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A portion of the overdue property taxes on the former Enchanted Lake Development in Napoli will soon be returned to Cattaraugus County's coffers if a group of landowners completes a deal to buy some of the land.

The Napoli Development Corp., a newly formed for-profit entity consisting of 14 homeowners in the Enchanted Lake subdivision, is expected to pay between $34,000 and $36,000 for 540 building lots and 35 acres of common land.

An announcement about the deal was made Sunday by the Cattaraugus Local Development Corp., a not-for-profit organization that in November received the 1,100-acre property as a gift from James A. Zaepfel of Williamsville.

That transfer was criticized by the Seneca Nation of Indians, which had hoped to acquire the land, and from some members of the Cattaraugus County Legislature who feared the tax bill would never be paid and the land never returned to the tax rolls.

"Basically what we did was to sell it to them (Napoli Development Corp.) for back taxes," said Rick LeFeber, executive director of the Cattaraugus Local Development Corporation.

He said he signed papers last Friday afternoon transferring the parcels to Napoli Development.

The corporation is supposed to work with about 100 other landowners who might want to increase their holdings and build homes, he added.

"It's a quitclaim deed. I've conveyed it to (Napoli Development), and if they pay the back taxes, it's theirs," LeFeber said.

Hugh Duckwall, president of Napoli Development and an Enchanted Lake resident, said Sunday that some of the details have yet to be worked out before he signs papers this week. The corporation treasurer, Tammy L. Buchhardt, could not be reached to comment.

County Legislators Howard D. Zollinger of Randolph and Patrick J. McCrea of Franklinville said Sunday they had not heard about the plan but like the sound of the arrangement if it helps pay the taxes.

Duckwall said Enchanted Lake began as a "grand idea" but lacks many of the amenities other communities have, although it could still be a nice place to live.

He said each landowner had to contribute to a central sewer system, but the lines were never hooked up.

Those who have proceeded to build homes received county approval for septic systems, but the subdivision standard requires ownership of at least five acres to do so.

Some landowners have been able to pick up extra parcels over the years and are now ready to build, he said, but this exchange will help.

"This is the best resolution in the 20 years that we've been here. We'll be able to plan solidly for our future," Duckwall said.

The county's tax liens are attached to the parcels' deeds, he added.

LeFeber said Enchanted Lake's taxes went unpaid for about two years and the arrangement will enable Cattaraugus Local Development Corp. to pay off about $1,300 in taxes on a larger 245-acre common area. He said the smaller lots have accumulated about $50 to $100 each in back taxes.

"We have a $10,000 legal bill (to set up the transfer), but it will save that community," LeFeber said, adding Enchanted Lake represents about 40 percent of Napoli's tax base.

He said his group next month will consider hiring Rick White of the Pfeiffer Nature Preserve to conduct a biological survey of the development's 500-acre wetlands at a cost of about $4,200.

Under the original development plan in the 1970s, Cold Springs Creek was to be dammed, flooding the wetlands to create a 350-acre lake flanked with homes.

Armed with the results of the biological survey, the local development corporation intends to apply for a conservation easement under the U.S. Department of Agriculture Wetlands Reserve Program to use the remaining portion, up to 400 acres, for recreational, residential or commercial development, LeFeber said.

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