The Tonawanda Common Council has signaled its intention to sell 14 acres of vacant city-owned land to a homebuilder, if an acceptable contract can be worked out by April 1.
The Council on Tuesday night voted unanimously to authorize Mayor Rick Davis to negotiate a land acquisition agreement with David Homes for the 14 acres along Little League Drive near Veterans Park. Any new housing development would be the first in the built-out city in nearly 30 years.
Proposals to build on the land have been floated for over 10 years and have attracted some opposition, mainly from Fletcher Street residents who fear losing wooded views from their backyards. Some of them filled the rows Tuesday in Council Chambers.
Fourth Ward Councilman Tim Toth, who represents the area and was previously opposed to developing the land, sought some assurances from Davis before the vote.
“This resolution is not handing over the keys to David Homes to put shovels in the ground. Correct, Mr. Mayor?” Toth asked.
“Correct,” Davis said.
“And we are going to continue to work together on an agreement that is going to be feasible for the residents and make sure we address their concerns?” Toth asked.
The mayor said they would.
The contract would include sale price of the property, condominium status for real estate tax purposes, layout of development, site plan and style of homes to be built. David Homes would also be responsible for all the development’s costs, including its infrastructure.
The Council in April voted to designate David Homes as the preferred developer for the site. Tuesday’s Council action was a “good faith gesture” to David Homes, Toth said after the meeting.
“This is by no means a done deal at this point,” he said. “We’re going to continue to work towards it.”
Before the vote, Fourth Ward resident Roger Puchalski, a frequent critic of housing at Little League Drive, said there has been a lack of public input on what to do with the land – whether it be housing, recreation or some other use.
“None of the other alternatives were ever explored – very myopic,” he told the Council.
He also noted property taxes are projected to increase next year by $50 for the average city homeowner, under the 2017 budget Davis presented Tuesday.
Later, Davis said the comments of Puchalski, who had left the chambers, were “pretty ignorant.”
“I normally don’t use that word, but you can’t complain about taxes and then complain about development here in the city,” he said. “I just scratch my head.”