Tonawanda News

September 19, 2012

LL Drive debate renewed

By Jessica Bagley
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — Dozens of residents showed up at Tuesday’s council meeting to dispute the ongoing negotiations with Natale Builders, the set contractor for the housing development at Little League Drive.

The council went into executive session Tuesday to discuss the issues, which likely include who will pay the nearly $2 million for infrastructure costs at the site. 

The city has been in off-and-on talks with Natale for two years and many residents argued the city should send out another RFP for the project. 

“We can’t do anything now and break the contract,” Board President Carleton Zeisz said. “The current agreement holds until Thursday. But we could decide to extend it another six months to keep negotiations going.”

Zeisz also pointed out that sending out RFPs to correct the problem isn’t a guarantee.

“It’s not that simple,” he said. “We put out RFPs for the other development by the water. They were due Friday. We got nothing back.”

But the many residents who attended the meeting were very against the possibility of the city paying for the infrastructure, especially after Roger Puchalski pointed out that the RFPs required the contractor to be responsible for that cost.

“You said at one point that Tonawanda would not have to pay one cent for this project,” Tom Bacon said. “What happened to that?”

Zeisz didn’t respond, but said the expected tax revenue from the project would come to about $13 million after all 56 homes are built. But that could take years, and residents are concerned about when the city will begin to make a profit on the development — and if all 56 homes will really be built. 

Tuesday’s meeting comes about a month after Puchalski raised the issue of the appraised value of the land at another council meeting. The latest appraisal was done in 2008 and assesses the 16.94 acres in question to be worth about $500,000. Zeisz confirmed those numbers Tuesday, but said another appraisal will be done. 

The sale price quoted publicly for the parcel is far less than the appraisal. 

Although Zeisz said multiple times he understood the worries of the residents, he said the revenue from the development is needed in the city. 

“Where are we supposed to get additional tax revenue if not houses and buildings?” Zeisz said. “If we don’t, it will come from us.” 

And there are still some who like the idea of new housing in the area. 

“I am interested in buying a house there,” Steve Kazprzak said. “I can’t think of another area, a block away from the water and the park. It’s a great spot to start a family.” 

Zeisz responded to the majority of comments — but wasn’t able to give residents definite answers as nothing has been decided with Natale yet. Mayor Ron Pilozzi remained silent throughout the public comment portion of the meeting. 

“I can’t sit here and say for sure that it is even going to happen,” Zeisz said. “A year ago I said it was dead because there wasn’t enough support from the board then, but I can’t say that now.”

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