By JOHN PURCELL
Recorder News Staff
TOWN OF FLORIDA — Tribes Hill Heritage Center representatives are planning to restart its application process for a required use variance to establish an educational facility after receiving an initial denial.
The Florida Zoning Board of Appeals held a public hearing Thursday on an application for a use variance to allow the proposed Tribes Hill Heritage Center to conduct commercial activities within an industrial zoned property. Zoning board members eventually opted to deny the application to allow the non-profit organization to restart the process and submit required information missing from its initial application. The application to the board was also well beyond the required 60-day deadline it had to be submitted after the zoning officer issued a denial.
Several residents spoke against the project during the public hearing, with concerns surrounding the removal of the 55-acre property from the tax rolls for a non-profit entity, whether sales tax revenue generated would offset the loss of property taxes, and if the site was really an ideal location for the proposed educational center.
Tribes Hill Heritage Center co-founder Marjorie Dancing Wind Heacock said the organization is chartered to serve as an educational facility and is meant to kickstart craft industries within the region, such as making leather goods, clothing and art.
“We here to try to keep this being a rural area that’s extremely important to us,” Heacock said.
The educational center has a goal to teach traditional Native American and settler era crafts, but there would also be building displaying handmade crafts, artwork, furniture and other merchandise. A shipping center would also be built to help meet demands of online sales.
Thayer Road resident Cecelia Samolis, a neighboring property owner to the proposed site, said she did not understand why the site was chosen when there are more suitable sites within the area, such as down the road in Rotterdam Junction.
“You’re going to be taking away farmland. You’re going to be saying to the farmer, ‘You don’t count. Your tax dollar, we don’t need it,’” Cecelia Samolis said. “Everybody else in the Town of Florida is going to have to make up for those tax dollars.”
Heacock said the land would be utilized to grow and harvest materials to be used on-site and the layout of the buildings was configured to keep the land as natural as possible.
“It is about growing things and it is about helping the rural community,” Heacock said.
Heacock also rebutted claims there would be no paid staff since the facility would be run by a non-profit organization. She said around 350 employees are estimated to be needed on the grounds from crafters to maintenance personnel and there would be paid employees.
Leon Gray, of Pattersonville Road, said he was also concerned about having the property owned by non-profit, because he did not believe there would be a great amount of sales taxes produced.
“I think maybe it’s a great idea, but not for here,” Gray said. “We have land that were are protecting for industrial development and potential tax paying entities. I personally don’t want to see the taxpayers being burdened to support a non-profit organization.”
Gloria Kaczmarek, a Thayer Road resident, said property taxes are “exorbitant” to date, so she was concerned about taking the property off the tax rolls.
Kaczmarek also works for Mohawk Valley Leasing, owned by her father and brother, which borders the property. She the business has been at the site for more than 40 years and it’s a “very noisy” operation occurring seven days a week.
“If it’s something that needs a quiet area or you’re looking for a relaxation area, we do border you on one side and it’s not a quiet business,” Kaczmarek said. “Trucks are slamming their gates to empty out what’s in them and overhead doors are going up and down.”
Michael Sampone, a realtor representing the landowner, said even if the property is not sold to development the Heritage Center, it may not remain as agricultural land. He said the land is zoned as an Industrial Business Park, which limits potential usage for the land.
“He wants to sell this property, so it may not be farmland in the long run anyway,” Sampone said.