Eminent domain had much of the public attention leading up to tonight's Auburn Industrial Development Authority vote on the downtown hotel project. Eminent domain inspired the signs, drove the rally and brought the people to city hall for rowdy public hearings. But it looks like the PILOT agreement (short for payment in lieu of taxes) might have been the driving force behind the AIDA board rejecting the hotel proposal tonight.
If you read tomorrow's paper, you'll see the board unanimously voted against eminent domain. But that vote came after a much closer 5-4 vote rejecting the tax incentives, which include a PILOT that would set the property's assessment for 25 years and allow the hotel owners to pay minimal taxes without assessment increases. The board went behind closed doors for two hours, and it looked like they were coming up with counter offers to the developer's request. Every so often, someone from AIDA would come out and talk with the developers at the meeting, then head back behind closed doors. Ultimately, it seems like whatever AIDA offered back wasn't good enough for the developers, Syracuse-based Pioneer Cos.
So while the 9-0 eminent domain vote drew cheers from those in the council chamber, what would the vote have been if the board approved the PILOT? William Graney, an AIDA board member and an Auburn city councilor, said he thinks it would have been the same. "I believe the majority ... wouldn't have voted for the eminent domain from the beginning," Graney said after the meeting.
On another note, I informed the board as they went into executive session that they have no legal right to close the doors on a meeting to discuss eminent domain after the board used "land acquisition" as the reason for taking the talk to executive session. As Robert Freeman of the Committee on Open Government has told me on multiple occasions, land acquisition is only a legit reason for a closed session if open discussion would substantially affect the value of the property.
That's just not true for eminent domain, because there are no negotiations in the eminent domain process. Someone just decides how much the land is worth, and the city pays the landowner that amount. To add to that, AIDA technically isn't even involved in the negotiations for the land. They're between Pioneer and the property owners. But as I mentioned before, it looked like they were actually discussing about the PILOT terms. Ironically, Freeman told me earlier this month that can be legal (depending on what's being discussed).