The North Hudson Town Board voted unanimously on Thursday, July 10 to allow residents to vote on if they should obtain the disputed Frontier Town property.
NORTH HUDSON — Ghosts haunt this town from each cardinal point. Route 9, to the north, is flanked with the corpses of roadside motels decaying in overgrown lots.
Some are still outfitted with furnished rooms, with retrograde televisions ready to be flicked on and stacks of pillows waiting to be fluffed.
From the southwest, wooden structures quietly moulder into the pines before disappearing and giving way to the tony homes circling Schroon Lake and the warm glow of commerce.
And from Exit 29 on the Northway, the A-Frame that once anchored Frontier Town, a formerly popular wild west theme park, is slowly being reclaimed by nature. Broken glass rings the entrance, boards rattle in the wind. Vines reach upward, a cathedral of gloom.
There is no indication that the structure has been given more than errant glance this year, far after the snow melted and cast the blight into sharp, even biting, relief.
THE STORY SO FAR
George Moore, a Keeseville-based businessman, owns the A-Frame, a building that is in such bad shape, the county has reassessed it as a vacant lot worth $275,000.
According to documents provided by his office, Moore has paid over $100,000 in taxes since acquiring the property in 2004. The repair bill has clocked in at $18,206, not including an additional $6,000 allotted to roof repairs.
Moore bid on much of the surrounding land at a county tax sale on April 30 designed to unload some 150 properties that would ideally be placed back on the tax rolls.
Essex County lawmakers rejected his bid on the grounds that it did not meet the minimum reserve owed on the property.
After county lawmakers approved the deal, North Hudson then voted unanimously to purchase the parcels for $60,000 and give one-third of the sale proceeds to the county if they sold it within the next five years.
In the meantime, said North Hudson Supervisor Ron Moore, the town would work with the county’s Industrial Development Agency (IDA) to develop the property and attract commercial development.
George Moore bumped his offer up to $65,000, claimed neither he or his attorney was aware of a minimum reserve and filed an Article 78 lawsuit against the town and county.
While the case is scheduled to be heard on August 8, it’s widely expected to be delayed until September, according to county and town officials.
Other players have emerged with varying motives in tangled alignments and the case has generated an air of palace intrigue.
Some local residents are vocal in seeking an economic resurgence. Others are less straight-forward, opting to side with the businessman who remains opaque in his plans for the property. Some prefer to say nothing and instead wait in the wings for a solution, while others speak freely but request anonymity.
At a meeting on Thursday, July 10, North Hudson’s town board officially rejected Moore’s latest counter-offer regarding easements and went into an executive session.
They emerged 40 minutes later with a possible solution.
TO THE POLLS
Moore said that both the board and county attorney had reviewed the call by a group of residents led by Sindy Brazee, an outspoken North Hudson resident who is currently engaged in litigation with municipal authorities, for a permissive referendum.
In a measured and methodological explanation, the supervisor said a permissive referendum is invalid, namely due to the expired statute of limitations.
“The crux is if it’s even subject to permissive referendum at all,” he said. “We’ve purchased land before and it wasn’t.”
Moore said the law regarding permissive referendums was vague.
“It comes down to two things,” he said. “‘How to pay? What’s the intended use of the property?’”
“We’re going to pay with fund balance, that is permissible,” he said. “The use of it is what I find vague. We’ve said time and time again we’d work with the IDA to bring business into town. We also said we would develop some for recreational use.”
Moore said he scoured town law trying to find an answer. One option, he said, would be to circulate a new referendum.
The other is Town Law 94, a referendum on acts of the town board that does not require the circulation of petitions.
The supervisor said that with 43 signatures, Brazee’s petition should go to referendum.
Board member Laureen DeZalia agreed and the board voted unanimously to include the measure on a ballot.
In doing so, the public would then decide if the town should purchase the property using funds from general balance.
Moore said he planned on working with the Essex County Board of Elections to ensure the measure appears on the general election ballot on November 4.
The North Hudson leader said he didn’t see the development as being favorable to one side or the other, but rather an indication that residents wanted a say in their own future.
Tiffany Nolan said she was worried about costs.
“You guys said last month it would take 20-some-odd years to get some profits on it,” she told the town board. Citing an unspecified study, she said it would cost at least $300,000 to revamp the property.
“It will take long after I’m gone to get returns. Has anyone ever thought about that? It’s going take 50-plus years to get an equal return.”
“I think about it every day,” said Moore. “It depends on if we get a business. If this snowmobile thing goes through, the gas station will keep things going for us. Does that factor in at all?”
“We’re gonna need to draw people in, need a restaurant,” said Nolan.
Moore likened the situation to a chicken-or-egg scenario.
“We’ve tried to attract business for years and now we have an opportunity,” he said. “If enough people come, it might trigger something.”
“The risk is coming back on me, my generation,” said Nolan.
“It’s coming back on us with taxes,” shot back town clerk Sarah Vinskus. “You’re losing money every day this is closed, honey.”
Vinskus cited past efforts at attracting business that have failed.
“You gotta think ahead and try ahead.”
Board member Marshall Gero said there’s no question it would cost the town money to rehabilitate the property.
“It’s just something that just needs to be done,” he said. “But I think your figure is high.”
“I respect your opinion, but I disagree with it,” added Moore. “Hopefully we can agree to disagree.”
Moore said the board was exploring the possible costs of demolition and asbestos removal if they were to procure the former restaurant on Frontier Town Road, which is part of the parcel.
Resident Will Plumstead, citing buried oil tanks, asked about possible demolition and clean-up costs.
“The county still owns it,” said Moore.
“Then make them pay for it,” said Plumstead.
Dan Snyder cited studies of traffic on the Northway.
“We’re right on that highway,” he said. “There’s no shortage of people to bring in here. I think that if that was presented to a number of businesses, it’s a very attractive place. Has anything been done to get those numbers and try to recruit through that?”
Moore cited ongoing work with the IDA.
“The thing is, unfortunately, the people who own them, they want such an exorbitant amount, they’re letting them fall apart, they’re not going to attract business,” he said. “At a later time, we’ll have to talk to code enforcement. Maybe they’re restorable.”