Tonawanda News

March 21, 2012

Second swing at LL Drive

By John J. Hopkins
The Tonawanda News

— — Six months after it was shelved, a plan to build a housing development off Little League Drive near Veterans Park has been revived.

The Tonawanda City 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 at 151 Little League Drive.

According to the resolution, Natale will retain the designation for six months and has an option for a second six months during which it must secure all the necessary funding and permits to move forward.

“They’ll have six months to get all their ducks in a row,” council President Carl Zeisz said.

Third Ward Councilman Richard Slisz opposes the plan and cast the lone dissenting vote. Slisz and then-Fourth Ward Councilman Bill Poole raised several objections last year to the project and succeeded in getting the plan pulled last August.

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.

This time, Tyler Kossow, who now represents the Fourth Ward —where the homes would be built —voted in favor of the project. 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.

Natale stands to buy the city-owned property for $172,000. The project is expected to add about $13 million in new development to the city’s tax rolls.

Still, Slisz said Tuesday he’s concerned about the project’s pricing.

“Natale’s a fine builder,” Slisz said. “But the builder was going to pay for the infrastructure and the mayor submitted a different proposal. I think we should start negotiations all over again.”

Plans still call for Natale to build 56 single-family homes on the site.

“We want to make sure we hold the contractor to all the particulars in the agreement,” Zeisz said.

Prior to the vote, a handful of residents spoke against the plan.

“This council simply brings back voted-down items,” said Marge Witkowski of Fletcher Street.

Kossow said he talked with residents who live near the parcel, as well as people who don’t, before he reached his decision.

“I heard all the issues that were raised ahead of time,” Kossow said. “There’s the potential for (Natale) not selling the houses but the bond should protect the city from all that.”

Plans were set in motion in October 2009 to develop the property when the council requested proposals for the site. Three developers were interviewed in January 2010 and Natale was selected.