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Suit on sale of Lewiston land killed

A state judge has dismissed a lawsuit that challenged the Village of Lewiston's sale of a small slice of waterfront land to the owner of Whirlpool Jet Boat.

State Supreme Court Justice Richard C. Kloch Sr. made his decision clear Thursday morning before lawyers for the parties even argued the case.

"It's a 5-by-200-foot piece of property. Get rid of it," Kloch said.

Jerome P. Williams, a village resident and Niagara Falls business owner, had filed the lawsuit in December, arguing that the village had no right to make a gift of public property to a private enterprise.

But lawyers for the village and Whirlpool Jet Boat were served with a new legal action this week that argues the village has committed an illegal act by granting the jet boat company exclusive use of public property.

The village in January transferred the strip of land, on the Niagara River adjacent to Water Street Landing Restaurant, for $1. John Kinney owns the the restaurant and Whirlpool Jet Boat dock, located on the same property.

The new land will allow Kinney to undertake a $1 million, 2,700-square-foot expansion that will add a new jet boat entrance, ticket sales area, covered patio and changing area, as well as public bathrooms.

Kloch compared legal actions in the case to the Verizon data center proposal in the Town of Somerset, which fell through last week in part because of a legal challenge.

"If we don't have courts that are responsive and work with businesses, then we will fall even deeper [into a recession] than we already are," Kloch said, noting that providing this slim strip of land will help an ongoing business.

Gregory Photiadis, Williams' attorney, said the case was not comparable to Verizon. But when asked by the judge what the Lewiston property was worth, he could not answer, instead telling the court that the board should have had the property assessed.

"If you have no idea what the property is worth, how can you say if it was fair market value?" Kloch asked, adding, "Where do you want [Whirlpool Jet Boat] to go? Canada? What other locations are there?"

"I'm not saying he has to go to Canada," Photiadis said. "But the purpose [of transferring the property] is flawed. You can't aid any corporation with a gift."

Jet boat lawyer John Bartolomei said the village simply should have given the company the land since the restaurant sits on part of it.

After the court appearance, Village Attorney Edward P. Jesella said government boards often give pieces of land to adjacent landowners.

Kloch said in dismissing the case that the $1 sale, plus any savings the village might realize in potential liability, more than exceeds the property's value.

Photiadias said after court that the new case is a taxpayer lawsuit filed on behalf of Williams. It challenges the original lease given to Whirlpool Jet Boat. He said any taxpayer is allowed to challenge a "waste of public access."

"We are challenging the lease on the grounds that the village acquired the property from the state expressly on the condition that it remains public and the lease with the Jet Boat violates that lease by not allowing public access. Jet Boat is granted exclusive, private use of the docks, which is a direct violation," Photiadias said.

He said the impact disrupts fishing, frustrates the purpose of what the state wants and actually causes injury to other residents.

Bartolomei said that the new lawsuit won't interfere with plans to expand and that work might have begun if not for the weather.

e-mail: nfischer@buffnews.com

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