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Hearing Wednesday on revamping parking requirements

The Niagara Falls Planning Board wants to make downtown development a little less difficult.

The board will hold a public hearing Wednesday on its plan to eliminate the parking requirement for all businesses, except hotels, in the downtown commercial district. The hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers of City Hall, 745 Main St.

"We're trying to fix one of the worst things about our zoning ordinance," said the city's senior planner, Thomas DeSantis. "Property owners are asked to develop their property, yet we can't grant anyone [site] approval because of the way the ordinance is currently written. It's overly restrictive."

DeSantis said the city's current parking ordinance puts an unfair burden on developers by requiring them to have too many spaces available for customers. He called the zoning law -- which was adopted in 1994 -- "unrealistic" and said it would fit better in a suburban area with more land.

The issue has been magnified recently by the development efforts of Alan Tsui, who has requested parking variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals for two properties on Third Street.

Existing businesses have bypassed the requirement because they are covered by the old zoning ordinance, which had no such requirements. New developers must apply for a variance through the Zoning Board.

Tsui submitted site plans last month to renovate a two-story building at 511 and 513 Third St. and turn it into a karaoke bar. The use and size of his planned business, however, would require 62 parking spaces under the current zoning law, and he had just three.

Although the Zoning Board approved a parking variance for a spa Tsui plans to open at 446 Third St. -- which required more than 20 additional spaces -- it tabled the request for the karaoke bar because it required so many additional spaces, Spadoricia said.

DeSantis said some Zoning Board members are concerned that the waiver applications over the parking requirement have become routine, which means there is something wrong with the law.

"I feel that what Tom is trying to do is a fair way to go," said Zoning Board Chairman Vincent Spadoricia. "It's like a permanent variance; that way you don't put too much pressure on one board against another board."

One thing that would not change if the Planning Board were to change the zoning is the requirement for 1.25 spaces per hotel or motel room downtown. Pine Avenue businesses also would not be covered under the zoning amendment.

e-mail: gnorheim@buffnews.com

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