Jehovah's Witnesses contract to buy third Fishkill property

Poughkeepsie Journal, New York/August 3, 2015

By Craig Wolf

Fishkill -- The Jehovah's Witnesses organization plans to buy a third property in the Brockway area of the Town of Fishkill, town Supervisor Bob LaColla says.

The Watchtower Bible & Tract Society of New York has a purchase contract with AVR Realty, the private developer active in that area, to acquire a project under construction, LaColla said.

The project is known as the Chelsea Senior Living facility and was being built by a unit of AVR to serve as a combination of assisted living facility, independent living for seniors and some townhouses, he said.

LaColla said a representative of the Watchtower group informed him Monday of the plans. A contract has been signed, he was told, but is subject to "due diligence" review, a process during which a potential buyer can inspect work and research all implications of the proposed deal.

AVR executive Tom Perna, who has been the usual manager for AVR's Fishkill developments, could not be reached for comment late Monday. A request for information made to the Watchtower group was not answered Monday.

Watchtower already owns the Rivercrest Luxury Apartments complex near the Chelsea Senior Living site, as well as the former industrial land off Industrial Way that is vacant except for one structure. LaColla said it still intends to develop office space for its staff on that land, but that previous plans for a video studio have apparently been taken off the books.

The 250-unit Rivercrest apartments are gradually being occupied by members of the Jehovah's Witnesses religion as the rental leases of previous occupants expire. Watchtower bought it in December 2014.

For those units that were taken over by members, the organization has filed for and obtained tax exemption on the grounds that the occupancy is for religious purposes. As of March, when tax rolls were set, part of the property was still on the tax rolls, about 56 percent, with 44 percent of the apartment units shifting to tax-exempt.

LaColla said the property to be acquired would likely go off the tax rolls for the same reason, but that the impact would be small, perhaps a few thousand dollars, because at the last tax assessment, the property was mostly vacant land. The Beacon School District is also impacted, but at a higher sum. Dutchess County and the Chelsea Fire District are also affected.

“If finalized, the property will likely comply with the New York state defined conditions for tax exemption," LaColla said.

The loss is greater if it is compared with what would have been, however. The assisted-living project, also referred to as Overlook-Chelsea, was valued at $24.9 million and was expected to create about 60 jobs, according to comments made a year ago by Cathy Maloney, who was then president of Dutchess County Economic Development Corp.

The Fishkill Town Board agreed then to a tax PILOT, or payment in lieu of taxes, that was arranged by the Dutchess County Industrial Development Agency for the assisted-living complex. LaColla said the town renegotiated the proposed tax break downward, accepting a four-year graduated reduction that would have placed the entire value on the rolls in the fifth year. That parcel was a 7.7-acre lot overlooking the Hudson River, west of Hudson View Park apartments and north of the Mount Gulian Society historic site.

County property records show a valuation of $3 million for the parcel.

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