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Opponents of a proposed Presbyterian Homes retirement community for the Town of Aurora asked Thursday evening why the developer should receive tax exemptions if it won't be serving the poor.

Arthur J. Giacalone, attorney for the owner of the Aurora Park Health Care Center, spoke with 40 residents about what can be done to challenge the proposal to build the Braecroft Retirement Community on 70 acres of vacant farmland between Mill and Center roads.

"They are targeting healthy people, 62 or older, with minimal incomes of $30,000," Giacalone said during the meeting in the Aurora Park Health Care Center on Main Street. "And they must pay a substantial up-front fee of $90,000 to $150,000 to get in.

"So we're not talking about a poor population here. Presbyterian Homes claims they should be exempt from property taxes because they will be performing a 'charitable function' here. But on their first application, they said candidly that they'd be generating a surplus -- so they could use it for charitable activities elsewhere."

Giacalone added that Braecroft would gain a "leg up" on tax-paying competitors by paying no taxes the first five years and then paying 50 percent a year, with increases of 1 percent a year for the next 50 years.

"This is our home office, in East Aurora," said Joseph Hugar, senior vice president of Park Associates, which runs the Aurora Park Health Care Center. "We have 170 employees and we oversee nursing homes in four states. We don't have a leg to stand from a competitive standpoint. You, who live here, do."

Hugar and Giacalone urged residents of Center, Mill and Sweet roads -- and others who oppose removing the property from the tax rolls -- to make their voices heard with town officials at this early stage.

"If they can do whatever they want on agricultural land," Hugar said, "what's to stop fast-food restaurants from springing up on land zoned agricultural?"

Giacalone said the Town of Aurora has site-plan review process for major projects such as this.

Presbyterian Homes of Western New York asked the Town Board last August to rezone the 70 acres for the development, which would include independent living apartments, assisted-living apartments, free-standing duplex cottages, adult day-care, a nursing facility and corporate offices.

Presbyterian Homes indicated it would pay the full cost of sewer-line improvements -- estimated at $500,000 -- to tap into the Village of East Aurora municipal sewer system.

The first phase would include a central commons building with 133 units, including 25 assisted-living units. Twenty cottage units would stand southwest of the main building, and a nursing home with 30 to 40 beds would be built later to the southeast.

Presbyterian Homes recently paid $140,000 to Celia Gallup for her property at 815 Center St., which would provide access to the 70 acres purchased earlier. Another entry point would be created at Mill Road for the farmland, which is set back from both Mill and Center roads.

No one from Presbyterian Homes attended the informal meeting.

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