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County IDA OKs breaks for housing in Elma; Seniors complex overcomes questions

An Elma senior citizens housing project won $414,000 in tax breaks Monday through the Erie County Industrial Development Agency, but not before board members questioned whether market-rate housing projects should qualify for incentives.

The 48-unit Sylvia's Place senior apartment complex on Bowen Road received the tax breaks following an 11-2 vote. The wide margin of approval did not reflect the broad-based concern among board members about the appropriateness of providing incentives to market-rate housing.

However, because it is a senior citizens housing project, the $3 million development qualified for tax breaks under the existing countywide eligibility policy followed by all of the IDAs in Erie County.

While the IDA has approved tax breaks in the past for senior housing projects that are targeted at low-income residents -- a segment of the local housing market that IDA officials believe is underserved -- the Sylvia's Place development would charge residents market rates.

Amherst Supervisor Barry Weinstein questioned whether a market-rate housing project merits taxpayer incentives, even if it is for senior citizens. The IDA policy generally does not permit aid to market-rate housing projects.

"It's been an issue in the policy committee," said Andrew J. Rudnick, the Buffalo Niagara Partnership president and IDA board member who heads the agency's policy committee. "It's always been on the cusp as to whether we should be or shouldn't be" providing tax breaks to market-rate senior citizens housing projects.

The IDA eligibility policy permits tax breaks for senior housing, as well as nursing homes and assisted-living centers, if the developer can show that there is a need for that type of project within a certain market.

The Sylvia's Place developer, an entity controlled by Young Development Corp., provided a market study showing that existing senior housing projects are almost completely full and many have waiting lists. The study, by Carr Marketing Communications, also found that the population age 55 and up within a five-mile radius of the project site at 2460 Bowen Road has been growing at a double-digit rate over the last eight years.

In the end, the board voted to grant the tax breaks because it fell within policy guidelines. Board members Michael Hoffert and Weinstein voted no.

"This project is consistent with our policy, so I think we're morally bound to approve it," said IDA Chairman Philip C. Ackerman, who also questioned whether market-rate senior housing should merit tax breaks.