A widow who owns two castles along a major town road says she needs to have her 15-acre property rezoned to make ends meet.
Town Planning Board members have given their blessing to a plan that would allow Melissa B. DiLapo to build eight condominiums on residentially zoned land local residents refer to as the Pettit Castle property.
But neighbors, who stormed a Town Board meeting last month, are urging the Town Board to deny DiLapo's request to rezone the property to light commercial from residential.
Those neighbors fear that a strip mall or other unwelcome development could follow the rezoning. They have persuaded the Town Board to hold a second public hearing on the matter at 7:30 p.m. today in Town Hall, 6570 Campbell Blvd.
DiLapo insists the castles will remain but said she can no longer afford upkeep and property taxes without using some of the rest of her land for new housing.
"I love the property," she told The Buffalo News. "I just want to put up a couple of things to defer the costs."
DiLapo also owns a garage apartment on her Campbell Boulevard parcel, near Bear Ridge Road. She came before the Town Board on Dec. 5 for what she thought would be approval to construct the condominiums, but neighbors showed up in an effort to thwart her plans.
The Planning Board has approved the proposal, but the Town Board has the final say on rezoning matters.
Planning Board Chairman James Sacco Jr. said the condominium plan "is pretty much consistent with what we would allow."
Sacco said he had some concerns when DiLapo and her architect, Richard B. Maides, originally approached the Planning Board in April with a plan to rezone the property for two-family residential use. Sacco said that zoning would not have worked and, instead, the board urged the two to seek a rezoning from residential to light commercial.
The property is assessed at $206,100.
Supervisor James A. Riester encouraged the Town Board to study the rezoning matter more thoroughly because specific plans for the property keep changing.
That led to neighbor concerns and tonight's public hearing.
At the Dec. 5 Town Board meeting, residents said they did not like how DiLapo kept changing her mind about plans for the property. Her husband, James, who died in 2001, persuaded the Town Board in 1996 to change the zoning to residential from industrial because he wanted to build some homes near the castles. He constructed some apartment houses but never built the couple's own home.
Larry W. Chapman, who lives at 6930 Bear Ridge Road, said Town Board members need to ask themselves if there is a hardship for DiLapo before they grant her another rezoning.
"I'd love to take you to court on this. . . . You're allowing these people to keep changing their minds," Chapman said. "She's got 15 acres of land and she can do a heck of a lot that's economically viable for her."
Mary Ann Welka, who lives nearby at 7275 Lakeview Court, asked why DiLapo wasn't asking to put in eight apartment buildings instead of condominiums.
Councilman Joseph M. Frawley said it was because "they're trying to get more bang for their buck." They wouldn't have to pay as much in taxes that way.
Sandra L. Masterson, a resident who is also a real estate agent, said Town Board members need to remember that if they rezone the property from residential to commercial to allow the condominiums, other landowners in town will end up paying more in taxes because taxes on condos are substantially lower than houses and apartment buildings.
"I don't mind paying my taxes, but I don't want to pay yours," Masterson said.
DiLapo, who left the meeting Dec. 5 saying she would be selling the property to Benderson Development Co., said a day later she was just angry with the Town Board.
She said she needs the condominium project to help make ends meet.