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New Cold Storage site proposals sought; Village rejects plan for senior housing

It's back to the drawing board for the former Youngstown Cold Storage site, as village officials invite another round of proposals following the rejection of a potential plan for senior housing announced last fall.

The village has again released an official "request for proposals" to local developers for the "purchase, demolition and redevelopment" of the site at 701 Third St. Proposals will be accepted until Sept. 9 at village offices.

David Burke, of Burke Homes in Hamburg, had expressed interest in developing housing for those age 62 and older at the site last November, at an estimated cost of up to $4.5 million. But he said last week that when he wanted to pursue a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, agreement, the village decided to look for other proposals.

"I think it was probably a combination of things," Burke said. "I think everyone was on board with our concept, and it seemed like we were making progress. But then, when we wanted to try and get a PILOT, they decided they were better off going back to square one with another round of proposals. I think the demolition [of two crumbling buildings on the site] was a hurdle, too."

The Village Board has entertained a number of ideas for uses for the site over the years, but Burke Homes was the only major respondent when officials advertised for proposals last year.

Burke indicated that he was not out of the running for this new round, though.

"There's always a chance," he said. "I don't know. We'll see."

Village Mayor Neil Riordan said there has been a lot of interest in the site subsequent to that first round of request for proposals last year.

"We may still get a request to develop it as senior housing," Riordan said, "or maybe something else. A market study has been done, which we will be able to share with [interested developers]."

The village conducted a public survey of residents last fall to gauge interest in senior housing. According to county officials, Niagara County is home to approximately 33,000 senior citizens ages 65 and older and there is a waiting list at some of the roughly 60 senior housing sites throughout the county.

Jeanette Collesano, director of the Town of Lewiston Senior Center, lamented the loss of the Burke Homes project. "There is a tremendous need for this," she said, "especially for assisted living [which Burke's plan included]. There are waiting lists for the ones already in place."

Village officials have made it clear that while they have worked hard to make sure the site is environmentally sound, they will not foot the demolition bill.

"The site has environmental clearance -- it's ready to go [for demolition]," Riordan said. "But the village cannot afford $150,000 to $200,000 to take those buildings down, and it's too far gone for rehabilitation. We are still going to sources to help facilitate [demolition] through grants, but New York State is pretty well strapped."

The Cold Storage site was used to wash, store and package local apples from 1910 to 1996. It consists of a deteriorating, three-story stone warehouse, a single-story brick ice house and a spray wash area. A vacant house at 718 Second St., also owned by the farmers' cooperative that owned the Cold Storage site, was demolished in 2008.

Niagara County took possession of the Cold Storage site after the farmers' co-op stopped paying its taxes. The village received the deed in June 2008.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state Department of Environmental Conservation gave the site the green light for development early last year after extensive cleanup of hazardous materials at a cost of just under $200,000.

Earlier thoughts of preserving and rehabilitating the crumbling structures were dashed by village officials on the advice of numerous engineers and architects. The new request for proposals includes the demolition of the buildings as part of several village "objectives," with "reclamation of cut stone and timber" to be used by the developer as well as the village.

Also listed among the objectives is "the sale of the property and returning the property to the tax rolls."

And, if a developer chooses to pursue a housing project, the village requests "the construction of residential units which may be for sale or rent," adding that the "residential units shall be compatible with the demographics of the village and may include senior and supportive housing units."

Burke's conceptual plans called for a 25,000- to 38,000-square-foot, two-story building with 25 to 40 senior housing units on the roughly three acres bordered by Second, Elliot and Third streets.

Riordan said that the new proposals "will be looked at by our Village Board, our engineer and our Planning and Zoning boards, and once a plan has been chosen, we will hold a public information session. We didn't even get to the public information step last time [with Burke's plan]."