Supervisor's Corner: The Facts on Webster Furniture Strippers - 600 Ridge Road
By Webster Town Supervisor Tom Flaherty
As a resident of Webster for the past 23 years, I had been surprised to see how the corner of Gravel and Ridge had not been developed, and frankly has eroded over the years. When I was campaigning in 2019 for Town Supervisor, several citizens voiced to me their concerns about this corner. I also read in the 2008 Town Comprehensive Plan that there were big plans for the development of this corner.
So why has that corner fallen into disrepair over the past 15-20 years? When I entered office in January 2020, it was one of the first issues I sought to tackle. From my research, the answer lies in the strange story of 600 Ridge Road, which previously housed the business Webster Furniture Strippers. I say it is a “strange story” because it’s something that could not and would not happen at our homes or in private business. It is a story that shows how the government can at times not be smart on getting resolutions on issues.
600 Ridge Road’s owners ceased paying their town, county, and school real estate taxes about 15 years ago. The law requires the County of Monroe to reimburse the Town of Webster and the Webster School District for those unpaid taxes. After three years of not paying taxes, the building goes to a Monroe County tax foreclosure auction. At that auction, the County is asking for a “minimum bid” of the unpaid taxes. If no third party makes that minimum bid, the County takes title/ownership to the property and can market it for sale in any way they deem proper and at any price.
Here’s where the story gets “strange.” Within this process, the County does a basic review of the property before they take title to see if there are any potential environmental issues. That “basic review” is foundational in looking at what the most recent use of the building was. The County saw that the building was used for furniture stripping with various chemicals used and determined they did NOT want to take title to it. In such, the property stays in the ownership/title of the current owner who has essentially abandoned the property by demonstrating they have not paid the taxes on it the past three years. Then, for the next 10-12 years, the town, county, and school district send tax bills to the owner, and the owner continues to NOT pay them, and the County reimburses the town and school for their unpaid taxes.
Simply said... the situation will go on like this into perpetuity or until the building falls down and someone or some municipality is forced to do something to get to “final resolution.” This goes into the category of “you can’t make this stuff up!”
So how does this situation get remedied and NOT have the can kicked down the road for 10+ more years? I have been working with the Webster Town Attorney, the DEC, and the real estate division at Monroe County to resolve this. The first part of the plan is to get the DEC reports on the building in the last 30 years, and if they show that the environmental issues at the site are “minimal or non-existent,” the County may take title to the property and market it for sale. At that point, a developer most likely would want to buy it if they saw the cost to take down the building was NOT going to have hundreds of thousands of dollars of environmental remediation. If the DEC reports are not definitive enough to have Monroe County take title, we will move on to plan B, which most likely entails a phase 1 or 2 environmental study of the property to determine the true environmental risk and what needs remediation.
Bottom line... I am not comfortable just throwing my hands up and saying “oh well... nothing we can do. It’s Monroe County’s decision.” Fact is, the property is IN Webster. It is an eyesore at best, and a safety risk at worst. It also is impeding the development of that corner and all neighborhoods that spawn off of it. I am emboldened in the effort to get this situation resolved. Stay tuned for more details on this as they arise.
As always, if you want to reach me, please call (585) 872-7068 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.