Pandora's box? City councilors, residents warn of downtown landlord run on 79-E

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The 79-E tax break was approved for 135 North Main over the objections of three councilors, from left, Rachel Lawrence, Tim Fontneau and Alexander de Geofroy (Courtesy photos)

ROCHESTER - The City Council approved a 79-E tax reduction program for a former mixed-use three-story building on North Main Street over the objections of several city councilors and every Rochester resident who spoke at a public hearing prior to the vote.
The property to be improved is located at 135 North Main St., which sits between George and Eds Convenience Store and the former Froggy's restaurant.
The program allows the owner to pay taxes on the pre-improved property assessment for a set number of years if the improvements benefit the community and "encourage the rehabilitation and active use of under-utilized buildings and, in so doing, to promote strong local economies."
Prior to the vote City Councilor Tim Fontneau said granting the 79-E tax program for such a small rehab job set a dangerous precedent for the city.

"I don't see how this benefits the community (with) its looks," said Fontneau, who is also a downtown landlord. "We may be setting a precedent. It makes me wonder if we're going to see a lot more applications suddenly from other landlords. I own a building on North Main Street. Maybe I'll decide I want to put new vinyl siding on it and see if I can get a 79E."
Newly appointed Ward 3 City Councilor Rachel Lawrence said she felt "uncomfortable" with the 79-E tax program applying to a project with no business on the premises.
During a public hearing prior to the City Council vote on the measure a parade of city residents voiced their concerns over using such a tax loophole for such a small, insignificant project.
"79-E can be a great program if managed correctly and not abused by staff or landlords," said former city councilor Chris Rice, "but this 79-E that comes before you is probably the most mismanaged 79-E that I've seen."
"We citizens are being the stooges for funding these lucrative schemes but for who?" questioned city resident Lou Archambault.
State rep and Rochester resident Tom Kaczynski called 79-E the "antithesis of a free market."
"In a free market the developer pays for the improvements," he added. "With 79-E the taxpayers share the burden. Paperwork says there has to be a public good ... I don't see public good, I see private good."
In the end City Council voted 9-3 to approve the 79-E for 135 North Main St. with Fontneau, Lawrence and Alexander de Geofroy voting against.
The council also approved an amendment reducing the number of years of tax reduction from seven to five.

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