Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signed bills Thursday that will put the first four toxic and blighted properties back on the tax rolls, with developers buying and cleaning them up without exposing the county to financial risk.
Bellone signed the legislation at a former industrial site on Suffolk Avenue in Brentwood. The measure will allow the sale of tax liens on long-abandoned property and permit a developer to build a shopping center with a banks and offices. Bellone also signed measures to bring back other sites in West Babylon, Lindenhurst and Commack.
The sales are the first to be done through a new county land bank, authorized through state legislation in 2013. The land bank is expected to return to the tax rolls 133 potentially toxic tracts on which $35 million in back taxes and penalties are owed. The county had refused to take title to the properties for unpaid taxes out of concern that cleanup costs might be exorbitant.
“Many of these properties have been tax delinquent for decades, a burden on our taxpayers and been a blight to our communities,” said Bellone. “We have been able to investigate these properties, market and sell them to private owners willing to bring them back to public use.”
Most important, using the land bank to buy and sell tax liens “keeps Suffolk out of the chain of title,” avoiding any chance the county would be responsible for significant cleanup costs, Bellone said.
Together, the four properties had been off the tax rolls an average of 21 years and owed more than $4.4 million in back taxes.
The Brentwood property, formerly Liberty Industrial Finishing, is to be bought by a private shopping center developer, A.D. Real Estate Investors. The developer is paying the land bank $500,000 for the tax lien and will spend $825,000 on further cleanup.
The New owner, Aaron Daniels, who owns 10 local shopping centers, said he hopes to finish construction within 16 to 18 months. Once the transfer is complete in a month, the owner will be responsible for the current $34,775 in property taxes and will pay taxes on future improvements.
“It is something the community has been complaining about for years,” Legis. Monica Martintez (D-Brentwood) said of the fenced-in, overgrown site.
The former Stein and Giannott warehouse in West Babylon, which once stored medical waste, is being sold for $100,000. New owners Joseph and Samuel Habibian are planning a warehouse and office space and will spend $475,000 on further cleanup.
The Habibians also will buy Jericho Marine, a former gas and marine equipment firm in Lindenhurst, for $120,000 and do whatever the state Department of Environmental Conservation mandates in terms of cleanup. They plan to convert it to 5,000 square feet of retail and commercial use.
The former Steck-Philbin Landfill in Kings Park, which contains illegal backfill, has been sold for $500,000 to be paid over 25 years. The owners will pay $10 million for cleanup and use the property for a solar farm.
“Government has finally taken its head out of the sand to confront and resolve the more than 100 brownfield field properties . . . that have drained the county financially,” said Legis. Tom Cilmi (R-Bay Shore), a member of the land bank board. “Today marks a very important milestone.”
Since the creation of the land bank, 44 other property owners have gone to the county to pay back full taxes and penalties and two more have entered payment plans to clear up arrears. That has resulted in the receipt of about $4.7 million in back taxes. Suffolk officials say they also expect $650,000 in annual property tax revenues going forward.
In addition to the four projects authorized Thursday, county officials say they are working on proposals for four other sites. County officials say there are 60 additional sites eligible for sale and reuse but could not estimate when the transactions might move forward.