The former Friendship House that anchored lower Ridge Road has long been gone but Lackawanna lawmakers were asked Monday night to approve the sale of the land to make way for construction of 32 apartments for low-income tenants.
Site preparation was already underway before the City Council was asked to approve the sale of land at 264 Ridge.
One by one, the lawmakers expressed their concern.
“Are you aware the council tabled the sale of the property?" 4th Ward Councilman Jeff DePasquale asked David E. Pawlik of Creative Structures Services, Inc., a general contractor.
“We all felt a little in the dark about it,” added Joseph Jerge, 3rd Ward councilman.
“We were not told about it,” said Council President Keith Lewis. “Until 20 minutes ago, we thought it was senior housing."
The council did not act on the proposed land sale, but councilors agreed to consider it at their next meeting.
Fred K. Heinle, development director for Lackawanna, told the council what a tough sell this parcel was, located in the city’s struggling 1st Ward in a sea of abandoned buildings and vacant land.
“Nobody wants to be the first one in,” said Heinle. “The first question people ask is what other activity is going on around there. You drive down Ridge Road and there is vacancy after vacancy, not only vacant land but vacant buildings. We need as a community to start addressing that and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Total cost of the project is estimated at $8.5 million. Rents would be $491 a month for a single bedroom unit, $588 a month for a two-bedroom apartment.
Ridgeway Commons would be managed by Belmont Housing Resources for WNY. It would take an estimated 10 months to construct, said Pawlik, who compared the project to one at 1490 Jefferson Ave. in Buffalo. That 30-unit residential project includes a community center and already has spurred other development, including an 84-unit complex within 1.5 mile.
The developer of the proposed Lackawanna project would seek to utilize Erie County’s standard PILOT policy that allows for an annual payment in lieu of taxes equal to 5 percent of the project. This payment is then split with 25 percent going to Erie County and 75 percent going to the local municipality.
The total first-year PILOT payment for the development is projected to be $9,609, and will increase 3 percent annually during the 15-year agreement. After which, the property would return to full taxation.
Council members were adamantly opposed to approving any more nonprofit development projects for Lackawanna.
“We said no to a not-for-profit twice on that property,” said Jerge, who formally requested the total assessed value of not-for-profit tax exempt properties from City Assessor Frank E. Krakowski. “I’ve been on a soapbox against more not-for-profits setting up in Lackawanna.”
Krakowski responded that $41 million of the city’s overall $140 million in assessed valuation cannot be taxed.
Annette Iafallo, 2nd Ward councilwoman, agreed with Jerge that no more nonprofit businesses should be approved.