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Falls lawmakers to consider abandoning 76th Street site

NIAGARA FALLS – Less than a year ago, the city Planning Board opposed a request from Benderson Development that the city abandon an undeveloped part of 76th Street for the expansion of a Niagara Falls Boulevard retail plaza.

On Monday, lawmakers will consider giving up about a half-acre portion of city property so the developer can move some contaminated soil from elsewhere on the site and continue with plans to build a new big-box store.

What’s different this time around is the city has an agreement in writing with Benderson that will give the city the ability to reconfigure an extension of 76th Street by using Benderson’s property, should it choose to do so in the future.

Benderson officials have told the city that paying to move the material off site would be cost prohibitive to the project, said Thomas J. DeSantis, the city’s acting director of planning and economic development.

Under state regulations, they are allowed to move the material to a contiguous part of the site, which is why the developer asked to take over the unpaved roadway adjacent to their property.

The way the developer wants the expansion configured, the approximately 30,000 cubic yards of contaminated material would move further to the east. The contaminated material, which was consolidated from across the site at the time the plaza was originally constructed, is believed to contain “low levels” of mercury and chromium. If the plan goes forward and the material is moved, the contamination levels will be checked again.

“We have every expectation that they can and will do what they say and follow all the necessary rules to make sure it’s done safely and correctly,” DeSantis said.

Ultimately what Benderson wants to do is build a 65,000-square-foot store at the east end of Niagara Consumer Square, whose largest current tenants are Tops and Target.

A public hearing on whether the city should abandon the land will be held at 6 p.m. Monday in Council Chambers in City Hall.

A memorandum of understanding with Benderson, contingent upon the Council approving the abandonment of the land, was approved by a 4-1 vote of the Council on Jan. 5. Councilman Glenn A. Choolokian cast the only vote in opposition.

The final say on any land abandonment lies with the Council, not the Planning Board, which has the power to make recommendations.

If the city in the future wants to extend Mooradian Drive, which runs behind the plaza, Benderson is agreeing to allow the city to reroute 76th Street so it can connect Mooradian to Niagara Falls Boulevard.

In the end, according to DeSantis, the city will get additional tax base and not lose a future road connection, which is thought to be important because of the continued commercial growth along Military Road and at the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls.

The city Planning Board last May refused to endorse the proposal for the city to abandon the land.

Planning Board Chairman Richard D. Smith said last week he remains opposed to for a number of reasons.

Smith said the contaminated material’s been on the site for 20 years, plenty of time for the developer to take care of it. He also questioned repositioning it.

The Planning Board also suggested Benderson reconfigure its plans to make an L-shaped building to fit in the existing space, rather than further extending eastward, Smith said.

A Benderson representative did not respond to a request for comment.