The former Colonie Lounge on Hertel Avenue has a new owner. It's getting a face-lift and still provoking the wrath of neighbors worried about its reopening as a topless bar.
Earlier this month, the estate of James DeMarco, the former owner, sold the building at 1795 Hertel Ave. for $100,000 to a corporation whose officers run a similar bar in North Tonawanda.
This week, workers began repairing the exterior walls at the former Colonie Lounge, arousing the fears of neighbors once again.
The controversy over the lounge pits competing principles against each other: The city's desire to keep "adult-use" businesses out of residential neighborhoods and the business owners' rights to reopen an old business on the same property.
"We're afraid that they're going to open the facility and shove it down our throats," said Charles J. Ciotta of Huntington Avenue, a neighborhood activist.
"We're just not going to stand pat and allow it. We're ready to push for whatever ordinance it takes to protect our interests."
Joseph and Kathleen Paradowski, whose company Comfort Zone WNY purchased the property, insist that they only are fixing a cracked exterior wall.
"Right now, all we're doing is fixing this eyesore of a building that's been sitting there doing nothing," Mrs. Paradowski said.
She and her husband have said they want to reopen the Colonie Lounge, which operated for more than 30 years as a low-key topless bar at Hertel and Voorhees avenues.
"We're waiting on the advisement of our attorneys when we can open it," Mrs. Paradowski said.
Neighbors concerned that the new owners might turn the once-sleepy tavern into a neighborhood nuisance, with larger crowds and undesirable customers, signed petitions and took their fears to the Common Council.
On March 31, acting Corporation Counsel Michael B. Risman issued an opinion that, if the new owners want to open a similar-type bar, they should apply for:
A "restricted-use" permit, because the property lies in the Hertel Avenue Special Zoning District.
Zoning Board approval, because it would be a restaurant with dancing or entertainment in a C-1 commercial zone.
An "adult-use" permit because of the nature of the entertainment.
The corporation counsel's office is aware that the property has been bought and that renovations have begun there.
"We're continuing to investigate the situation," Assistant Corporation Counsel David J. State said.
The Paradowskis run a similar bar, Alexander's Lounge, in North Tonawanda, and they pledge that they would run a clean operation here.
"We have rules that the girls have to follow," Mrs. Paradowski has said. "We have rules that the customers have to follow.
"If our customers don't conduct themselves in a respectful and responsible manner, we ask them to leave and not return," she said.
Ciotta and the Concerned Residents Against Pornography remain unconvinced. They have obtained more than 1,000 signatures from neighbors, and Ciotta thinks the neighborhood's future depends partly on keeping such businesses from setting up shop.
"North Buffalo has gone a long way to preserve the middle class," Ciotta said. "Young couples with children are moving in and fixing their homes. An assault on our family values is not going to keep them there."