Low assessment of town industrial site raises questions
The owner of the Port of Coeymans has sunk millions of dollars into the Hudson River property, transforming the former brick factory into a bustling industrial site that includes recycling, construction-material storage and barge shipping.
But a review of public records and interviews with town officials raise questions about whether the town’s $2.2 million assessment for the 120-acre parcel adequately reflects the value of the site after renovations began five years ago by the port’s owner, Carver Laraway.
There are six businesses leasing space at site, according to the port’s website, in addition to Laraway’s Coeymans Recycling Center, which repurposes construction waste by grinding concrete and brick into sand and stone. When Coeymans Recycling Center had its state Department of Environmental Conservation permits approved in 2009, the Times Union reported that Laraway planned to spend up to $10 million on renovations, which have included dredging the river bottom and building a dock suitable for barges. He’s also rehabilitated a barn used as the port’s offices and uses a 93,000-square-foot warehouse.
Given the port’s unique features, finding a comparable site is tricky. Just north of the port, the city of Albany owns 201 vacant acres off Route 144 on which the city once hoped to build a landfill. The empty city-owned site is assessed at $2 million.
Laraway, who owns Carver Construction in Altamont, has become a major business figure in Coeymans. He leases property on Riverview Drive on which TCI of New York is building a plant that disassembles electrical equipment for recycling. Laraway also owns 85 acres of former quarry property off Gedney Hill Road that’s assessed for a total of $136,100.
Richard Hendrick, the Port of Albany’s general manager, said he’s discussed business opportunities with Laraway and is familiar with the work that’s been done at the Coeymans port. Hendrick said the Port of Albany is currently investing $8 million in a new dock on the city of Rensselaer side that is 600 feet long, and presumes Laraway has spent the same amount of money on a similar-size dock. The land in the Port of Albany is exempt from taxes because it is run under a state public authority.
“He’s getting a bargain there,” Hendrick said when told about the Port of Coeymans’ $2.2 million assessment.
But Laraway’s attorney, Donald Zee, said much of the site is made up of temporary structures, like cranes that load and unload cargo from ships and other equipment that isn’t part of the property’s value. Laraway and a former real estate partner, Elias Weis, who died, bought the former Powell and Minnock brickyard properties for $1.1 million in 2001, Zee said. Zee acknowledged Laraway has said he has spent millions on the property, but did not specify how much.
“How many buyers do you think there are for ports? That’s how you establish value,” Zee said. “Most of the value would be in the equipment.”
Coeymans assessor Laura Van Valkenburg, who works part time for the town and has a full-time job as Greene County’s director of real property tax services, acknowledged that she’s had to answer questions about the port’s assessment. Van Valkenburg said she’s aware that millions have been invested in the property but said part of her job is deciding what kind of assessment is agreeable to the owner.
“I don’t want to assess them so that they can’t make a living there. But on the other hand, we have to balance it,” Van Valkenburg said. “You get people who say it should be much higher. … I know past Town Board members who weren’t happy with the assessment. But I can’t arbitrarily say I’m going to raise it ‘x’ amount. The owners might come back and say: ‘We’re going to take you to court.'” She said Laraway has never made such a threat.
She said she meets with Laraway every spring before she creates the tentative assessment roll to discuss any changes he’s made to the property.
Councilman Tom Dolan, the lone Democrat on the Republican-controlled Town Board, said four years ago the board discussed hiring an outside expert to assess the port’s value, but those discussions have since stopped.
“I think that the town should hire someone who is knowledgeable on the value of a port and see if the assessment is correct,” Dolan said.
Laverne Conrad, who heads the town’s building department, said Laraway tore down blighted buildings when he took over the port, removed asbestos from the site and replaced the metal siding and roofs on the structures that remain standing (with the help of local residential roofing company). He said Laraway probably controls about $3 million worth of property in the town, including the land he leases.
“As a port it’s probably worth a lot of money. But it’s value to the town of Coeymans? I don’t know what it’s worth,” he said.
The town’s largest property owner, Lafarge, which owns a cement plant, also owns more than 3,200 acres straddling state Route 9W that was assessed at $99.2 million last year. For about five years, Lafarge has agreed not to sue the town for a lower assessment, Van Valkenburg said.
Published 11:19 pm, Sunday, February 23, 2014