Tonawanda News

November 13, 2013

City of Tonawanda Council ponders Little League Drive

By Jessica Bagley jessica.bagley@tonawanda-news.com
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Although Election Day has come and gone, the future of the Little League Drive development — and whether the council would approve the contract — remains unclear.

Council President Carleton Zeisz said he plans on discussing whether to put the contract up for a vote before January, when the new council members will take their seats. Republican Charles Gilbert was sworn in Tuesday as the First Ward Councilman, a seat that became vacant after Heather Little stepped down in August.

“We need more discussion on the issue. We need to see where everyone stands,” Zeisz said.

The contract calls for construction of 53 condominium-status homes that will be built in three phases. Natale will pay a total of $192,000 for the 16.94-acre property, and will also pay for infrastructure costs at the site, including the installation of roads, water and sewer lines and street lighting. The infrastructure work is estimated to cost between $1.5 million and $1.8 million. 

But in exchange for the infrastructure work, the city agreed to allow Natale to classify the homes under the state’s condominium status, which will result in the homes being assessed at a reduced rate.

Put simply, homeowners whose properties cost between $225,000 and $250,000 to buy will pay taxes as if the home was worth between $146,250 and $162,500.

Four votes are required to sell property in the city, but only three current council members firmly support the contract.

Although Zeisz supported the project when the city initially issued request for proposals, he said last week that he still needs to review how the community feels about the project and its longterm effects.

“I can’t say that I’m going to support this right now,” he said. “I know I have been behind it, and I wanted to see the houses through, but it’s not that simple ... this is forever, we only get one crack at this if we say yes.”

Gilbert campaigned on his support for the project, and current Second Ward Councilman Blake Boyle, whose term expires at the end of the year, said he will also vote for the contract.

“It’s going to help the city all around,” he said, taking the opportunity to criticize Zeisz. “The council has been working on this for four years, and for Carl to back out of it now is totally irresponsible.”

Fourth Ward Councilman Tyler Kossow, who did not run for re-election, has also expressed his support for the project.

“I have been for it since the very beginning, and I will continue to be for it,” he said. “The city has the option to gain tax revenue with zero investment.”

But Third Ward Councilman Richard Slisz, who lost last week to Republican John “Jay” Hall, has repeatedly spoken out against the current contract and the process that led to the tax abatement.

“It’s like you are buying a car, and the salesman tells you you can have it for $30,000,” Slisz said. “And then you come back, and it’s $45,000. There are options, but as far as I’m concerned, they are unacceptable to me.”

To pass the contract before January, Slisz or Zeisz would have to support the project.

The issue could still rest with Zeisz after the new council members take their seats. Hall has said he will support the project, but the new Fourth Ward Councilwoman, Jenna Koch, is against the contract.  The Second Ward race still hasn’t been decided, with Republican Jon Juliano, who supports the project, just one vote behind Democrat Jackie Smilinich, who is against the development.

The race won’t be decided until absentee ballots are counted sometime next week. But even if Juliano wins — and everyone stands by their campaign promises — the council will still be one vote shy of approving the contract without support from Zeisz.

Put simply, homeowners whose properties cost between $225,000 and $250,000 to buy will pay taxes as if the home was worth between $146,250 and $162,500. - See more at: http://www.tonawanda-news.com/local/x710302626/Little-League-Drive-deal-reached#sthash.6S37AIlW.dpuf

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000 ext. 4150, or follow her on Twitter @JessicaLBagley.