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Distinguished Professor Makes the Case for 60 Clinton Street Exemption

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Yesterday, Robert Westbrook, Professor of History at the University of Rochester, sent the following letter to Sweden Town Supervisor Rob Carges, in support of the 421-m tax exemption for the historic property at 60 Clinton Street.

Dear Supervisor Carges:

I write to urge you and your fellow members of the Sweden Town Board to provide a tax abatement under the provisions of New York State Real Property Law 421-m for the rehabilitation of the property at 60 Clinton Street in the Village of Brockport.

I have closely followed the lively debate over this proposal, and I will not here repeat the strong arguments offered by its proponents. Suffice it to say I am convinced that they have made the case that the project, notwithstanding the abatement, will generate immediate and long-term tax revenue well above the current returns from the building that is, zero. They have also made a quite plausible argument for the catalytic effect that the project will have on the remaking of the Clinton Street area into one of which the Village and the Town can be proud. In Greg O'Connell, the Greater Brockport Development Corporation has found a developer of near-legendary stature, whose record as a remarkable communitarian businessman few, if any, have matched. The projects to his credit in Mt. Morris and elsewhere are clear evidence that he will remake 60 Clinton Street in a fashion that will make it a contribution to, rather than a detraction from, the aesthetic qualities that make us all proud to call Brockport home.

I wish opponents of this proposal had made their objections more evident than they have thus far. In the Town Board meeting of 11 February, only Board member Danielle Windus-Cook indicated the grounds of her opposition to the tax abatement, and her decidedly weak arguments have been effectively parried by the measure's proponents. She also indicated that the Town attorney, James Bell, has deemed the proposal "not in the best interest of the town," but without any specification of the grounds for this judgment, it cannot be effectively debated. In his questions at the School Board meeting of 3 December, Bell expressed skepticism about whether the 60 Clinton Street project met the requirements of the 421-m law, which is, of course, an important consideration. But there seem to be competing views on this legal matter, and, in any case, if the project does not meet the law's requirements, then it cannot and will not move forward under its auspices. Surely, there is something more to Bell's objections, and we deserve to know what it is.

In sum, what is most needed at this point in this debate is a clear and full statement from the opponents of this measure of the grounds for their opposition. Unless these arguments are different from and better than those offered by Windus-Cook, then I'm sure you would agree that no reasonable person could fail to back this project. And, if there are better and stronger arguments to be made, I trust you will give the proponents of the measure every opportunity to try to address them before arriving at a decision.

Few towns in this region have matched ours in its dedication to be at once mindful of its past and its future. The building on 60 Clinton Street is an important part of our past, and we have now a golden opportunity to carry it gracefully forward into our future rather than let it crumble into distant memory. Let's not blow it.

Yours sincerely,

Robert Westbrook
Town of Sweden

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