POTSDAM — With a request to the village and town to annex one more Maple Street property, Clarkson University is moving ahead with plans to clean up an “ugly” corner of the village, replacing derelict structures and a body shop with a robotic greenhouse and possibly a facilities building.
Clarkson’s Chief Financial Officer James D. Fish said Wednesday that the property located at 152 Maple St., previously the site of car repair shop JED’s Automobile, was purchased by the college in October. The property was formerly owned by James P. Engels, who also owns a junkyard in the town of Parishville.
The college also purchased 138, 140, and 158 Maple St. from Frederick J. “Hank” Robar Sr. last year, and proceeded to demolish the derelict buildings that stood on those parcels.
Mr. Fish said the college’s plan at present is to annex the four properties in the village to expand utility lines, which will eventually serve a robotically managed greenhouse for local startup company Agbotics, and potentially a facilities and services building. He said Clarkson will pay for infrastructure costs, while Agbotics will pay for the greenhouse construction.
Clarkson representatives told village planning board members at a meeting last year that the greenhouse will allow college faculty members to conduct research on plant management using sophisticated robotic technology.
While the facilities and services building is part of Clarkson’s master plan, the college currently has no funding for it, and therefore it’s not certain when that structure will be built, according to Mr. Fish.
“That really does not have a definitive timeline on it,” he said.
According to St. Lawrence County tax records, the four properties have a total assessed value of $259,600, and together would generate $4,236.67 in taxes at the current village rate of $16.32 per $1,000 of assessed property value.
Responding to criticism that the expansion of tax-exempt college property is hurting village property tax revenues, Mr. Fish said because the greenhouse will be a for-profit space, it will generate tax revenue for the village.
He explained that either Agbotics will pay taxes per square foot for its greenhouse or the college will collect the taxes from the company and submit them to the village, according to a lease that has not been drawn up yet. But because the lease and the square footage of the greenhouse have not yet been defined, it’s not clear how much will be generated in taxes.
“Agbotics is a for-profit company, and whenever we lease land or space to a for-profit company, we go to the village assessor to disclose the fact that we are leasing space,” he said. “No matter which way it’s done, the village gets their taxes.”
Mr. Fish, who described the properties as an “ugly” corner of the village, called the purchases and annexations a good move for the village and the college that would square off what was a “weird” boundary line.
“Frankly, we’ve wanted for a very long time to clean up the entrance to the village,” he said, adding that the college has long been looking for a site for the facilities and services building. “I’d like to think what we’re doing is really noble for the village and the region.”