Tonawanda News

The City

May 22, 2013

Highland hanging in the balance

Tonawanda News — People Inc. has filed a legal challenge against a City of Tonawanda zoning board decision that is blocking the nonprofit's efforts to develop Highland School into a low-income apartment building. 

According to the organization's chief operating officer, Rhonda Frederick, the organization hopes to rent the building from its owner, S.Spoth, LLC, and create 38 multi-use apartments for seniors, young professionals and those with disabilities. 

But the plans hit a stumbling block in the fall when the nonprofit's application for a building permit was denied.

In a letter to the nonprofit, city building inspector Kevin Rank said the plans were inconsistent with four zoning regulations. 

The width as well as the area of the lot are not big enough for the project, Rank said. His letter stated that the city’s minimum lot size for the project is listed 135,500 square feet, while the lot size of the Highland property is significantly smaller — only 80,127 square feet. 

The location of the parking lots as well as the number of spots were also not up to code. 

In response, People Inc. filed a variance request to relieve them from the four zoning issues, arguing the project wouldn't have a significant impact on the surrounding area.

“The essential characteristic of the neighborhood is the same,” Frederick wrote in the document to the city. 

But that request was not granted after the zoning board deadlocked in a 2-2 vote. 

Zoning board member David Bernosky said the members were concerned about the number of apartments in the building as well as the parking plans.

"You are adding a lot of population in that area, and it makes it very condensed," he said. "And it does present a problem with parking. I know they say the average person might have one car, but I have four cars in my driveway right now ... that was one of the major concerns."

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