(First of two parts)
The executive director of the Lawrence County Economic Development Corporation said pre-existing problems with the development of the Millennium Park property were discovered after the land was purchased in the 2000s.
Part of the still undeveloped tract of over 300 acres in Neshannock Township is in a flood zone, there are wetlands, an area of archaeological significance, and lead contamination on the property. a former sports association because of clay pigeon shooting. There is no natural gas line to any section of the property and the site has limited accessibility to Interstate 376. These are all reasons the land’s marketing has failed, Linda Nitch told members. from the Lawrence County Appeal Board last week.
The company is asking a lower assessed value for over 300 acres of vacant land that is divided into two sections or phases of the never-developed industrial council, for review by the appeal committee. If granted, the amount of property taxes the corporation would pay to the Township, School District and County of Lawrence would be reduced from the current total amount of $ 21,275 to $ 4,893.
Part of the northern section, known as Phase II, is currently leased to Hilcorp Energy for a natural gas well platform and the company is receiving payments for it, Nitch said.
According to Chief County Assessor JR Hardester, the current assessed value of Phase 1, involving 73.38 acres, is $ 440,300 and its current fair market value is $ 636,271. The Economic Development Corporation is seeking to reduce the assessed value of this land to $ 15,000 and the fair market value to $ 21,600. The current annual taxes are $ 12,332 for the three tax agencies. If the reduction occurred, taxes would be reduced to a total of $ 420 per year for the three tax agencies.
The second and larger section, consisting of 245 acres in multiple parcels, has a lower total assessed value of $ 319,300, with a total market value of $ 461,416. The current annual taxes for the three taxing agencies on this section are $ 8,943. The agency is seeking to lower the appraisal to $ 159,700 and the fair market value to $ 230,750. If this were granted, taxes on this land would be $ 4,473, almost half the current rate.
Manolis requested that, if the change is granted, it be retroactive to January 1 of this year. This is the first year that the economic development agency would be responsible for paying property taxes.
The appeal board took no decision on the request after Wednesday’s lengthy hearing. Instead, the two members present agreed to review the information and render a decision in a separate meeting at 10:30 a.m. on October 25.
Board members Tom Dean, President and Member Cheryl Watters-Kelliher, chaired the hearing. Member Joseph Carofino was absent. According to Hardester, Carofino will not be allowed to vote on the Millennium Park decision because he did not hear the presentation.
Nitch was one of three people to provide information to the board of directors on the property on Wednesday during a public hearing in the commissioners’ meeting room. An engineer and an appraiser were also present to answer questions posed by the company’s lawyer, James W. Manolis.
Lawyers for the three tax agencies – Jason Medure representing the county, Louis M. Perotta representing the Township of Neshannock and Michael Bonner for the Township of Neshannock School District – also participated and asked questions about the reasons for the assessment reduction. requested.
Nitch told the appeal board that the company is looking to lower the valuation of its vacant land because the property is no longer exempt from tax. The Keystone Opportunity Expansion Zone designation, which allowed for tax-exempt status, expired in 2020 and Neshannock supervisors did not approve its renewal on time. Now the company, which claims to market the property, has to pay property taxes on it.
Manolis and Nitch had told the appeal board that access to the site was even more limited because Keystone Drive, a road leading to the proposed development, had not been tidy and maintained. Nitch said the company is negotiating with the township to try to improve and order the road.
This was contrary to information provided by Perrotta, who informed them at the hearing that township overseers ordered the road on June 16.
Typically, the meetings consist of board members, the county’s chief assessor, and the landowner who call for his appraisal and ultimately property taxes to be reduced.
The land for which the company is requesting the assessment reduction includes several properties on the two plots of land, which were purchased in anticipation of a semiconductor plant.
Nitch said the economic development company bought the property, dubbed Millennium Park, in the hope – but without guarantee – of luring the semiconductor factory through a company that ultimately chose to locate it outside of the Lawrence County.
Nitch said the agency has since made efforts to market the property by placing it on the Pittsburgh State and Regional Alliance websites, but those efforts have been unsuccessful.
Perrotta asked if the property had ever been marketed through a real estate agent, and Nitch said no.
Perrotta asked if the company had a mortgage on the property. Nitch said the mortgage is with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania for $ 3.7 million and is accruing interest of $ 72,000 per year. She said no payment was made on the property except for the $ 150,000 developer Angelo Medure paid for the land where the Steelite building is located.
This property, and the site of a specific building that the agency owns and rents to Steelite for office space, is not part of the call for appraisal.
Wednesday’s meeting included easel drawings and nearly three hours of discussions.
When homeowners or tax agencies are dissatisfied with the Valuation Appeal Board’s decision, they can appeal to the Lawrence County De novo Common Pleas Court, which means it starts over, with evidence presented again, and new evidence may be offered, he said.
(Next: A look at the history of Millennium Park)