By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News
CITY OF TONAWANDA — Two years of negotiations later, the City of Tonawanda council passed a resolution Tuesday that will allow Mayor Ron Pilozzi to draft a contract with Natale Builders to develop land off Little League Drive.
The decision comes after months of residents attending council meetings to protest the development. And although officials were aware of the concerns, they argued the project is necessary to increase the city’s tax base and the council pushed forward with negotiations.
Tuesday, Council President Carleton Zeisz disclosed a few details about what came out of those negotiations — and what the current plan is.
“As of right now, the developer will be paying for the infrastructure,” Zeisz said. “That’s the direction we are going in.”
The estimated cost of the infrastructure, including sewer and water lines, is about $1.5 million.
Zeisz also said Natale will likely be paying the city a total of $192,000 for the land. The construction is set to be broken into two phases — the first with 20 homes and the second with 26.
The payment will be broken into two payments as well, one of $120,000 and the second of $72,000 — which Natale will pay after it receives its financing from the bank for each phase.
Per the current plan, the project will be built with a homeowners’ association that will be responsible for the upkeep of roads, sidewalks and the development’s common areas, which the association will own.
The city will plow the roads from Fletcher Street to the park, however.
Councilwoman Heather Little was the lone voter against Tuesday’s resolution to move ahead with the project. Although Councilman Richard Slisz has also expressed disapproval regarding the negotiations, he was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.
Residents began voicing their concerns about the project after Roger Puchalski, of Adam Street, took to the microphone at a meeting in August. Puchalski said three outside assessments, one completed as recently as 2009, set the value of the 16.94-acre property at or above $500,000.
And in October, Puchalski’s wife, Debbie, sumbitted a petition signed by residents asking for better communication on plans for the development as well as a public hearing and environmental impact study before the city agrees to sell the land.
Council members didn’t have many answers for the Puchalskis, except for repeating that the sale price must take into account the cost of the infrastructure, as well, and that the city would perform a new, updated assessment.
City Assessor Dave Marrano reported the findings of that new assessment Tuesday.
Emminger Newton Pigeon Magyar, a local appraisal firm, performed two assessments, which Zeisz described as “very good.”
The first value came in at $255,000, or about $15,000 per acre — and about half of the previous assessments.
“That figure looks at the market value as raw land,” Marrano said.
The second assessment, $90,000, looks at the land as if a developer has invested some money into it, and takes into account taxes and the developers’ holding costs.
“Taking that into account, I truly believe $192,000 is a very fair number,” Marrano said.
But he did take some questions as to why the assessment dropped at least $255,000 from the estimated value in 2009, which came in between $510,000 and $575,000.
Marrano said those assessments are too old and were done in different economic times. He also criticized the techniques of the assessor in 2009 and said the properties the park was compared to were “questionable at best.”
Zeisz said the council is planning an informational session regarding the plans at the end of November.
“By that time I think we will have some kind of term sheet to share with how we are doing with the contract,” he said.
Mayor Ron Pilozzi also announced Tuesday that he has hired a new administrative assistant, Richard Planavsky, a former management consultant to County Executive Chris Collins and Urban Renewal Agency for 13 years.
“I’m really looking forward to this,” Planavsky said. “This is a great city.”
Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.