How to stop 485-a exemption law abuse

The City has the authority to set higher requirements.   —Post-Standard letter

June 10, 2018

Response to Post-Standard article on 485-a property tax exemption abuse:

To the Editor:

According to your article (June 10), the City Assessor states that the 485-a property tax exemption Law for mixed-use development is loosely written and provides little guidance on how much "mix" in mixed-use development is required to qualify for an exemption. He also suggested that refusing a grant would inevitably leads to a lawsuit, and so prefers to "work with" the developer for a solution.

A review of the 485-a Law makes clear that the assessor is right. The law gives no guidance at all. It essentially only describes the tax exemption formula and the requirement of a mixed residential and commercial development on a previously commercial-only property. The State Assessor's Manual adds no detail.

However, the 485-a Law states that the municipality "may", but is not required to grant the exemption to a project (i.e., no matter how well or poorly it qualifies). Similarly, the school district "may", but is not required to grant the exemption to a project qualified by the municipality. Therefore, the right to grant or refuse a 485-a exemption, and therewith to establish whatever minimum requirements it sees fit, appears fully within the authority of the municipality.

The 485-a law grants no rights to developers. It grants a right to municipalities to use at their discretion. Therefore, a developer has no statutory right to the exemption, no matter how well the project qualifies, and so has no legal basis for filing a lawsuit.

So, any abuse of the 485-a exemption is principally due to lax municipal policy in applying it. Syracuse should establish its own minimum requirements for 485-a exemptions. Ideally, this should be combined with a new city initiative to reorganize and assert its urban design/planning and zoning authority and leadership.

Carlo Moneti