By JAIME STUDD
Recorder News Staff
BROADALBIN -- Out of the ashes of the last week's fire at the former Mohawk Mill, questions are rising about the fate of the abandoned and deteriorating buildings on the property and the risks it could pose to the safety of village residents.
According to Fulton County Treasurer Terry Blodgett, the county had initiated foreclosure proceedings against Texas Torah Institute, a Dallas area based Yeshiva high school, which remains listed as the legal owner of the property.
In April, the Fulton County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution officially abandoning that endeavor.
"We stopped our foreclosure, and it's still privately owned," Blodgett said. "During the foreclosure process, we have a period of time that we're able to look at the property and see if it poses any environmental hazards or may be environmentally unsafe, and during that period, we looked at it and said we're going to pull the foreclosure because we don't want to give the county any more exposure to any more costs.
"We can't be positive, but we think there may be hazardous material in there because of the chemicals that were worked (with) in there for years. There may be hazardous material in there or in the ground," he added.
Blodgett said the county simply determined the costs associated with cleaning up, and potentially razing, the buildings would have likely exceeded the more than $70,000 owed in delinquent taxes.
"It's for the taxpayers. If something should happen, we take this property and there's $2 million dollars worth of clean up, the taxpayers are on the hook for this," Blodgett said. "So, we're just trying to reduce our liability on it. That's what we're trying to do.
"We moved this property from a rural section one, which is a taxable property, to a non-taxable property because they're not paying their taxes, and if they're not paying their taxes, guess who pays? You, me and everybody else," Blodgett added.
The property was nearly given a second chance at life in 2008, when Long Island-based real estate developer Uri Kaufman submitted plans to turn the buildings into luxury apartments.
Those plans were later abandoned following the collapse of a roof due to heavy snow in 2009 and the denial of the village's application for a grant from the Restore New York Community Initiative that Kaufman had been counting on to partially fund the project.
Kaufman's brother, Eli Kaufman, is listed as a director at the Texas Torah Institute. Uri Kaufman had an option agreement to purchase the property.
The mill was subsequently listed for sale with Prudential Blake-Atlantic Realtors for $75,000.
That listing is now expired, contact between local officials and Institute administration is virtually non-existent, and the buildings remain dormant and deteriorating.
Absent any moves on the part of the local or state officials to take possession of the property, Blodgett said it will likely remain in its present state.
"It's a difficult situation," Blodgett said. "Now, you have building, which is probably a danger to the village and to the kids around there and everybody else. Now, what do you do with it?"
Broadalbin Village Mayor Eugene Christopher said the condition of the property has concerned him for several years, but he too is at a loss as to what can be done as long as the Texas Torah Institute remains the legal owner.
"We tried fencing it all off," Christopher said. "They just keep tearing it down.
"There are no other options," he added.
Christopher said village police routinely patrol the site in an attempt to keep area youth out of the buildings. He said he has been given permission by the institute to have trespassers arrested.
"The police go through there all the time," Christopher said. "I have permission to have people arrested, but we have to catch them first."
Christopher urged neighbors of the property to keep their eyes and ears open and to call the police immediately if they witnesses individuals attempting to enter the buildings.
One Mill Street neighbor, who declined to be identified, said she sees local youth in and around the property on nearly a daily basis.
"It's a big concern," said the neighbor. "I'm actually really concerned that the police aren't doing anything.
"These kids are hanging around there all the time," she added. "I see them every day and it's the same kids."
Though she's lived in her home for six years, the Mill Street resident said illegal activity at the site began to increase significantly approximately a year and a half ago.
"I see them sneaking in," she said. "Nobody does anything."
With two small children, the neighbor said she is extremely concerned about the risks to public safety the property poses.
"I'm not necessarily concerned about the risk of fire," she said. "I'm more fearful with the kids."
"We've seen so many people coming in and out of there with hard hats and blue prints and I get hopeful every time," she added. "I'm always hoping they do something nice with it -- something for the town or something family friendly. I don't think you just leave it empty."