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Construction ahead of schedule on controversial apartment complex in Lackawanna

Ridgeways Commons, an $8.2 million apartment project in Lackawanna, overcame court battles, a litigious land transfer and the firing of a city official who championed it.

Now construction of the 32-unit complex on the former Friendship House property at 264 Ridge Road is ahead of schedule and prompting inquiries from residents interested in moving in, said the president and CEO of Community Services for the Developmentally Disabled, the owner.

"Our phone has been ringing like crazy," said Mindy Cervoni. "But we can't send out applications early. Because the project is funded by New York State Homes & Community Renewal, there are specific rules as to when we can advertise the apartments to the community, generally 90 days before the completion of the construction."

Cervoni said construction is "a little over 30 percent complete" and expected to be finished in late January 2018. Marketing to prospective tenants will begin this fall, Cervoni said.

Mindy Cervoni, director of community services at Ridgeway Commons, 264 Ridge Road, site of the former Friendship House, in Lackawanna, N.Y. (John Hickey/Buffalo News)

Eight of the one- and two-bedroom units are reserved for people with developmental disabilities, Cervoni said. Ridgeway Commons will be managed by Belmont Housing Resources for WNY. Creative Structure Services is the general contractor.

Community Services filed a lawsuit against Lackawanna early this year seeking to compel the city to follow through on its plans to sell the property. The City Council had approved the land sale in December 2016, but the mayor had refused to sign the ordinance.

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Lackawanna lawmakers have maintained their opposition to a nonprofit organization purchasing the property for development because of the loss in revenue from property taxes. Lackawanna's most recent construction was the $16.7 residential treatment center on Martin Road that was built by Baker-Victory Services, another nonprofit.

"I don't think it will bring more development," said Joseph Jerge, Third Ward councilman. "I was holding out hope that we could have attracted a commercial business. If it had to be residential property, I would have much rather had single-family homes with infrastructure."

The Family Dollar had expressed interest in constructing a new store on another plot of land two blocks west of Ridgeway Commons on the opposite side of Ridge, said Drew Shapiro, the recently appointed development director in Lackawanna.

"Unfortunately it's only been cleared for use as a parking lot," Shapiro said. "The state Department of Conservation indicated that there may need to be further remediation. We are still owners of the property. We have an agreement in principal. We have not executed the contract."

It would be Family Dollar's second store in Lackawanna. The discount chain operates a store at 3231 South Park Ave.

Meanwhile, Shapiro is distancing himself from the Ridgeway Commons project. His predecessor, Fred K. Heinle, was fired by Mayor Geoffrey Szymanski, who was disappointed in the way Heinle handled the proposed apartment complex.

Heinle, who left Lackawanna City Hall March 1, 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 the Community Preservation Corp.

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Shapiro has said little about the project, explaining he was "not privy to the details. This project was exempt from scrutiny," Shapiro said. "It did not go before the Planning Board. I don't even have a file for the project in my office."

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