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Tax hike threatens project

PORT HENRY Moriah officials are promising to be business-friendly as they look to assist a California entrepreneur. Jack Sheldon of Port Henry addressed the Moriah town board Sept. 9 on behalf of Mike Horrell, a California investor and businessman who is renovating the Witherbee Estate. The property assessment on the building has jumped from $250,000 to $650,000 in a year leading to a tax increase of $7,000, Sheldon explained. That tax increase may delay the building renovation, he said. Sheldon said he didnt understand the assessment increase since the only work to date is foundation repairs and a new roof. At this point were just trying to stop the deterioration of the building, Sheldon said. We havent made any improvements. See MORIAH, page 21 Supervisor Tom Scozzafava explained the town board has no control over property assessments, which are set by an independent board of assessors. The supervisor said he had spoken to Horrell directly and wants to assist by finding new business tax breaks for the project. This man comes to town trying to save a historic structure and the first thing that happens is he gets hit with a big assessment increase, Scozzafava said. Ive asked our assessor to investigate any programs that may be available to assist new businesses. Scozzafava said Horrell expressed his willingness to pay his fair share of taxes, but noted those taxes may impede work on the building. The last thing we want to do is drive business away from the town of Moriah, Scozzafava said. We will work with him and do anything we can within our power. Sheldon is a local contractor heading up the Witherbee Estate project with Earl Peltier. The house was designed and built by Walter C. Witherbee in the late 19th century. It served as a family home and later became the local American Legion hall and later the Knights of Columbus building. Its been vacant nearly 20 years. A year ago Horrell of Sacramento, Calif., purchased the property from Tom Eliopolis for $500,000, according to Sheldon. Horrell plans to make the estate a bed & breakfast. After the purchase an engineering firm was hired to study the building and make plans. With a $2 million budget. Sheldon and Peltier are hard at work. When complete the house will have 16-17 guest rooms as well as living quarters for the Horrell family. Besides a basement, there are three floors. It has nine fireplaces. There are now more than 120 lights in the building. At Horrells insistence, Sheldon said the house will be restored using local labor. Walter C. Witherbee was one of the founders of the firm of Witherbee, Sherman and Company, according to Joan Daby, Moriah town historian. Witherbee succeeded his father as a member of the firm, and was treasurer and later chairman of the corporation. When the American Legion bought the Witherbee Estate in 1946 few changes were made, Daby noted. The bar area was Witherbees Gun Room. The bathroom was there and a fireplace was hidden by the legions beer cooler. The American Legion built a step up stage for the bands to set up and play for dances in the long room just the other side of the bar. There were three large rooms, other than the kitchen and bar. And these rooms could be closed off by sliding doors that when opened they slid into the walls. The Witherbee family had their bedrooms upstairs, and a bathroom was there. Other bedrooms were there for guests, Daby noted. The Witherbees had Japanese help, and their quarters were on the second floor, in the back, above the kitchen area. There was a back room behind the kitchen that was used as a storage room. The third floor was never finished, Daby said. There was a barn in the back of the residence that was used for the coaches and horses. When the American Legion had it, they had a shooting range there and later square dances were held there. The barn was done in beautiful woodwork, Daby said. Soon after the Knights of Columbus bought the property in 1969, they demolished the barn. There was a pool on the grounds, just above the upper driveway, on a little knoll, Daby said. There was a stone wall all around the property and there were two driveways to leave and enter by. The Knights of Columbus sold the property to Eliopolis in 1990 and it has been vacant since.

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