Bexley residents debate tax abatement
Residents packed into the garden room of the Jeffrey Mansion May 26 to debate whether or not future owners of the Bexley Gateway condominiums should pay property taxes.
Of the 36 condos only five units have sold. The developer, Larry Ruben, asked the council to help him attract buyers with a 100-percent tax abatement for 15 years.
The condos, intended for empty nesters, currently receive a 50-percent tax abatement.
Many residents argued that the Gateway project is not the only local business facing difficult times and the city cannot help all of them.
“Without late estate taxes, the city would have been in a world of hurt (last year),” said resident Joyce Katz, a member of the Bexley budget task force.
Katz said the city could not afford to help Ruben without burdening the taxpayers.
“Your hands go into our pockets and we don’t have it either,” Katz said.
Residents also raised other concerns:
• If a 50-percent abatement failed to provide significant incentive, why would a 100-percent abatement fare any better?
• How would the condos generate income tax if their owners were retired or claimed Florida residency?
• Would the abatement be a marketing tool for the developer or a government bailout?
To Bexley resident and development expert Ted Schmidt, the future of the city depends on the health of Main Street businesses. Once the Gateway condos fill, those businesses would benefit from increased foot traffic.
“The corner of Main Street and Parkview is much better off (because of the Gateway Project),” Schmidt said. “We need to incentivize so that others continue the development of Main Street.”
Leonard Carlson, resident and lawyer for Ruben, agreed.
“Bexley is not going to annex Whitehall,” Carlson said. “Bexley is not going to annex Columbus. The only way to increase residency here is condos.”
Resident Keith Warren said if condo residents do not pay property taxes, the school district would be denied income. He opposes the proposed abatement because it “simply takes money from my kid.”
“A larger number of (residents moved here) for the schools rather than the vibrance of Main Street,” Warren said. “That’s why I am here. It doesn’t make sense to weaken the greatest asset.”
As a first grader at Montrose, his son would be in the district for 11 years. The district would not receive any money from the Gateway condos until several years after he graduated high school, Warren said.
The school district did not participate in the public meeting, although Council President Matt Lampke said he would contact the board president for his opinion.
Ron Shkolnik, a resident involved with the Gateway Project, said on the recommendation of Caldwell Banker, the prices on the condos have dropped as much as 24 percent.
The luxury units range in price from $300,000 to $500,000 with an average price per square foot of $300.
The average Bexley home is valued at $169 per square foot.
“This is not a retirement home. It is a luxury condo we live in,” said Sue Harmon, who shares one of the units with her husband.
When the Harmons downsized from their single-family home, the Gateway Project allowed them to stay in Bexley. They would like to see more Bexley seniors follow their lead.
“I really would like neighbors,” Harmon said. “I don’t want to see everybody move. My friends now line the streets of Gahanna. We will leave a far greater estate tax than what we will receive from an abatement.”
Connie Freundlich said she has resided in the city for 75 years and “can’t imagine that people who have lived in Bexley for a long time would be comfortable not supporting the schools and MRDD.”
Resident Diane Gosser, who is “well past 70 years of age,” said that while she served on the Bexley Aging Commission, a study found that “senior citizens would go to any lengths to stay in their homes.”
The condos target people outside Bexley because the current residents will stay in their houses until they require assisted living, Gosser said.
Councilman Mark Masser said he has “never before gotten as many e-mails as he has on this issue” and that he wanted to listen to everyone’s opinion before he made a decision.
Councilwoman Robyn Jones agreed.
“It’s tough,” Jones said. “I don’t know what to do. I changed my mind three times tonight.”
The council tabled the final vote to allow for further discussion. A special finance committee meeting will be held at 6 p.m. June 2 in the municipal building to explore possible alternatives.
Ruben, who attended the meeting but did not speak, will plead his case directly.
Resident Emily Turner, who has worked with developers for 17 years, suggested a tiered abatement schedule.
Under her proposal, for two years, the condos would receive the 100-percent abatement, which then would drop to 80 percent.
Turner proposed that the abatement would continue to drop by 20 percent every two years after that.
Resident Oded Shenkar suggested that the council place the issue on the ballot to let the voters decide.
“That would be the most democratic and fair process that I can think of,” Shenkar said.
Council member Rick Weber said he hoped the council would reach a final decision at the June 9 meeting.
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