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Demolition of blighted homes among priorities for land bank in Chautauqua

DUNKIRK – Removal of several blighted homes in the county, as well as proposals for hiking trails and a historic renovation in Westfield and a possible small park in Fredonia, were all on the agenda during last week’s meeting of Chautauqua County Land Bank Corp.

The land bank’s mission is to improve and stabilize neighborhoods and commercial areas throughout the county. It often takes over homes that are in foreclosure or have unpaid taxes.

Mark R. Geise, the county’s director of planning, and Gina Paradis of the land bank gave an update on demolition of properties in the county.

Nineteen buildings were recently demolished in Jamestown and four in Dunkirk. One home was also razed in Ellicott. Rural community demolitions of homes that are considered abandoned and beyond saving also are scheduled.

So far, about $600,000 has been spent taking down the homes. The average cost per project is about $24,000. After the demolitions are completed, the vacant lots are offered for sale to neighbors.

Two grants from the state Attorney General’s Office are funding the demolition project for “extremely distressed” properties.

The former Portage Inn restaurant in Westfield and a home in Brocton are on the schedule for demolition, according to Geise, who said that asbestos surveys on the properties need to be completed. A resolution was approved Wednesday to support the removal of the building to support the idea of incorporating the vacant lot into a park.

Geise said that he is working with the Village of Westfield to develop Welch Park on state Route 394 and that the Portage Inn removal is part of the park concept. The village owns property that extends along Chautauqua Creek, he said, but there is no access to the area. The plan would include a hiking trail that would eventually run from Barcelona Harbor in Westfield to Chautauqua Institution.

The village hopes to secure grant funding to improve the trails and the area for the park. The projected cost to demolish the Portage Inn is $200,000. Geise said the former restaurant property is connected to the park area and the land would become part of the recreational area and become an access to the other land.

Fredonia Mayor Stephen W. Keefe asked about a building on Main Street across from the historic White Inn that he said has been an eyesore for years. Geise said that he toured the building and believes that it is not structurally sound.

“It cannot continue in the shape that it is now,” Keefe said. The mayor said that he hopes the building could be repaired but that larger improvement is needed for the commercial area in the village.

“The idea would be to create a pocket park or some sort of artistic place,” said Geise of the potential use for the vacant lot after the building is removed.

Paradis said the land bank is looking for ways to help rural communities with demolition projects. She said that most of the smaller communities have part-time building inspectors and do not have staff or funds to help address problem properties.

Chautauqua County Attorney Stephen M. Abdella discussed a resolution that would allow unspent funds that were allocated for rural areas to be transferred to the cities of Jamestown and Dunkirk. The resolution was approved.

Several proposals were received for resale of properties that have been purchased or transferred to the land bank and are in need of rehabilitation. The group approved purchases for addresses in Silver Creek, Falconer, Westfield and Jamestown. Purchasers in each case provided plans for renovation and improvements. These properties are owned by the land bank and have viable buildings that are in need of repairs.

The Westfield address is a large historic home at 25 Academy St. Paradis said plans call for keeping the home historically accurate and make it a single-family home. The land bank purchased the home in 2013. The sale price approved was $30,000.

Also approved was a proposal to purchase 734 Main St. in Dunkirk. The new owner, William Brock, who lives in Washington State, will be able to purchase the home for $5,000 from the land bank and has made a commitment to invest $30,000 in renovation and repairs. Paradis said that Brock owns two other properties in Dunkirk and that there have been no issues about maintenance. When work is completed, the property would be available for rental.