Tonawanda News

June 28, 2012

LL Drive housing renewed

By Neale Gulley,
The Tonawanda News

CITY OF TONAWANDA — Negotiations are now back on line with a developer interested in erecting scores of homes along Little League Drive in the City of Tonawanda.

Following Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor’s Assistant Sam Iraci showed members of the council a color plan for the 16-acre site between Two Mile Creek Road and the dead end at Rogers Avenue.

As many as 56 lots of varying sizes (with the smallest being 7,500 square feet and others at least twice that size) are being discussed with developer Natale Builders of Western New York for the strip of land flanked by Fletcher Street and the baseball diamonds.

None of the proposed work, however, has been finalized in any way and the land has not yet been sold to Natale, Iraci said as talks continue mostly behind closed doors.

Still, the project that was delayed last year over disagreement on the council over the cost of installing water and sewer infrastructure remains a priority for Mayor Ron Pilozzi and the council at large.

“I want to move this as fast as we can move it,” Council President Carl Zeisz told colleagues during the update on Tuesday. “My goal is to provide new housing to people in the city and get as much out of it as possible.”

Iraci said the next step from the city’s perspective is to bring the council up to speed on the still-evolving plans before forwarding the specifics to the city’s planning board for consideration.

Next an environmental impact assessment taking into account almost every nuance of the plans and public input would be needed, among other things, before such a project could realistically begin.

Iraci, however, said making the development a reality would involve selling the now city-owned land to the developer, and that homes would be built as buyers become available, in a two-phased development designed to generate $13 million in new property taxes for city coffers over six years.

Tax revenue from a fully developed Little League Drive could, in theory, account for an additional $200,000 per year to offset rising expenses in the city, Iraci said.

A bicycle path in the area near Two Mile Creek Road would have to be moved slightly closer to the creek at the project’s western edge, while two small wetland areas would also need to be worked around.

The council spoke on Tuesday of the likelihood that a berm including some kind of low shrubbery would likely be added to maintain privacy for residents along Fletcher Street.

Currently, the developer is discussing four completely different floor plans, and additional aesthetic variables for each. 

Natale stands to buy the property for $172,000.

In March, six months after the plan seemed doomed, this year’s council revived the idea, this time with support in the Fourth Ward from newly elected Alderman Tyler Kossow. His predecessor, William Poole and Third Ward Alderman Richard Slisz blocked it last year.

Slisz remains steadfast his opposition to the plan, representing the lone dissenter this spring when the council by a 4-1 vote named Natale Builders Corp. — the same company that submitted the original plan — as the designated developer for the site, located officially at 151 Little League Drive.

Slisz and Poole last year had raised several objections to the project and succeeded in getting the plan pulled last August by denying the council the supermajority needed by law to approve the deal.

A major issue then was a request from Natale for the city to fund the installation of water and sewer infrastructure. Natale was originally expected to pay for all infrastructure costs. Slisz and Poole also doubted that the housing market could support the new homes.

If the city approves Natale’s plan, taxpayers would fund the $1.7 million infrastructure installation. In the event the houses aren’t built and sold — and thus begin generating property tax revenue for the city — Natale would be responsible for reimbursing the city for the infrastructure cost by virtue of a performance bond Natale must secure before their plans are approved.

Contact city editor Neale Gulley at 693-1000, ext. 4114