Tonawanda News

The City

January 17, 2014

Judge grants Highland variance

Tonawanda News — Erie County Court Judge Tracey Bannister has sided with People, Inc., and granted the non-profit the zoning variances necessary for the redevelopment of the vacant Highland school in the City of Tonawanda. 

The case landed in court after the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals refused to grant waivers related to parking spaces on the site.

“She felt that the findings of the Zoning Board of Appeals were not sufficient to support their position in denying the variance,” City Attorney Ron Trabucco said. 

The non-profit plans to rent the building from owner S. Spoth, LLC, and turn it into 38 low-income apartments for young professionals, seniors and those with disabilities who earn less than $23,000 per year.

People, Inc., Chief Operating Officer Rhonda Frederick said the construction will cost $6 million, and they are hoping to begin work in a year. Although the judge’s decision allows People, Inc., to move forward with the project, the organization still needs to secure funding for the construction and negotiate a Payment in Lieu of Taxes agreement with the city. 

The plans first hit a stumbling block last year when the group’s application for a building permit was denied. In a letter to the nonprofit, Building Inspector Kevin Rank said the plans were inconsistent with four zoning regulations. The width as well as the surface area of the parking lot are not big enough for the project, Rank said. His letter stated the city’s minimum lot size for the project is listed as 135,500 square feet, while the lot size of the Highland property is significantly smaller — only 80,127 square feet.

The location of the parking lots as well as the number of spots were also not up to code.

The non-profit then filed a variance request, but the zoning board voted to reject it. In response, People, Inc., filed a legal challenge. The two parties attempted to settle the matter outside of the courtroom, but were unsuccessful.

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