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Syracuse council gives some clarity to tax exemption law, some say, is being exploited

Tom Magnarelli
WRVO Public Media
Syracuse Common Council.

The Syracuse Common Council passed legislation meant to clarify a tax exemption for projects that convert non-residential property into mixed use. Councilors admit, that exemption has done some good developing vacant or under-used properties. But some councilors said a change to the law is needed, because some developers are taking advantage of it. 

Some newer, luxury student apartment complexes near Syracuse University are getting the exemption, worth millions of dollars, even though, some councilors say, the projects did not really convert a building or have any real commercial use. Councilor-at-Large Tim Rudd said the council passed an amendment that gives the city assessor the discretion to rescind the exemption on new projects, if they fail to meet the intent of the state law known as Section 485-a.

“It gives explicit power to the director of assessment to say no, this building doesn’t fit this, because there has been discrepancy on whether he can do that,” Rudd said.

The council originally also wanted to set specific requirements for the exemption, like having at least 15 percent of a building dedicated to commercial use. But the law department said the council could not set a threshold. Instead, the council passed a resolution calling on the state to develop stricter guidelines.

“We recognize there still isn’t clarity in the law,” Rudd said. “We’re asking the state to add clarity and we make a suggested requirement for that.”

The council suggests a building have at least 15 percent commercial space and 15 percent residential space, on its original footprint, to be considered for the exemption.

Tom Magnarelli is a reporter covering the central New York and Syracuse area. He joined WRVO as a freelance reporter in 2012 while a student at Syracuse University and was hired full time in 2015. He has reported extensively on politics, education, arts and culture and other issues around central New York.