North Elba eyes foreclosed property for new housing

The North Elba Town Council is considering acquiring a property at 34 Brandy Brook Avenue, seen here in Saranac Lake on Friday, to demolish the existing home and build new housing there. (Enterprise photo — Lauren Yates)

SARANAC LAKE — The North Elba Town Council wants to acquire a foreclosed property in Saranac Lake and turn it into housing for locals. As Essex County continues its process of applying for authorization from the state to create a land bank, which would allow a county-created nonprofit to acquire properties for rehabilitation, town Supervisor Derek Doty says flipping foreclosed properties around town — like the one in Saranac Lake — could slowly help to ease the local affordable housing shortage.

The Saranac Lake property in question is a single-family home located at 34 Brandy Brook Ave., which is within the town of North Elba’s boundaries. The property was first foreclosed upon in 2015, according to Doty. While someone purchased the property in 2017, according to county property tax records, they never paid taxes on the home. The county acquired the home through foreclosure again in 2020, according to tax records, but Doty said the home didn’t make it to the county’s foreclosure auction this past August. He learned about the property from Susan Waters of the Adirondack Housing Development Corporation.

The home isn’t in great shape, according to Doty.

“I mean, the raccoons and everything else have been living in it,” he said.

If Essex County’s land bank isn’t established soon, Doty said, the town could start demolition at the property as early as this summer. The town would demolish the building, according to Doty, then hire a contractor to construct a new unit or two there. Doty said the town is already talking to Steve Sama — the president of Homestead Development Corporation, which is behind the Fawn Valley development on Wesvalley Road — about building a duplex at the Brandy Brook property.

Essex County is in the process of applying for the authority to create a land bank through Empire State Development. Lewis town Supervisor James Monty is one of the driving forces behind the application, which he hopes could be fully approved by May. The county Board of Supervisors, which has to approve the application before it goes to the state, is expected to review the application on Monday, according to Monty.

An Essex County land bank would allow the county to create a nonprofit organization to acquire and redevelop vacant, abandoned and blighted properties around the county. Land banks are often intended to help areas facing an affordable housing crisis transform abandoned properties into affordable housing, while returning the properties to the tax roll.

“While the primary focus with the land bank is to try and rehab homes into affordable housing, we also realize that there are blighted properties that need to be demolished for the potential of a new home to be built,” Monty wrote in an email to the Enterprise Friday.

Only 35 land banks can be established statewide, and there are now 26 land banks across the state — most of them in western New York. The only land bank in the North Country is in Ogdensburg, though a Franklin County land bank was approved in January.

If Essex County’s land bank doesn’t get approved, Doty said the town could still take properties like the one at Brandy Brook and flip them into viable housing — the process would just be a little different. Instead of a nonprofit acquiring the land, Doty said the town would find foreclosed properties and request them for housing through the county. When it comes to the back taxes owed on foreclosed properties like the one on Brandy Brook — which has accrued nearly $22,000 in unpaid taxes over the years — Doty thought the county might be willing to waive the fee for the town in the name of creating more housing for locals.

“I don’t want to speak for any of them (at the county),” he said, “all I’m saying is we recognize housing as a tremendous priority.”

But without a county land bank, Doty said the town would be faced with figuring out “where the funding comes from” for the project.


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