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NT City Hall notebook

Some odds and ends from Tuesday night's North Tonawanda Common Council meeting:

--During a discussion about the former St. Joseph Catholic Church property on Payne Avenue, Second Ward Alderman Richard L. Andres Jr. raised the possibility of the city rezoning the parcel before a new owner takes control of the property. That way, it would be easier for the city to change the use of the property, said Andres, a former member of the city's master plan committee.

St joseph campus NT

(Photo by Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Here's a story by Tom Prohaska published Sunday about a Wheatfield church looking at the property.

In October, city lawmakers rejected a proposal to turn the campus into housing for homeless youth and veterans.

--The city is working to set a public auction for the former Mirror Room, Mayor Robert G. Ortt said. The process "kind of stalled" on the city's part at the end of last year, Ortt said. The auction will be handled by Auctions International, a Cheektowaga firm, and an auction date has not been set.

--Ortt said efforts by the city and other area municipalities to reach a settlement with the New York Power Authority are "ongoing." Read this story for more background on the issue.

The city is "still in the same position" as it was before, according to Ortt. A meeting of various local elected leaders -- including Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster, Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe, Lockport Mayor Michael W. Tucker -- was held in the Wheatfield Community Center on his first regular day on the job to discuss the issue and was organized by State Sen. George D. Maziarz, Ortt said.

Ortt characterized the mindset of leaders at the meeting as being "more interested in a long-term solution."

This year's city budget includes $250,000 expected from a settlement. "It puts us in a tough negotiating position with NYPA because they know we need the money," Ortt said Tuesday.

--Three lawmakers said they support a proposal to spend about $1,500 to put a plaque on the World War II memorial in front of City Hall on Payne Avenue. The plaque would thank officials who helped get the monument built.

During an informal discussion, Council President Catherine G. Schwandt, Alderwoman-at-large Nancy A. Donovan and First Ward Alderman Dennis M. Pasiak said they favored supporting the project with funding. Third Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka said he doesn't see why the city can't support it, while Second Ward Alderman Richard L. Andres Jr. said the proposal may have to wait until the next budget cycle, and that the Council should consult with City Accountant David R. Jakubaszek about what funds might be available.

--Aaron Besecker

Legal battle over NT Walmart continues

A court appearance scheduled for today in the second lawsuit aimed at halting plans to build a new Walmart Supercenter in North Tonawanda has been adjourned until Feb. 24.

The suit, filed in November, has been brought by North Tonawanda First, an anti-Walmart citizens group.

Here's my story from when the newest lawsuit was initially filed.

Click here to read a story about State Supreme Court Justice Ralph A. Boniello's June ruling in the first lawsuit, also brought by NT First.

As a result of the first suit, the city had to again review storm water control plans for the site.

While I was flipping through the TV channels last night, I came across a report CNBC has been re-airing called "The New Age of Walmart."

Segments of the report are available at the CNBC Web site, including segments on labor issues and an interview with Walmart's chief executive officer.

-- Aaron Besecker

--Aaron Besecker

Draft pact heats up plan for Rainbow mall

It once drew Canadians to browse in stores like Burlington Coat Factory, Esprit and Cavages Records.

Today, the Rainbow Centre mall is locked to the public with a leaking roof and empty stores. But officials hope it could soon bustle with students.

A plan to locate Niagara County Community College's hospitality, tourism and culinary programs in about a third of the mall has been moving forward since NCCC President James P. Klyczek announced in August that the college was looking at the Rainbow Centre as a possible location.

Many questions remain. How much will it cost to entice mall developer David Cordish of Baltimore-based Cordish Co. to give up a portion of the long-term lease his company holds on the city-owned mall? Where will the money come from to pay for renovation work needed on the mall's parking ramp and skylights?

The first view of the legal structure by which the project would move forward emerged Wednesday when a draft memorandum of understanding was made public. A story in today's Niagara & Region section describes the proposed agreement.

View a copy of the draft memorandum here.

-- Denise Jewell Gee

NT planners to talk bank, condos

Plans to turn a former Pizza Hut site into a Northwest Savings Bank branch are scheduled to come before the North Tonawanda Planning Commission on Monday night.

The project, slated for 275 Meadow Drive, is the only project on the agenda for the commission, which meets at 6 p.m. in City Hall, 216 Payne Ave. The location would be the bank's first branch in Niagara County.

Commissioners are also scheduled to discuss the Villas at Deerwood condominium project proposed on Walck Road. Check out my most recent story on the subject here.

Here's a story from earlier this year shortly after work on the project was halted.

Neither developer David Stapleton nor a representative are scheduled to appear before the commission on Monday, according to the city clerk-treasurer's office.

-- Aaron Besecker

Power Coalition still going

Hey -- remember that group of governments and school districts in Niagara County that signed a 50-year deal with the New York Power Authority? In exchange for supporting a new federal operating license for the Niagara Power Project, they'll share $8 million annually through 2057?

Well, the Niagara Power Coalition is still around. In fact, members are meeting next Thursday, and its meetings are open to the public.

Here's the meeting agenda.

-- Aaron Besecker

Playing politics with NT Walmart

Allegations that prominent Niagara County Republicans sought to delay a proposed Walmart project came to light Tuesday night, and are detailed in a story here.

Click on the story link to find snippets of audio recorded during the Common Council meeting. You can listen to Dennis J. Barberio, council candidate, Aldermen Brett M. Sommer and Kevin J. Brick Jr., along with Mayor Lawrence V. Soos, address the issue in their own words.

--Aaron Besecker

Planned Walmart on table in NT

North Tonawanda lawmakers are being asked to give the last needed approvals for a proposed Walmart when they meet in City Hall tonight.

Following up on last night's action by the city Planning Commission, the Common Council will consider granting easements and rights of way for the proposed project during a meeting scheduled for 6 p.m.

The proposed sale of 1.6 acres of land to Walmart -- including portions of Bluebird Drive, Lyric Avenue and a 30-foot service road -- will also be considered.

The asking price for the land: $81,150.

Other things on the lawmakers' agenda:

-The proposed transfer of the former Engine 2 building and property at Oliver and Sommer streets to the Active Hose Fire Co. No. 2.

-A proposed memorandum of understanding between the city and workers at the Wastewater Treatment plant who are members of the Local 7692 of the Civil Service Employees Association. The city is working on a lease agreement with a private company for the use of a portion of the plant for carbon regeneration. The draft agreement discusses staffing levels.

--Aaron Besecker

Chatter on low-cost power

I wrote a story published today about a hearing on the state's discount electricity programs held in Niagara Falls.

Some audio clips from the session -- including portions of comments by Niagara Falls Mayor Paul A. Dyster and the Citizens Budget Commission's Elizabeth Lynam -- are available under the "related content" section near the top of the story.

--Aaron Besecker

Eyesore or opportunity for tourists?

  Niagara Falls' newest tourist attraction came under court order.

   A ninth-floor observation deck at One Niagara on Rainbow Boulevard opened Friday after a judge ruled that the building could temporarily sidestep the city's approval process.

   A story in today's Niagara & Region  section explains how building manager and co-owner Frank Parlato Jr. received court permission to open the top floor.

   It's not the first time Parlato has taken an alternative route to opening the building. In 2007, he struck a deal with city officials to allow him to bypass the city's Planning Board for several months so that he could operate through the tourist season while he worked to bring the building up to code.

   The building plunged back into regulatory limbo last year after the city revoked that site plan approval, but allowed its certificate of occupancy to remain. It has not issued proper approvals for the ninth floor.

   Some see the building as an eyesore. Others see it as one of the few options open for tourists outside of Niagara Falls State Park and the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel.

   What do you think?

   -- Denise Jewell Gee

While officials in the Falls stood still, nothing happened

   It is clear in an audit released by State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli Wednesday that Niagara Falls officials had a hand in the failure of two downtown development agreements that once held great promise.

   The audit blames the city for failing to properly monitor a long-term lease for the Rainbow Centre mall and a $110 million development agreement with a private company, Niagara Falls Redevelopment.

   DiNapoli's staff also found that the contracts did not contain adequate remedies to protect the city.

   The options now for these two contracts, DiNapoli said, are limited.

   The audit sets out a road map for Niagara Falls for future development agreements, and Mayor Paul A. Dyster said he intends to follow it. Read more about those recommendations in a story in Thursday's Buffalo News. Read the full comptroller's report, here.

   What do you think of DiNapoli's audit? Where should the city go from here?

-- Denise Jewell Gee

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