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Lackawanna mayor fires development director

Plans to build a housing complex on lower Ridge Road may have won approval from Lackawanna lawmakers Monday night, but the city official who facilitated the deal lost his job on Wednesday.

Fred K. Heinle, Lackawanna's development director, was fired Wednesday morning by Mayor Geoffrey M. Szymanski, several sources in city government confirmed.

Members of the City Council were notified of Heinle's dismissal through a group text from the mayor Wednesday morning.

Szymanski was reportedly disappointed in the way Heinle handled the proposed development of the former Friendship House property at 264 Ridge Road. Several City Council members said they were misled by Heinle on the project that narrowly gained approval Monday.

"I don't want to see anyone lose their job, but after seeing some of the things that Fred did, how could you trust someone like that?" asked Annette Iafallo, Second Ward councilwoman who was opposed to the project since November 2016, when it was first brought to the attention of the city council.

"First of all we didn't even know about it," said Iafallo. "And then we were told different stories about it."

Efforts to reach Szymanski and Heinle were not successful.

Developers this year took Lackawanna to State Supreme Court to force the city to turn over the parcel of land. The project – Ridgeway Commons, an $8.5 million 32-unit apartment complex – is sponsored by Community Services for the Developmentally Disabled.

"I think the Friendship House is what did Fred in," said Abdulsalam K. Noman, councilman for the First Ward, where the development is planned. "I'm 99 percent sure of that. We were not aware of what was going on with the project. I kept on asking him all the time what was happening with the property."

Noman, who twice voted to approve the project, voted against it Monday night after he received calls and emails from many of his constituents.

"I listened to them," said Noman. "I'm very disappointed over what happened. We have a city and there is a process. You can't just go out there and build. You need the approval of the Planning Board, the Zoning Board – and from what I know, there was none."

Lawmakers said they were unaware of the project until November when Heinle appeared before the panel seeking approval for the land transfer. But by that time, work had already begun on the property.

"We were told it was to be senior housing," said Iafallo. "And then we were told it was low income. Now we discovered it would house the disabled."

"That is prime land and we asked Fred to find a grocery store for it," said Iafallo. "We should be extending our tax base and not getting a not for profit."

Heinle served as Lackawanna's director of development since March 2014. He also held positions as director of Buffalo's Office of Strategic Planning, and he was assistant vice president of Community Preservation Corporation.

"I think the mayor put a lot of trust in Fred, but the damage is done," said Noman. "If the mayor plans to veto the ordinance that approved the project, I will support him because that project should have never happened."

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