Tonawanda News

November 30, 2012

City holds info session on LL Drive development plans

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Residents filed in to Tonawanda City Hall Thursday night to learn about the proposed plans for the proposed housing development on Little League Drive.

Council President Carleton Zeisz announced the session earlier this month when the council adopted a resolution that allowed Mayor Ron Pilozzi to begin writing a contract with Natale Builders.

“We just felt it was important to share with the public whatever we do know,” Zeisz said.

Thursday night, he reviewed the current plans for the meeting attendees. 

Two years of negotiations with the developer yielded some positive results for the city, he said. Natale will be responsible for the infrastructure costs at the site, which will include construction of sewer and water lines that will amount to a $1.8 million contribution by Natale. As a result, the city won’t see any upfront costs for the development, but will see an increased tax base after the homes are occupied. 

Although Natale taking the responsibility for those costs is good news for the city’s taxpayers, Natale did want something in return — to label the homes as condominiums, under the state’s 339-Y status.

Per the state law, the 46 single-family homes will be assessed differently, and as a result, the residents who buy them will pay less in taxes — up to 40 percent less in property taxes than other homeowners.

The development will have a homeowners association that will be responsible for sewer maintenance, garbage pickup and street lights, among other day-to-day responsibilities — meaning despite paying more in taxes, other city homeowners won’t have to pick up the tab for servicing the development.

Natale will have to apply to the state attorney general for the development to be classified under 339-Y.

“This agreement wouldn’t have happened without them being able to apply for this incentive,” Zeisz said.

Some residents who attended subsequent meetings weren’t pleased with the outcome of negotiations, however.

Pat Schamber, of Niagara Street, opposed the planned condominium status.

“I pay 100 percent of my taxes,” she said.

Other attendees, like Hap Klein of Luksin Drive, opposed the process the city has followed to get to this point.

“I think you reached a conclusion about having to build the development, and then went through a whole flurry of confusion to (justify) that conclusion,” Klein said. “I’d like to step back. I think it’s moving too fast.” 

Roger Puchalski, of Adam Street, questioned City Assessor David Marrano on the most recent appraisal of the land in question. Although an appraisal was done in 2008, Marrano and other city officials argued those numbers were too old and another appraisal was done.

This year’s results, completed by the firm Emminger Newton Pigeon Magyar, appraised the raw land at $250,000. But in 2008, a different appraisal firm reported that the land was worth more than $500,000.

Puchalski asked if the land’s worth really decreased by half in just four years.

In response, Marrano said he didn’t think the 2008 appraisal was done properly.

“The values of vacant land have gone down, too,” Marrano said. “And if you are implying that we asked them to produce a (lower) number this time, that is absolutely incorrect.”

Apart from complaints and critiques, the city did answer some questions for attendees, as well.

Zeisz clarified that the bike path within the 16.94 acres will be moved and the city will also be responsible for plowing the streets in the development.

“If we damage the road while plowing, we will have to repair it,” Zeisz said.

Councilman Richard Slisz also told attendees the homeowners association will make their own rules as long as they don’t supersede city laws.

“If they want to park on both sides of the street, they can,” Slisz said.

The council also told residents that before construction begins, the city will have to complete a State Environmental Quality Review that will measure the impact the development will have on the traffic, the surrounding neighborhood and the environment, among other things.

And although the city already has permission to separate the land from Veterans Memorial Park, the city will then have to invest money in another park or replace park land, per state law that does not permit the sale of public parks for private development without replacing it with an equal amount of space elsewhere.

After the contract is completed, the council will have to approve it before it becomes effective.

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.