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Lockport says no to discounting $150 fee for variance zoning

The Common Council decided Wednesday it's not interested in offering discounts from the $150 variance fee for homeowners whose houses are located outside residential zones.

Alderwoman Kathryn J. Fogle, R-3rd Ward, and Alderman John Lombardi III, R-1st Ward, said they had been contacted by residents who want to refinance their mortgages but who were stymied when their banks discovered the zoning.

Lombardi said many homes in the western part of the city are actually in industrial zones.

Corporation Counsel John J. Ottaviano said the homes were there before the zoning ordinance was adopted and are called "pre-existing nonconforming uses."

"I would say you've probably got 100 houses [in industrial zones]," Ottaviano said.

He said banks are denying new mortgages because, according to the zoning rules, if a house outside a residential zone were to burn down, it couldn't be rebuilt without a variance.

He said the city Building Inspection Department once issued letters to try to assuage the banks' concerns, but banks have tightened lending standards, and such letters are now useless.

Ottaviano suggested that such homeowners could pre-empt the problem by applying for a use variance now.

Fogle said a discount should be offered, or the fee should be eliminated. "They deserve that," she said. "They can never sell their property."

Alderwoman Anne E. McCaffrey, R-2nd Ward, suggested an amnesty period from the variance fee. But as the discussion proceeded, the Council turned against the idea.

City Clerk Richelle J. Pasceri pointed out that the city just raised many fees because it wanted to pay for an extra inspector.

Lombardi noted that the homeowners presumably will save substantial money by refinancing their mortgage.

"You're going to let $150 stop that?" he asked. "They don't want to pay the $150, but it will get them what they want."

On another topic, Alderman Kenneth M. Genewick, R-5th Ward, told his colleagues that the city may be able to accept credit card payments for taxes and other city bills as a side effect of a proposed software upgrade, now being studied.

The city currently has two brands of financial software. Not all offices have both.

"We need to integrate the city on the same software," Genewick said.

McCaffrey said taking credit cards might make it easier for homeowners such as the ones in Fogle's ward to pay that $150 variance fee.

The Council refused to vote on a resolution to install a sewer main on a short stretch of Genesee Street because Norman D. Allen, director of engineering and public works, didn't supply a cost estimate.

Housing Visions, which is constructing a multiple dwelling project on Genesee Street, tried to install sewer connections but found there was no main in the street in front of 153, 155 and 159 Genesee.

Alderman Patrick W. Schrader, D-4th Ward, said the sewers probably run behind those addresses, downhill to South or Pine streets. The resolution would have had the city buy the materials, while Housing Visions performed the installations.