Tonawanda News

August 23, 2012

Little League Drive sale price questioned

By Jessica Bagley ,
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — After months of silence regarding closed-door negotiations, a City of Tonawanda resident spoke up about the planned housing development at Little League Drive at the city council's meeting Tuesday night. 

Roger Puchalski, of Adam Street, took to the microphone and vehemently questioned the council on the appraised value of the area. 

"I'll have to get back to you and do some research," Fourth Ward Councilmember Tyler Kossow said. "I don't have that information in front of me."

But Puchalski did. Reading from the documents, he said the land was valued at $510,000 in 2005, $580,000 in 2008, and between $510,000 and $575,000 in 2009. Those figures estimate the worth of the parcel without any infrastructure. A check by the News of city records confirms the validity of Puchalski's numbers.

"It comes down to a gift to a corporation," Puchalski said. 

Puchalski said Natale Building Corporation, the company approved for the job, submitted an offer to buy the 16-acre parcel for $192,000 last summer. Council President Carleton Zeisz said that Natale's offer was the highest of three companies that proposed plans. 

City Assessor Dave Marrano said the appraisals Puchalski cited are for the entire Veterans Memorial Park, and that there isn't a current value placed on the parcel proposed for development specifically. Only the former Little League fields are up for sale, not the portion dedicated specifically to the park.

But the documents clearly state that the 16.94 acres up for grabs were appraised in the $500,000 range in 2005, 2008, and 2009. After examining the appraisals himself, Mayor Ronald Pilozzi agreed. 

Either way, Pilozzi and Zeisz said another appraisal will be done if the city decides to sell the land.

"I don't want to throw out numbers as he did," Pilozzi said of Puchalski's protestations Tuesday. "They were from 2005, 2006, 2009 — those are old numbers. I don't want to hang my hat on old numbers. All the more reason to get an up to date appraisal." 

Puchalski said he doubts the appraisal amount will go down. 

Pilozzi and Zeisz said they couldn't discuss the details of the current issues, as the negotiations with the company remain ongoing — and have been for two years. The mayor said options have been sent to the Common Council, and it's up to them to decide what to do. 

Pilozzi's hoping the 56 homes slated for the area will create an additional $13 million in tax revenue — a hot commodity in a city with little land left to develop. 

"The infrastructure goes into what they are going to pay for the land. It's not so cut and dry that they are going to pay 'X' amount for the land and that's that," Zeisz said. "That's with no infrastructure, no curbs, no sidewalk, no sewer or water lines."

The ongoing negotiation includes deliberations on who is going to pay for the infrastructure — Natale or the city. Third Ward Councilman Richard Slisz, who opposes the project, said Natale's original proposal included paying $1.5 million in constructing infrastructure. Later, the company requested that the city pay to do the work instead. According to Zeisz, the infrastructure would cost the city $1.8 million to $2 million to complete. 

"It's like you are buying a car, and the salesman tells you you can have it for $30,000," Slisz said. "And then you come back, and it's $45,000. There are options, but as far as I'm concerned, they are unacceptable to me." 

Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150. Contact reporter Jessica Bagley at 693-1000, ext. 4150.