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Falls Planning Board recommends Council deny hotel’s use of city land

NIAGARA FALLS – The Maid of the Mist Corp. on Wednesday asked for the city Planning Board’s blessing for the second time to use a section of city land as part of the parking lot for its downtown hotel.

This time, the board’s answer was even more emphatic than the last.

The board voted, 7-1, to recommend that city lawmakers deny the company’s request for permission to use a 14-by-200-foot section of land as it remakes the parking lot for its Comfort Inn – The Pointe.

The final decision on whether the company can encroach on city property lies with the City Council, which does not have to follow the board’s recommendation but takes seriously the board’s stance.

After the board’s vote, project representatives said they were surprised at the outcome, considering they were invited by Senior Planner Thomas J. DeSantis to make another request to the board, they said.

DeSantis, who did not attend the meeting, also had written a memo to the board urging it to recommend approval to the Council, according to both the board and project representatives.

After hearing a presentation from Corey A. Auerbach, a project attorney, the board took action without any discussion.

Auerbach said Wednesday’s presentation “memorialized the commitments” the company had previously made to improve sidewalks in the area, add landscaping and create a buffer between the parking lot and sidewalk.

After the meeting, Chairman Richard D. Smith said the board still has “essentially the same” concerns that it had earlier this month when it refused to recommend that the city allow the company to use the land.

At its Sept. 11 meeting, board members said any decision to give up the use of city land belongs with the elected lawmakers. At that time, they refused to recommend that lawmakers grant the easement.

The company has been using the city land, across from the “Turtle” building, as part of its parking lot for 25 years without authorization, a fact that became known as plans for hotel improvements were being made.

In another matter, the board listened to plans for a proposed hotel on vacant land on Niagara Falls Boulevard between 70th and 71st streets. The project, being undertaken by Pravin Patel through Sunrise Lodging LLC, calls for a four-story, 72-room Comfort Suites hotel on the south side of Niagara Falls Boulevard.

The 1.8-acre site, which combines five parcels into one, borders residential property. Each floor of the hotel will be about 13,300 square feet.

The site would have three vehicular access points – one each from Niagara Falls Boulevard, 70th and 71st streets, said Michael P. Montalto of Costich Engineering. Plans also call for about 73 parking spaces and a garbage collection area located off the parking lot and away from property boundaries, Montalto said. City planning staff has also requested that the fence between the property and the adjacent homes be replaced.

The board held a public hearing on the project Wednesday, though no member of the public spoke. A period for written comments from the public remains open.

Planning Board members are expected to vote on the project at their Oct. 9 meeting.

Patel owns a Best Western Crown Inn & Suites in Batavia.