it to just under $8 million.

He also said the enclosed portion of 20 Mall and the deep stores were “antiquated” spaces and tough to lease.

This week, Goldman said he did not generally like to talk to the press about cases he is trying but he did say the Star Plaza case was “kind of the same” as the case with 20 Mall. Asked if he meant by this that the space was antiquated and the property was worth less because of the equalization rate, he said yes.

Macejka said this week that the 20 Mall case is “still working its way through the court system….The lawyers are talking.”

The Star Plaza, which, Macejka said, is owned by Star Plaza, Inc., was built in 1964. It includes just the strip of stores near the corner, not the two freestanding banks or the Dunkin’ Donuts in the parking lot; they are assessed separately, he said.

Commenting on Star Plaza’s claim that it is worth $1.3 million, Macejka said, “What lawyers try to do is lowball it, and hope the judge will cut it in the middle… If an appraisal comes in close to our number, there’s no room for negotiation.”

The property was last assessed during the town-wide revaluation five years ago, and has had no “major improvements” since then, Macejka said; William Haeffner Associates assessed the commercial properties in town in 2005. Star Plaza filed grievances during each of the last two years, Majecka said. “They were denied by the Board of Assessment Review for lack of sufficient information,” he said.

“Over the years, you have to factor in things like vacancies and lease agreements…” said Macejka. “I’m somewhat comfortable the assessment is fair. I may not be privy to things they have in mind,” he added, giving this example, “If they know they’re losing another tenant.”

Asked why he thought the challenge was filed, Macejka said, “Probably the economic downturn that we haven’t necessarily seen in Guilderland.”

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