LOCKPORT – Niagara County is trying to decide whether to hang another “For Sale” sign on land on Davison Road in Lockport after the local construction company that pursued the land for four years backed out of a deal,
R.B. Mac Construction of Lockport pulled the plug on its contract in June, two years after the County Legislature approved its two-stage purchase of more than 66 acres of land immediately north of the county golf course. It was the second time R.B. Mac had tried to buy the land.
Assistant County Attorney R. Thomas Burgasser said that this spring, R.B. Mac asked for another year to wrap up outstanding issues with the deal, including whether a municipal boundary could be moved to place the land all in the Town of Lockport or all in the City of Lockport.
Burgasser said the county countered by offering R.B. Mac six months to close on the purchase, and the company decided to give up on the arrangement.
“The extra six months was for them to take care of any contingencies within the contract,” Burgasser said. “They didn’t take advantage of the six months.”
County Legislature Majority Leader Randy R. Bradt said last week that the county’s Space Allocation Committee will discuss the future of the property.
Morgan L. Jones Jr., R.B. Mac’s attorney, said the county refunded R.B. Mac’s deposit, but the company reimbursed the county “a couple of thousand dollars” for the cost of environmental investigations on the site.
In June 2014, the Legislature agreed to sell the 16.9 acres closest to the road to R.B. Mac for $50,700. The deal gave the company five years to redevelop the property, and if it did so to the county’s satisfaction, R.B. Mac would have been entitled to buy another 49.4 acres of land, east and south of the first parcel, for $50,000.
The land is mostly vacant, except for the century-old former County Infirmary, later renamed the Switzer Building when it was the headquarters of the county Social Services Department. However, the building has been vacant since 2003.
Complicating the issue is the fact that the border between the City and Town of Lockport runs through the Switzer Building.
“The issue was the boundary line,” said Legislator John Syracuse, R-Newfane, chair of the county committee that gave R.B. Mac the six-month deadline. He predicted the issue would continue to interfere with any future sale.
Jones said, “In order to get a comprehensive development, they wanted the town to take over the part that was in the city, or the other way around.”
City Alderman Richard E. Abbott, D-5th Ward, who tried to save the project by making a land trade with the town, said R.B. Mac wanted the entire parcel in the town. “They didn’t want to deal with the city,” he said.
The town has no general property tax, making the cost of the project lower than it would be in the city. Also, a divided parcel would mean twice the red tape in getting a development plan approved, since the planning and zoning boards of both municipalities would need to review it.
Town Supervisor Mark C. Crocker said he was “disappointed” when he learned the deal had fallen through again. He said, “We don’t want that building to fall into total disrepair.”
R.B. Mac was planning a renovation of the asbestos-laden former infirmary, built in 1915, into apartments, with a mixed residential and commercial development around it. The contract with the county barred low-income housing, since the property abuts the Carlisle Gardens subdivision, one of the Town of Lockport’s most upscale areas.
In 2012, R.B. Mac tried to buy the land, offering a bit less than the $175,000 the county sought in its real estate listing, with a plan for apartments in the Switzer Building and patio homes elsewhere on the property. After a year and a half of negotiation, the deal fell through and the county tried a sealed-bid process in 2014. No one bid but R.B. Mac.
The two-time collapse of sales to R.B. Mac represents only half of the county’s failed efforts to sell the land on Davison Road.
In 2007, the Legislature agreed to sell the property to the Christian Academy of Western New York for $375,000, even though such a deal with a not-for-profit organization would have kept the land tax-exempt. However, the academy never came up with the necessary financing to close the deal.
In 2011, the county tried to sell the property in an internet auction. Dr. Douglas MacLeod, an ophthalmologist from Tacoma, Wash., had the winning bid at $160,250, and promoted a condominium plan on the Town of Lockport portion of the site.
However, the condos would have been four stories high, taller than the town zoning ordinance allows, and MacLeod was allowed to cancel his bid.