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AGENCY PONDERS SALES POLICY FOR LOVE CANAL HOMES

The Love Canal Area Revitalization Agency is considering whether to sell homes to Canadians, to require occupancy and whether it should consider moving homes within the emergency declaration area.

The agency received recommendations on a proposed sales policy from its long-range planning committee June 13, but deferred a decision until its July 18 meeting after Mayor Michael C. O'Laughlin, chairman of the agency, said the policy needed more discussion.

On Aug. 15, the agency intends to start offering for sale some of the 250 houses it owns in the canal area.

The committee recommended, among other things, that the agency sell to Canadians on the same terms and conditions that it would sell to American purchasers, that interest in the same home by more than one buyer would be resolved through an open process, such as public bidding, and that all applicants would be treated equally.

The committee recommended that the agency investigate what mechanism it could use to require owner occupancy of the homes.

"It was felt we would have a much (better) ability to enforce occupancy requirements if we were providing some particular incentives, such as price reduction or favorable financing terms," according to the committee's recommendations.

Three- and five-year terms of occupancy were discussed, with a preference for the former. O'Laughlin said it was thought that a five-year minimum occupancy may be too binding and scare some prospective buyers away.

He said a three-year minimum would give owners time to settle into the neighborhood and discourage speculators. After the minimum occupancy requirement had been met, owners would be free to sell their homes, but future owners would also be required to live in the home for a minimum term.

"The idea is to establish a permanent neighborhood. Permanency is more assured by owner occupancy rather than by tenants -- people who are often very mobile," O'Laughlin said.

He said the occupancy requirement would be included in the deeds of the homes for a period to be determined -- possibly of 10 to 15 years -- to help the neighborhood get re-established. After that time period, the occupancy restrictions would be removed.

The committee considered whether preference should be given to certain groups of people, like single parents, agency staff or residents displaced from the chemically contaminated Forest Glen subdivision or from the site of the proposed factory outlet mega-mall.

The committee recommended further investigation on how sales to staff could occur because "while the agency stood to gain from having staff living in the EDA, our position as a government entity might preclude making any special concessions available to staff persons."

O'Laughlin said he didn't believe the agency could give its staff any preference "only because giving first choice to staff smacks of political favoritism, and I don't think we want to get into that. Staff would have to apply like anyone else."

He said all prospective purchasers should be treated equally, except remaining canal residents, who the agency has already decided should be given preference to purchase homes if they wish.

As a further incentive, the committee recommended that the agency give remaining residents in the non-habitable areas the option of moving their homes to the habitable areas.

O'Laughlin said he opposes moving homes from the non-habitable areas even if they are not contaminated. "I say no. Leave the houses there. Just move the people. To preserve the integrity of the program, I say we not bring in houses to the good area," he said.

The agency's plan calls for residential resettlement of the areas north of Colvin Boulevard and west of the containment area -- those areas that state Health Commissioner David Axelrod deemed habitable -- and light industrial and commercial uses for the areas south of Colvin Boulevard and east of the containment area -- where Axelrod said resettlement should not take place unless the area was cleaned up.

The agency is also looking at mortgage assistance programs and trying to get lending institutions involved in the renewal program. So far, only Norstar Bank has agreed to participate. The agency is hoping for participation from the Federal Housing Administration, which officials believe would encourage more banks to participate.

It is also considering applying for a certain amount of State of New York Mortgage Agency money to be set aside for Love Canal homes and setting up its own mortgage fund, although agency members haven't specified where they would get the money.

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