Gloversville targets 4 brownfields for clean-up funding

PHOTOGRAPHER:

From left, City Court Judge Cory Dalmata performs the swearing-in
ceremony for Mayor Vince DeSantis on Saturday Jan. 1.

GLOVERSVILLE — During his State of the City Address on Saturday, Mayor Vince DeSantis unveiled a plan for Gloversville to acquire ownership of four abandoned tannery sites, a necessary step towards applying for $5 million in federal funding to clean up contaminated soil at the properties and redevelop the land.

DeSantis said redeveloping Gloversville’s numerous brownfield sites is a major component of his administration’s plan to revitalize the city. He said since 2019 Gloversville has received two grants — the $225,000 Brownfield Opportunity Area Study grant and then later the $300,000 Brownfields Assessment Grant — both of which have helped to pay for the process of identifying and then helping to remediate the city’s brownfield sites — but now the city needs to own the sites before it can apply for more funding to clean them up.

“We wouldn’t have a city here if it weren’t for the glove industry and the leather-manufacturing industry, but they left us with scars, acres of land, wide swaths of land, that have been off-limits for development for a long, long time,” DeSantis said. “The big news is that in April of this year, we will be able to apply for major clean-up money, to the extent of $5 million for our targeted sites. That application can cover more than one site. It can cover multiple sites and this is federal money, as a result of the recent infrastructure bill passed by congress.”

Gloversville already owns some brownfields eligible for the $5 million in federal clean-up funding, including: the former Risedorf Tannery, located at 130-146 West 8th Ave., which the city on Dec. 1 applied for $500,000 for environmental remediation; the former FJ&G Railyard, a long narrow parcel, which has already been partially reused for the location of the city Transit Building and Trail Station Park; the site of the former city Dept. of Public Works facility on Washburn Street; and the site of the former Independent Leather building, located at 315 S. Main Street, which has already been partially remediated

DeSantis told the council the four sites he would like to add to the city’s inventory of brownfields targeted for remediation are:

• The former Comrie Inc. property on the corner of Route 30A and Harrison Street.

• The former Tradition Leather property at 41 W. 11th Ave., across the street from Kingsborough Elementary School. This site has an estimated clean-up cost of $2 million.

• The former John Johns Buckskin Co. property, located at 1 Rose St., near Route 29A, which DeSantis called an eyesore at one of the entrances of the city.

• The former Glencoe Leather Corp. property, located at 51 E. 8th Ave. The city already demolished the building at this site, but does not own the land.

The four properties are all in tax foreclosure, but Gloversville’s foreclosure agent, Fulton County, has always declined to foreclose on them due to the potential liability of being forced to pay for environmental cleanup costs. Gloversville transferred its property tax foreclosure power to Fulton County decades ago as part of the “Hornell Plan”, which saved the city from being financially liable for unpaid school taxes on city properties, but also took away the city’s power to control the fate of city properties in tax foreclosure.

DeSantis said there’s a long list of properties in Gloversville that Fulton County has declined to foreclose on over the years, including a number of former gas stations, because of the environmental clean-up liability, essentially leaving the properties in kind of legal limbo. He said Gloversville has the legal authority to regain the ability to take control of properties via tax foreclosure on a limited basis — in this instance only for the four targeted properties — from Fulton County, without changing the city’s Hornell Plan agreement with the county.

“This coming week, Attorney [Amanda] Rose and I will be speaking to County Attorney [Jason Brott] about a timeline for the city to take title to these properties,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis said part of the grant money the city has received to study brownfields went to hire consultants HRP Associates, of Latham, which have advised him that the city government will be shielded from any liability from lawsuit by either the state Department of Environmental Conservation or the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency after acquiring the four brownfield properties. He said the city government will be working closely with both state and federal agencies to acquire funding for the cleanups, so he does not anticipate the city will be forced into any unfunded clean up costs. He said EPA officials have looked favorably upon Gloversville’s willingness to promote “adaptive reuse” of former tannery sites like the Wood & Hyde Leather Co. properties at 68 Wood St. and 18 W. Ninth Ave., which the city acquired for $650,000, with $150,000 of the purchase price set-aside for any potential clean up costs for that parcel. Gloversville intends to build its new DPW facility on that land.

DeSantis said he picked the four targeted brownfield sites because he believes that cleaning up and redeveloping those sites will have the greatest possible positive impact for the residential neighborhoods around them, particularly the Tradition Leather site across from Kingsborough Elementary School.

“This is probably one of the most exciting breakthroughs that we’ve seen in many decades,” DeSantis said of the potential to rehabilitate the city’s abandoned industrial sites.

Prior to the Common Council’s organizational meeting on Saturday, DeSantis was sworn-in for his first full four-year term as mayor. There were also swearing-in ceremonies for re-elected council members 1st Ward Councilwoman Marcia Weiss, 3rd Ward Councilwoman Betsy Batchelor, 5th Ward Councilman Jay Zarrelli and a first-time swearing-in ceremony for council-newcomer Councilman-at-large Wayne Peters.

By Jason Subik

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