Falls referendum seeks public approval for land transactions by School District - The Buffalo News

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Falls referendum seeks public approval for land transactions by School District

NIAGARA FALLS – The city School District wants to get rid of some land that it owns, but first it needs permission from voters.

A referendum will be held Wednesday, giving the public the chance to weigh in on four proposals.

The first question being asked of voters is whether they approve of the district selling the former administration building at 607 Walnut Ave. and a former warehouse at 543 Sixth St. to Housing Visions, a Syracuse-based nonprofit, for $10,000 each.

The organization has proposed creating about 42 units of affordable housing at eight total properties: the two school district parcels; 533 Fifth St., which is owned by the YWCA of Niagara; four formerly city-owned parcels on Seventh Street; and a formerly city-owned vacant lot at 617 Walnut.

“Walnut Avenue Homes will fundamentally transform the distressed neighborhood on a large and comprehensive scale by eliminating blight and improving residents’ quality of life,” the organization said in a statement about its project.

Two of the Seventh Street properties are vacant homes, while the other two are empty lots. The City Council unanimously approved the sale of those lots Oct. 28. The Planning Board has recommended that the Council sell 617 Walnut, though lawmakers have yet to take an action on the matter.

The School Board already has approved the sale of its properties in mid-October, and the city’s Community Development Department is an ardent supporter of the project.

Housing Visions estimates that the total project will cost $12.9 million. It has targeted several funding sources: low-income housing tax credits, a loan from Homeless Housing Assistance Corp., a loan from the state Housing Trust Fund and a $300,000 grant from the city’s share of U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development funding, along with state and federal historic rehabilitation tax credits.

The project, which has been in the public eye since earlier this year, began around a partnership between the YWCA and Housing Visions as the YWCA was looking for housing units for women who progress through programs at Carolyn’s House, which offers assistance to homeless women and children, many of whom are victims of domestic violence. Under the proposal, there would be 13 such units built on Fifth Street.

Fourteen units for participants in the Section 8 housing program would be part of the entire project.

Proposition No. 2 asks voters to approve the sale of the former South Junior High School on Portage Road, between Ferry and Walnut avenues, to CB-Emmanuel Realty, a Queens-based developer, for $66,000.

The company, which had done projects in Harlem, Brooklyn and the Bronx, has proposed a project called Niagara City Lofts, which would create 64 apartments, as well as 23,000 square feet of commercial space.

The apartments will be designed as “workforce housing” and marketed toward younger tenants, project officials have said. No Section 8 housing is planned as part of the project.

Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center has expressed interest in the commercial space.

The School Board approved the sale in October.

Under the deal, CB-Emmanuel would be required to renovate the building or demolish it, with that cost estimated at $1.3 million.

If the proposal goes through, a community benefits agreement will go into effect, which will include the establishment of an emergency loan fund for neighboring properties.

“Our concept has always been if you preserve and work with the residents around you, you will win, and they will win,” Ben Upshaw, a principal with CB-Emmanuel Realty, told city lawmakers last week.

Both the Walnut Avenue Homes and Niagara City Lofts projects saw proposed payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreements rejected by the Council last week, though both developers said the rejection will not derail the projects.

The failure to pass the agreements will hurt the two organizations in their applications for other public funding, said Seth A. Piccirillo, head of the Department of Community Development.

Upshaw, who lives in Lockport, told the city Planning Board last month that the units would be ready in 2015.

That timetable is likely to be pushed back, Upshaw said last week.

The developers of both projects are applying this week to the state for the low-income housing tax credits.

Proposition No. 3 would officially transfer 11 lots on Jerauld and North avenues to the city for $1. The land, about 1.6 acres, is already used as “improvised park space,” Mayor Paul A. Dyster said last week.

Proposition No. 4 would transfer a 0.075-acre slice of Legends Park, where a storage building is located, to the city for $1.

Dyster said he encourages all residents to support each of the proposals.

Polls will be open from noon to 9 p.m. Wednesday at eight polling sites: Maple Avenue, Kalfas, Abate, Hyde Park, Niagara Street, G.J. Mann and 79th Street elementary schools, as well as LaSalle Preparatory School.

To look up your polling place, visit www.ntsdata.net/niagarsd/pollingplacelookup.aspx or call District Clerk Ruthel D. Dumas at 286-4204.

email: abesecker@buffnews.com

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