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Paddle boat business makes waves

A request for approval to open a paddle boat business along the waterfront drew fire at Tuesday's Common Council meeting in the City of Tonawanda.

Robert Rollain presented a plan during the informal portion of the meeting to build a paddle boat business at Gateway Harbor that would give discounts to disabled people. But Jim Chilton, owner of Waterbike Adventures, said Rollain's plan would encroach on his business and his space.

Common Council members plan to visit the proposed location this week to better assess the proposal.

Rollain's desire to provide water-based activities for disabled people is a personal one: He suffered from polio as a child and has been disabled since. There are no handicap-accessible activities on the city waterfront, he said, and he would like to change that.

He plans to charge $15 per hour and $10 per hour for disabled people on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Dick's Sporting Goods has agreed to sponsor his business, he said.

"My intentions are not to step on [Chilton's] toes or take any business from him," Rollain told the Council.

Chilton contended that there is simply not enough space for the 30-foot dock Rollain wants to build next to Chilton's dock space. He is not opposed to competition, he said, but he does not think there will be enough dock space for customers to safely get equipment in and out.

Chilton rents out hydrobikes and kayaks and has two electric boats, whereas Rollain would rent motor-powered paddle boats.

"He just wants to be where all the action is that I've developed the past 12 years," Chilton said of Rollain.

Rollain said that Chilton's business is taking up about 30 extra feet of public property that is not in his contract.

Second Ward Councilman Blake Boyle said that while Chilton's kayak ramp is on public property, it is for public use and therefore benefits citizens.

Revenue also plays a factor. Chilton offers more expensive services and gives 15 percent of his earnings to the city. Rollain proposed giving 5 percent to the city and 5 percent to the historical society.

Above all, space and safety are the chief concerns, Boyle said.

"It's a safety issue. You have to make sure it's safe for citizens," Boyle said.

Also discussed during the meeting was a request for proposals to develop 2.8 acres residentially. All but two plots of land are owned by the city. They are on Niagara Shore Drive and Niagara Street, and they include the land where the city's former wastewater treatment facilities once stood.

Sam Iraci, executive secretary to the mayor, presented the draft request for proposals.

Several Council members expressed concern over what land should be available to developers and whether it should be sold as one parcel. Iraci said that should be decided before the request goes out.