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Drug rehab facility plans to foot bill for Lockport apartments

Plans will be submitted in one or two months for the conversion of a long-vacant Lockport building into as many as 50 apartments for women recovering from substance abuse treatment, the owner's attorney said last week.

The apartments would be placed in the former Niagara County Infirmary on Davison Road, later renamed the Switzer Building. The county Social Services Department was based in the 104-year-old building, which contains mold and asbestos, when it closed in 2003.

Cazenovia Recovery Systems of Buffalo would operate the facility, spokesman Edward Cichon said. The agency will apply for state grants toward the $1 million project.

LHC Holdings, a subsidiary of Mulvey Construction Co. of Lockport, purchased the infirmary, six smaller buildings and 17.5 acres of land from the county for $100,000 last August.

The boundary between the city and town of Lockport runs through the infirmary, so it has long been presumed that any redevelopment project would require the boundary to be moved to place the property entirely within one of the municipalities.

Town Supervisor Mark C. Crocker said the city wouldn't yield on the question of annexation, so the town is willing to yield its portion of the property to the city. Bradley D. Marble, LHC's attorney, said no such paperwork has been filed yet.

"I think the annexation would not affect whether the project goes forward," said Marble, who also is a Lockport town justice.

If it turns out the project must be approved by the planning and zoning boards of both municipalities, Marble said LHC will make the dual requests.

When the county asked for bids on the property last year, it required that the site must be used for "residential housing, multitenant apartments, retail shops and professional offices."

Apartments for women recovering from substance abuse, operated by a tax-exempt nonprofit agency, aren't the kind of housing Lockport Mayor Michelle M. Roman had in mind.

"They were talking about apartments for seniors that wanted to downsize and be between two golf courses," Roman said.

Asked if the public was misled, Roman answered, "It feels that way."

Marble disagreed. "This opportunity came up after (the purchase)," he said. "It's just a change in circumstances as occurs in any business dealing."

Cichon said Cazenovia is willing to make payments to the city in lieu of property taxes.

Some of the Lockport area's priciest neighborhoods are located within half a mile of the old infirmary. Alderman Richard E. Abbott, who represents that part of the city, said he's hearing concerns from constituents about how the site would be used.

"The people I've talked to over there aren't strong advocates of substance abuse recovery (facilities)," Abbott said.

Crocker said the town applied last year for an $882,000 state grant to assist with renovation, but the application was rejected and will not be renewed.

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