City has full list of its properties; session set on land bank idea


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WATERTOWN — Officials now know about each and every city-owned property.

As requested by City Council members, city officials have put together a list of all the property that Watertown owns. The complete list includes hundreds of vacant lots, small and large commercial and residential property, and a handful of old houses.

Councilwoman Lisa A. Ruggiero campaigned last fall that the city should compile a list, while Councilman Mark C. Walczyk has insisted it would be useful information in putting together a land bank in the city.

Councilwoman Ruggiero, a local real estate agent, said Sunday she had a lot of the properties on a list she had previously compiled, but there were some she had no idea existed.

But most of them involve “insignificant properties” that the city has known about for years, Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. said. In many cases, the city has tried to unload them in the past to neighboring property owners who didn’t want them. Often, they’re narrow strips of land that are undevelopable, he explained.

“A lot of them are the same culprits,” he said.

The long list is divided up into categories that include property that the city could auction off, sell through the Request for Proposal process, a house committed for a local rehabilitation program, for future development and property designated as Brownfield land.

In recent weeks, City Assessor Brian S. Phelps and City Comptroller James E. Mills worked on the project.

Council members will discuss the list during a work session tonight.

The site of two houses recently demolished at 158 Academy St. and 166 Academy St., shows up on the list. Gotham Street resident Alexandra Woodruff wanted to buy them for $1,000 and turn into a garden near her house. Last month, council members decided to hold off the sale and offer them in a public auction.

On Sunday, Councilwoman Ruggiero suggested the woman’s $1,000 offer should start the bidding. They are currently assessed at $12,100 and $8,500.

Two deteriorating houses at 549 LeRay St. and 517 Jefferson St., require extensive repairs to make them livable, but the cost of the work would exceed their value to sell, said Shawn R. McWayne, the city’s code enforcement supervisor.

While the LeRay Street house could be sold, Mr. McWayne recommends demolishing the Jefferson Street property because the lot size is too small and making “it not as desirable,” he wrote in a memo.

The most significant sites include:

65 acres of light industrial land in the City Center Industrial Park on Roundhouse Drive that has been marketed for development over the years. The mostly wooded land is assessed at $472,600.

Some other city industrial property on Waterman Drive in the city’s industrial that total 4.6 acres and is assessed at $41,800.

The site of a 2015 Election Day fire that destroyed the old state Department of Transportation barns at 424 Vanduzee St. Last year, local businessman Jacob Johnson inquired about buying it, but the deal did not come to fruition. Since then, there’s been no interest.

Sewall’s Island, the former site of massive Black Clawson plant that was destroyed in a 1999 fire, will finally be ready to develop and use as a park next year after an environmental cleanup is completed in 2019.

About 40 acres vacant industrial land on Water Street. The eight parcels, in varying sizes, are assessed at $306,900.

With the compiled list, Councilman Walczyk is convinced more than ever the city should pursue a land bank. He’s been lobbying for a land bank since he was elected in 2015.

The primary purpose of a land bank is to return vacant, abandoned, under utilized and tax-delinquent properties. The city could market the properties, he said. The state offers funding to communities to establish them. Syracuse and Oswego operate successful land banks, he said.

While a land bank is something the city should explore, Councilman Cody J. Horbacz said the city should go back to adjacent property owners to see if they might be interested in buying those small parcels.

The council work session will be held at 6 p.m. in the third-floor council chambers in City Hall, 245 Washington St.


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