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Center St. rezoning approved

The Village Board adopted a plan Monday for rezoning along Center Street from Fourth Street to the waterfront to increase retail space.

The rezoning plan includes shifting parcels from residential and restricted business to retail and from single family to townhouses.

The board acted after a public hearing attended by a overflow crowd both in support of and opposed to the changes.

Many who wanted to talk about how the rezoning would affect plans for a luxury inn on the waterfront were effectively removed from the discussion when Mayor Richard F. Soluri tabled that issue until the board's next meeting in October.

The agenda had included a request to grant a special-use permit to Ed and Diane Finkbeiner for the Niagara at Barton Hill, a multimillion-dollar luxury hotel overlooking the river at Center and South First streets.

Kathleen Harold, who had sued the village to stop the rezoning and lost her case earlier this month, said she plans to appeal.

"We've been working on the master plan for four years, to extend the retail district along Center Street, from Fourth to the waterfront, long before Ed Finkbeiner was here," Village Attorney Paul Grenga said.

Sandy Hays, president of the Lower Niagara Chamber of Commerce, said, "We consistently hear of people who want to locate here and can't find space. People are so impressed with our village. This a premier place to work and live."

George VanHoose, who lives on Center Street, also supported the rezoning plan, saying, "This will bring revenue and give people a reason to come to the village. I think we need that."

Harold disagreed. "We are overexpanding our commercial base. Some are barely hanging on," she said.

Mary Louise Demarchi, who owns a bed-and-breakfast in the village, said rezoning to allow another inn would mean the end of saving the historic Frontier House, which was also planning an inn on Center Street.

Soluri said village officials, too, are trying to save the Frontier House.

"We think the master plan committee did a masterful job. It's a fair plan that extends the business district in an orderly fashion. There are safeguards built in to make sure nothing runs rampant. You are not going to see a Kmart here," the mayor added.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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