Will address electrification, Tompkins Terrace tax breaks at hearings
The Beacon City Council will hold a pair of public hearings on Monday (Feb. 27) — one on a proposal to ban the use of fossil fuels in new residential and commercial buildings and the other on a proposed 40-year PILOT agreement with the owner of the Tompkins Terrace apartment complex.
The council began discussing the fossil fuel ban in earnest last month and has fast-tracked the proposal in hopes of adopting a law that would take effect Jan. 1, 2024. That would be two years earlier than similar statewide legislation, proposed this month by Gov. Kathy Hochul, to prohibit the use of fossil fuels in new construction of single-family homes or apartment buildings of three stories or less by the beginning of 2026.
Initially, it appeared the city’s first move would be to require new residential construction to go all-electric, but during the council’s workshop on Tuesday (Feb. 21), the proposal was expanded to include new commercial buildings.
That’s because City Administrator Chris White, Mayor Lee Kyriacou and city attorneys spoke recently with New York State energy officials who assured them that, aside from a handful of exceptions, the technology for electric heating and hot water equipment is reliable for all new construction.
If Beacon’s law allows the same exemptions that are anticipated to be in the state’s legislation, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) “said the technical feasibility is there” to require electrification of all other new construction, White remarked during the council’s workshop. “It gave me confidence that we’re not going off the rails here.”
Following that guidance, the exemptions in Beacon’s draft law are for backup generators, manufactured homes, manufacturing facilities, commercial food establishments, laundromats, laboratories, hospitals and other medical facilities, crematoriums and backup power for critical infrastructure, such as wastewater treatment facilities. While the law would allow limited fossil fuel use in those types of buildings, they represent “a small piece of the pie” in terms of greenhouse-gas emissions, White said.
Council Member Dan Aymar-Blair, who, along with Council Member Paloma Wake and Beacon Climate Action Now, introduced the idea of banning fossil fuels during a rally last fall, pushed back on the exemptions, saying instead that as the electric technology evolves for those more-intense uses, “that invites more businesses to move to Beacon.”
But “if we want to be a model to hundreds of other communities, we should hew pretty closely” to what is expected to be in the state legislation, Kyriacou responded.
The council ultimately compromised, allowing the exemptions, but, according to the draft, it will require the heating and hot water systems in the exempted uses to be electric. (For example, a newly constructed restaurant would be required to install electric-powered heating and hot water equipment, but would be permitted to use fossil fuels to power its kitchen.)
The exempted buildings would also have to be outfitted to transition to all-electric as technology evolves.
In the case of major renovation projects, the city’s proposal requires a shift to all-electric if the project exceeds 75 percent of the heated floor area and involves the replacement or new installation of a heating or hot water system. If a renovation meets the 75 percent threshold but does not include the replacement or installation of a heating or hot water system, electric systems would have to be installed if they are replaced within five years.
The second public hearing on Monday will be a continuation of the Jan. 30 hearing on a proposed payment-in-lieu-of-taxes, or PILOT, agreement.
Related Companies, the owner of the Tompkins Terrace low-income housing complex, has asked the City Council to approve a 40-year PILOT agreement before Related begins a $14.5 million rehabilitation project at the development. The company initially planned to ask the Dutchess County Industrial Development Agency for the PILOT but pivoted later to the city, which already administers similar agreements with three other low-income complexes and the Beacon Housing Authority.
Under a state agreement, Related, which purchased Tompkins Terrace in 2018, makes an annual payment equal to 10 percent of the rent collected in the previous year. The money is distributed to the Beacon school district, the city, Dutchess County and the Howland Public Library. (The payment for 2022 was about $284,000.) The company has proposed a new agreement that would begin with a Year 1 payment of $310,000 and increase 2¼ percent each year, for a total of $19.75 million over the four decades.
However, the city has heard from a handful of residents who say that a 40-year agreement would be lopsided in Related’s favor. A year-by-year review of the last 10 years of Tompkins Terrace payments show them increasing far more than 2¼ percent several years during that period (but also decreasing some years).
Related said it needs to have the PILOT in place before beginning the rehab, which will see the 193 units outfitted with new doors, painting and kitchen and bathroom improvements. HVAC equipment will be replaced and community upgrades, such as a computer lab, free Wi-Fi in all units, new playgrounds and new water heaters, will also be installed.
The city says it will include provisions in the PILOT guaranteeing that tenants cannot be forced out and that Tompkins Terrace rents remain below market rate.
Both hearings will be part of the City Council’s meeting on Monday, which begins at 7 p.m.
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