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Falls trial against Parlato delayed again Code violation charges focus on lot, former Occidental Chemical building

A trial to settle several long-standing city code violations filed against the owner of a high-profile building near Niagara Falls State Park was delayed this week despite objections by Assistant Corporation Counsel Christopher M. Mazur.

Developer Frank Parlato Jr. took over the former Occidental Chemical office building at 360 S. Rainbow Blvd. in 2004, and has operated a controversial paid parking lot for two tourist seasons on top of the site of a failed underground aquarium known as Aqua Falls.

The city has been in court with Parlato for a year and a half on six sidewalk safety and parking code violations that were filed in 2005, and Mazur said during that time the developer has continuously failed to follow the rules.

Lockport City Judge Thomas M. DiMillo on Wednesday allowed Paul Grenga, Parlato's attorney, to resubmit several pretrial motions that he had withdrawn in January.

The hearing will be held May 8 in Lockport City Court, and DiMillo warned Grenga it would be his last chance to argue the motions, which ask the court to dismiss the case and hold separate jury trials for the two types of charges.

"If [the motions] are withdrawn on that date for any reason, they are withdrawn," DiMillo told Grenga. "They will be heard on that date."
Mazur said Grenga had withdrawn the motions because the city and developer had been negotiating a plea arrangement, which fell through Wednesday.

The case was moved to Lockport City Court last year when Parlato filed a notice of claim that he planned to sue Niagara Falls Chief Judge Mark A. Violante on an alleged false arrest incident.

Parlato, who operates the building under the name One Niagara LLC, filled most of the aquarium hole left behind by a previous developer, and in 2005 he used the space for a paid parking lot and rented the lawn to souvenir and food vendors without the necessary approvals.

Under the city parking ordinance, a private lot cannot be established in the downtown commercial district unless it is supplying off-street parking for an associated business.

Parlato vehemently disagrees with the city law.

In March 2006, Mayor Vince V. Anello unsuccessfully proposed a plan to borrow $2.1 million to demolish the vacant nine-story office building, install a parking lot and enter into a business agreement with Parlato.

Then, the city and developer negotiated an April 2006 settlement that allowed Parlato to operate a tourism retail center in the first floor of the building without the necessary approvals as long as he worked to bring the building to code and gain site plan approval by October.

Councilman Charles Walker said last year that the agreement sent the wrong message to other business owners who have to gain approvals before making changes.

Parlato gained site plan approval last fall and completely filled the site of the failed underground aquarium project, as called for in the settlement. He believes the city violated the settlement when it did not drop the code violation charges.

"They induced me to fill the hole in exchange for dropping the charges," he said. "I feel the charges should be dropped."

Mazur claims Parlato has not fulfilled all the requirements of the settlement, although he did not give specifics, and contends in court papers that the settlement isn't valid because it was never submitted or signed by a judge.

"He didn't comply with everything he was supposed to do and that's why we're here today," Mazur said Wednesday.

The building was condemned for a month last year due to several fire safety and electrical issues -- during which time Parlato kept the building open to the public -- and it was condemned again this winter when the electrical and plumbing were shut off and the building was closed.

"It's the only time in the city that a winterized building has been condemned . . . that I know of," Grenga said.

The building has yet to gain a certificate of occupancy, and Parlato has begun to operate a paid parking lot this year. However, Parlato said Wednesday he will cease the parking operations until he gains a certificate because he wants to work with the city's Inspections Department.

"I do not, however, by suspending the parking, wish it to be deemed that I am surrendering any of my rights as a property owner," he wrote in a letter to Building Commissioner Guy Bax this week.

Parlato and Grenga said they do not feel they're being treated unfairly by the city's Inspections Department.

"It's higher profile," Grenga said. "The Inspections Department responds to complaints and a lot of times [complaints] come from people with ulterior motives."

One Niagara owes nearly $1 million for some of 2005, and all of 2006 and 2007, in property taxes to the county, city and school district on the building. Parlato said a payment of some of the 2006 taxes would be made soon.

Parlato said he plans to reopen the first floor as a tourist retail hub this year, with a new bar and restaurant, and said he will pave the parking area.

e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

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