Believing that claims by local lawyer John P. Bartolomei over some downtown properties have the potential to damage or deter development, the Urban Renewal Agency on Monday authorized its lawyer to go to court to have the claims overturned.
At issue Monday was a parking agreement with the prospective buyers of the Jefferson Apartments for part of an urban renewal parcel that Bartolomei claims the city sold to one of his companies in 1982. After an executive session to discuss the lawsuit and the parking agreement, the agency voted to move ahead with both.
Agency members voted unanimously and without discussion to authorize Kathleen Wojtasek-Gariano to seek a declaratory judgment in State Supreme Court to end the dispute over Bartolomei's rights. Richard I. Zucco, lawyer for community development, said Bartolomei's claims have no merit.
Bartolomei claims the rights under the 1982 downtown development contract with Lehr's Greenhouse Restaurant, which was later assigned to companies such as the Niagara Venture, which Bartolomei either represents or has an interest in. The companies developed the Ramada Inn at the Falls, the Niagara Splash water park, Falls Street Faire and Falls Street Station.
Bartolomei further claims that even if the city owned the parcel, it legally couldn't use property acquired through condemnation with taxpayers' money and for the purpose of redevelopment to create a parking lot for an existing building.
He did not speak during the meeting, but Bartolomei furnished each agency member with a letter outlining his position and a copy of the 1982 agreement.
The Jefferson Apartments has been using the lot on a month-to-month basis under a 1975 agreement with the city. Bartolomei said it is all right for the city to use the property for parking temporarily while awaiting development. But, he said, leasing the property for 25 years would constitute a permanent use.
Bartolomei said he has asked the city to release the property a number of times for a hotel development. The sale of the property has never been finalized, and no money has changed hands because, Bartolomei said, every time he asks for its release, "They stonewall us."
Pointing out that the city's 1992 foreclosure action on the splash park took seven years to settle and cost the city several million dollars for legal costs and to run the park, Bartolomei asked: "Where does this stuff get them? If they would just do the right thing. . . ."
After the meeting, Bartolomei said a declaratory judgment is "a good action" to take to establish the property rights but the agency didn't wait for an answer before approving the parking lease.
"When they take action without the judgment, where does that leave them?" he asked.
The agreement leases a 100-foot-by-132-foot portion of the disputed property fronting on Third Street and north of the apartment building at 250 Rainbow Blvd. for about 39 cars for $300 a month through Jan. 31, 2026.
The lease prohibits use for anything but off-street parking for tenants and visitors and requires the new owners to fence, pave and stripe the lot within three years.
The new ownership company, Jefferson Apartments LLC, is made up of Quain and Shawn Weber, H.J. Smith, John Giusiana and Daniel Vecchies. The former owner, William D. Hassett Jr., passed away. Giusiana said the group needs the property to service the tenants, who have always used it.
Bartolomei said he had no quarrel with the buyers of the apartments.
"I think it's great when local people can own the Jefferson Apartments, but the city can't do this," he said.