Tonawanda News

December 29, 2012

No. 3: Little League Drive deal riles council

Staff Reports
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Negotiations between the City of Tonawanda and Natale Builders over the potential housing development at Little League Drive came to a head this year after more than two years of talks. 

In March, the city voted to designate Natale as the project’s developer for six months, renewing the project aimed to increase the city’s tax base after months of silence. But the talks dragged past the new deadline and the two parties made little headway until just a few weeks ago. 

Talks likely dealt with who would pay the nearly $1.8 million for the site’s infrastructure, including water and sewer line installation. Although the original request for proposal document for the project asked responders to plan for financing those costs, Natale supposedly backed away from that commitment.

A number of residents opposed the ongoing negotiations out of principle, and argued the city should send out another RFP for businesses that may more readily pay for the infrastructure.

Residents also took notice of recent appraisals of the property, which list the 16.94 acres as worth up to $575,000 as recently as 2010. That figure was quite higher than Natale’s bidding price for the land, $192,000, and some residents believed the city wasn’t fighting for a fair price.

But city officials, including Mayor Ron Pilozzi, argued those numbers were both out of date and inaccurate.

The city stuck with Natale rather than opening it to new bidders, and when the six-month deadline passed, the city extended the contract with the company for an additional 60 days in September.

Then, in November, the council authorized the mayor to draft a contract with Natale, and released details about the current plans for the project completed by Emminger Newton Pigeon Magyar.

In return for taking over the hefty infrastructure costs, Natale opted to build 46 homes, valued between $225,000 and $250,000 each. The catch was they would be legally recognized as condos under a homeowners’ association and the state’s 339-Y law.

The controversial condo designation again drew ire from some residents because homeowners will pay less in property tax — though they will be responsible for much of the upkeep of the property, including the upkeep of the roads and garbage pickup. The condo designation was intended as a bargaining chip for Natale, which will make the homes more attractive to potential buyers.

Again, the city didn’t follow the original RFP, which states that the city does not desire a homeowners’ association.

Residents and council members have opposed how the city went about negotiations, without composing another RFP. Others argue that the lower tax bill isn’t fair despite the homeowners’ association fee the residents will incur. 

The city has yet to pass a contract between the two parties and the issue will likely linger into 2013, when a deal is finalized.

The Tonawanda News is compiling its annual list of the top 10 stories of the year. Here's a look at the list so far: • 10: NHL lockout threatens season • 9: HSBC sells out to First Niagara • 8: Upscale eateries open in area • 7: Cuomo pledges "billion for Buffalo" • 6: Bills struggle despite landing Williams • 5: Canal Fest closing time controversy • 4: GM adds engine lines, 500 jobs • 3: Little League Drive development deal