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State lawmakers plan bill to force scrutiny of NFTA land purchases

NIAGARA FALLS -- A state legislator from Niagara County is proposing a bill that would require the NFTA to notify local government officials of planned property purchases.

Assemblywoman Francine DelMonte, D-Lewiston, said she took the action after the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority decided to buy and raze John's Flaming Hearth, a restaurant property on Military Road in the Town of Niagara, and build a new bus terminal without informing town officials.

The landmark restaurant is still open but up for sale.

"What happened in the Town of Niagara is a classic example of poor communication between a public authority and a municipality -- which should not have happened," DelMonte said Wednesday. "This bill will prevent future deals involving the removal of taxable property from occurring again."

State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, has agreed to sponsor the bill in the State Senate.

The NFTA plans to build the bus terminal to replace an existing terminal in downtown Niagara Falls.

Falls city officials oppose the move, maintaining that the main bus terminal should remain downtown to help revitalize the business district.

Town of Niagara officials and residents also are opposed.

"Local officials and residents in the Town of Niagara were not given a chance to publicly comment on whether or not the current plan for a bus terminal is in their community's best interests," DelMonte said.

Town of Niagara Supervisor Steven C. Richards called the site a "terrible location" for the terminal.

"This will have three major negative effects on the town," Richards said. "It will remove a valuable piece of property from the tax roll, intrude on the nearby residential neighborhood and deter other businesses from locating in the Town of Niagara."

The NFTA decided on the John's Flaming Hearth site in an executive session that was closed to the media and the public, a step NFTA spokesman C. Douglas Hartmayer defended in the interests of fair competition.

"One of the caveats of open-meeting law allows any public body to discuss the sale or lease of real property in executive session," he said. "This is done for the obvious reason of not putting yourself at a competitive disadvantage when it comes time to complete the purchase."

The $1.3 million deal is yet to be finalized. Construction of the terminal is to begin sometime in the fall.


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