MOREAU — Just two months after buying the Landmark Motor Inn, new owner Shawn Asghar is suffering from sticker shock at the proposed Route 9 sewer district.
He was one of 11 property owners who told the Town Board on Wednesday night that they do not support the proposed sewer.
The board held the final public hearing on the project but took no action.
A vote is expected at either the May 22 or June 12 board meeting. Both meetings are scheduled for 7 p.m. at Town Hall.
Asghar did not speak himself at the meeting — former owner John Naja spoke for him. But Asghar, contacted later, made the same point: The $17,251 he would have to pay each year for sewer is far too much.
He would only have to raise room rates by $1 to $2 per night to cover the bill, but he said he’s already worried about competition with new hotels in Queensbury and surrounding areas.
“It’s a tough market. There’s no way I can raise rates,” he said.
On the other hand, sewer would offer him a great benefit. He would be allowed to open a restaurant, which state agencies won’t allow on his septic system. He has a deed restriction on one lot, which he would have to get dropped, but he would pursue that if a restaurant was allowed.
“I would like to do that, maybe sell that (lot) to someone to do a restaurant. That would be helpful,” he said.
The lot has a deed restriction because it was sold to the Landmark by the owner of Howard Johnson’s, which operated a restaurant nearby at the corner of Route 9 and Route 197 at the time.
So while he does not want to pay for sewer, he said he does see some benefits if the price were affordable.
His property was cited several times at Wednesday’s public hearing as an example of why the project was too expensive.
“I just sold my motel to a man who is investing in our town. Now he’s about to be slapped with an almost $20,000 penalty for investing in the town,” said former owner John Naja.
Mayor Harry Gutheil cited the Landmark as well, saying the sewer fee for the motel was “outrageous.”
“I would gladly support an affordable sewer project,” Gutheil said. “This cost is beyond belief.”
Of the 11 property owners who spoke against the project, most had spoken at previous meetings as well. All of them cited the cost, and some objected to the comments from proponents, who said they would be able to sell their property at a much higher price because of the sewer.
Eileen Jensen-Burnham, who owns a small manufacturing facility with 14 employees, said selling is unfeasible.
“It would be astronomical to move my equipment anywhere else,” she said.
But her business doesn’t make enough money to cover the $2,772 sewer fee, she added.
Others spoke in favor, saying that they had been contacted by developers who were eager to transform vacant property.
If the district gets $80 million in development, the price of the sewer would drops in half. That could happen easily, said Sam Wahnon, who owns almost 100 acres of vacant land on Route 9.
“People don’t realize there’s hundreds of acres of undeveloped property that the town is receiving menial taxes on that are just going to waste,” he said. “It’s just sitting there growing trees.”
If the land is developed, he said, taxes would go down.
Likewise, a spokesman for vacant land owner Gerald Abrams said he is already being offered twice as much money for his land as he was offered before sewer was proposed. Abrams predicted development will come fast and will bring jobs with it.
Another vacant land owner, Alan Oppenheim, said sellers will profit.
“The additional cost may be intimidating for folks. But people who sell even the day after it passes will receive significant and immediate benefits. It will create opportunities for everybody,” he said.
But not everyone wants to sell. Those who live in the district could be hardest hit and might be forced to move out.
Cheryl Cross, who owns the Pines Mobile Home Park, would have to pay $13,500.
“We have a small park and our tenants are senior citizens. They’re on a limited income,” she said. “I don’t see how our tenants can pay without a severe hardship on them.”
Even former Supervisor Preston Jenkins Jr., who strongly supported sewer line expansion when he was in office, said he could not support the proposed plan.
“I really hate to say I am against this, but I feel the affordability is not there,” he said.
Supervisor Todd Kusnierz said that, in his informal survey of owners, the majority seemed to be in favor. He noted that only 11 owners, out of 99, registered their unhappiness at the public hearing.
That could indicate that the project would be approved if it goes to a public vote.
But Kusnierz said the board could also choose to create the district and not move forward with construction. They could do that if they felt “the funding opportunities are not adequate,” he said.
If the district is approved at one of the upcoming meetings, property owners would have 30 days to pass a petition requesting a public vote. The referendum would decide the outcome in that case.
If approved, the project would likely be designed in 2019, with construction in 2020 and 2021. No one would be billed until the construction is complete.