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Rezoning of church site is on agenda

A public hearing will be held at 7 p.m. Oct. 13 in City Hall on a rezoning request from an organization that wants to turn a former Catholic church and school on Payne Avenue into subsidized housing for homeless youths and low-income veterans.

City lawmakers scheduled the hearing on the former St. Joseph Catholic Church property, 1451 Payne, during a work session in City Hall on Tuesday evening. Afterward, Common Council members heard from the project's sponsor, the United Church Home Society of Orchard Park, which made a presentation similar to what was given during a Sept. 8 meeting of the city Planning Commission.

The project would utilize the former school, church, convent and rectory buildings on the property, according to plans submitted by the organization. The first phase, planned for next year, would turn the rectory into housing for homeless males between the ages of 16 and 21.

The organization's goal is to help young people "before they get in trouble with the law."

"These transitional homes are a perfect solution for these kids," said Carol C. Halter, director of development for the not-for-profit group.

The second phase calls for the convent to become housing units for females, also between 16 and 21, in the spring of 2011. In the fall of 2011, the school would be renovated into 17 handicapped-accessible units for veterans; the church would be turned into housing units, as well as a community center.

The United Church Home Society runs Fox Run at Orchard Park, a retirement community, as well as United Church Manor in West Seneca, which is federally subsidized housing for senior citizens and the disabled.

The organization has not operated housing for homeless youths or veterans before, Halter said. There are currently no housing units in Niagara County dedicated to low-income veterans, while there are 100 such units in Erie County, she said.

Young people who would live on the campus, to be called Plymouth Crossroads, would live there voluntarily, not be ordered to live there by the courts. A staff of about 15 to 20 will be hired to work on the campus, and there will always be at least two adults on the premises, according to the organization.

The targeted veterans who need this type of housing are most often between ages 50 and 62, Halter said.

Third Ward Alderwoman Nancy A. Donovan asked Halter about having the two age groups living so close to one another. Halter responded by saying veterans will have a great opportunity to mentor young people.

"That can be part of what makes this whole thing magic," Halter said.

Donovan also asked if the organization plans to follow the young people once they exit the program.

Halter said the organization's goal is to make sure the young people find permanent housing.

The organization is under contract to buy the property and has received a mortgage commitment, though both are subject to receiving the zoning change from the city, said attorney Daniel G. Tronolone.

The public hearing will be held in Council Chambers in City Hall. The city Planning Commission recommended that the Council permit the rezoning.

e-mail: abesecker@buffnews.com

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