NIAGARA FALLS – A downstate property owner wants to turn a vacant apartment building on Eighth Street and Pine Avenue into a boardinghouse with one-room units for 140 people.
However, a landlord group and a city official are raising concerns about the project because of how many people would be living in such a small area.
The owner of the property is Tzemach Tzedek C LLC, a company whose registration with the state Department of State lists a Brooklyn address and a name, Nediva Schwarz.
Seth Piccirillo, director of the city’s Community Development Department, sees the proposal as a test of the city’s “group living” law, which came into being with the support of area block clubs and took a lengthy amount of time to develop.
“I’m very concerned about this,” Piccirillo said of the proposal.
The proposed project would require a number of approvals from the city in order to move forward, including three variances and a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals and approval from the Planning Board.
The variances requested would allow:
• Each room be 70 square feet when the city’s minimum requirement for this type of residence is 120 square feet.
• A total of 140 rooms; city law limits the number of single-occupancy rooms at a property to 10.
• No off-street parking; requirements call for 70 off-street parking spaces.
The Zoning Board also would need to issue a special-use permit for the property to be used as a boarding or rooming house.
Robert Pascoal, president of the Landlords’ Association of Greater Niagara, said that while he understands the need for the idea of properties with single-room occupancy, he does not think this project is a good idea the way it’s being proposed.
Considering the variances being requested, Pascoal said he wanted to know if anyone has studied what the potential impact to the neighborhood might be.
Pascoal said he also thinks the project would be a “cash cow” for its owner.
Both Pascoal and Piccirillo said they were worried about properties that end up “warehousing people” by giving them space to live that’s too small to actually spend much time in.
The city enacted the “group living” law to prevent projects like this from moving forward, Piccirillo said.
“I would call this exactly the reason why the group home ordinance was put in place,” he said.
Schwarz, when reached briefly by phone on Monday, asked a reporter if he was interested in purchasing the property. When told no, she asked the reporter if he could call back in an hour. She did not answer a subsequent call.
Back taxes totaling more than $29,000 are also owed to the city and the city school district, according to city records.
Tzemach Tzedek C LLC also is delinquent on 2012 and 2013 Niagara County property taxes, according to the Niagara County Treasurer’s Office.
The company owes overdue county taxes of $2,712 for last year and $2,503 for this year.
Leonard Bevilacqua is a local broker who was hired as the company’s agent with the city. Bevilacqua recently had a medical issue, so his son, Vinnie, is handling the issue for the time being.
Vinnie Bevilacqua, who said he has not yet caught up on most of the project’s details, said it is proposed as housing for veterans.
Tzemach Tzedek C LLC bought the property for $250,000 from Jan Wisniewski in 2002, according to city property records.
The three-story building at 704 Eighth St. was constructed in 1940.
The Zoning Board will review the project at 5:30 p.m. next Tuesday in Council Chambers in City Hall.
The project would also need approval from the Planning Board, though the company has yet to make an application to that panel.