A resolution calling on the City of Tonawanda and its school district to resume discussions over a land exchange caused some discord among Common Council members Tuesday night but ultimately passed by a slim majority.
The Tonawanda City School District has previously expressed interest in obtaining four acres of city-owned land adjacent to the high school’s property on Fletcher Street between Rogers Avenue and Little League Drive for use as recreation fields.
Under a contract before the Council, however, that land is part of 17 acres on which 56 single-family homes would be built by Natale Builders in three phases.
Fourth Ward Alderwoman Jenna N. Koch’s resolution Tuesday creates a committee to further investigate the possibility of exchanging those four acres for four acres at the former Clinton H. Small Stadium on Main Street, which closed when a new stadium opened last year.
“The resolution that I sponsored tonight helps to create a positive working relationship with our school district,” Koch said. “Our city is way too small to not work together for the best interests of our city.”
The resolution passed with support from 2nd Ward Alderwoman Jackie A. Smilinich and 3rd Ward Alderman John J. Hall, with 1st Ward Councilman Charles Gilbert and Council President Carleton R. Zeisz voting against it.
“I’m quite shocked and disappointed that this resolution did not have unanimous support tonight,” Koch said.
But Zeisz said he does not oppose resuming discussions with the district. Rather, he wants to first know the fate of the Natale contract, which has been criticized for giving the homes a lower condominium property tax status.
“I’m inclined to not move ahead and give away that part of city property until we have a definitive answer on the entire property of 17 acres,” he said.
He and Gilbert also said the resolution was unnecessary and the committee could be formed without Council action.
“Anything in here the Council can do without the resolution,” Zeisz said.
But Koch said her action stemmed from a letter by the Council dated Jan. 30 to City Attorney Ronald C. Trabucco instructing him to cease discussions with the school district’s attorney over a possible land exchange. Koch said she’s unsure who instructed that the letter be sent.
Mayor Rick Davis, who has been critical of the Natale deal, said in his remarks at the end of the meeting that he has always supported a land swap.
Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the Council approved the sale of land at the new Spaulding Commerce Park to Simmers Crane Design & Services, which will become the first tenant of the cleaned-up former Spaulding Fibre manufacturing site.
And Joyce A. Hogenkamp, president of the volunteer group Citizens United for Justice, called for the results of federal and state investigations into an explosion Jan. 31 at Tonawanda Coke to be made public.
“Full transparency is essential for the health and peace of mind of our community and those workers,” she said during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting.
The Council and Davis agreed with Hogenkamp that Tonawanda Coke should be held accountable.