BELVIDERE — An online petition and in-person rally are planned to seek a halt to eminent domain proceedings for a $500 million cheese plant in Allegany County.

Property owners Charles and Elizabeth Bares of Ellicottville plan to hold a rally at 9 a.m. Thursday at the Allegany County Courthouse in Belmont in order to ask the county Industrial Development Agency to not condemn more than 200 acres of property used to grow corn in Belvidere for a new Great Lakes Cheese manufacturing plant.

In addition to the rally, a Change.org online petition was started by Elizabeth Bares two weeks ago trying to gain support for the farm — part of the holdings that include Mallards Dairy. Around 2,700 signatures had been collected by Monday afternoon, but it was not clear what percentage were Allegany County residents, as posters to social media websites Facebook and Reddit had pushed the petition to social media groups for the region and beyond.

The fields, approximately 20 miles from the farm’s headquarters in Cattaraugus County, grow about 3,000 tons of corn a year for the farm, according to the Change.org petition. Mallards Dairy has more than 3,000 dairy cows.

IDA officials have defended the project, noting it would secure the 225 jobs currently at the Cuba facility and promising 200 additional permanent jobs immediately, as well as five years of construction jobs.

Officials have also said the company chose the site despite a six-month effort to find a location in Cuba, which came up empty due to utility, transportation and land requirements ruling out sites in the community that has hosted industrial cheese production for almost 150 years.

The IDA began the formal process in March by issuing a resolution of determination and findings condemning the farmland in the towns of Angelica and Amity for the new Great Lakes facility.

Under the proposal, the IDA will waive property taxes for 15 years — an increase from the 10-year deals the IDA typically offers developers — as well as sales and mortgage taxes for the construction. After that period ends, the plant will be taxed at full assessed value. If the final project were to be assessed at the $500 million mark, it would generate roughly $24 million a year in property taxes. Officials report the firm could potentially see up to $360 million in tax abatements.

The amount to be paid appears to be a major point of contention in the negotiations before eminent domain began moving forward.

While IDA and farm officials did not disclose the amount of the offer, IDA leaders indicated it was roughly eight times what the property was valued at by an independent appraisal. The properties are assessed at $189,500, according to county records. That figure cannot be used to generate a price for the eminent domain proceedings, instead the value used to determine taxes.

Under New York law, governments and agencies like IDAs may condemn properties for various reasons, including private development if the property “may be required for a public use, benefit or purpose.”

A 2005 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the case of Kelo v. New Haven ruled that a government’s taking of private property for private development qualified as “public use” within the meaning of the takings clause of the U.S. Constitution. However, the court left open the right of states to limit such seizures of property — setting off a flurry of legislation nationwide as dozens of states passed new laws restricting eminent domain takings.

Despite several bills being proposed, no new laws were created in New York at that time.

(Contact City Editor Bob Clark at bclark@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)

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