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DePaul cancels Niagara Falls housing project in face of public opposition

Public opposition has sunk a proposed $15.5 million apartment project in Niagara Falls' North End section.

DePaul Properties' engineer sent a one-sentence email to the city planning office Tuesday, withdrawing the project.

"This email is to let you know that DePaul is withdrawing their application for this project from the planning board agenda," wrote Joe Gibbons of Parrone Engineering.

"There's so much neighborhood opposition," DePaul President Mark Fuller said Tuesday night.

He confirmed the Rochester not-for-profit organization, which has built housing complexes in communities across Western and Central New York, does not plan to pursue the project at a different location.

The City Council last week voted 4-1 in favor of a resolution denouncing the project, and numerous residents of the North End spoke out strongly against the plan for a two-story, 80-unit apartment complex.

Councilman Ezra P. Scott Jr., who co-sponsored the resolution, recalled that as far back as 2007 North End residents have been agitating for fewer apartment complexes and more single-family homes to benefit low-income residents.

"You get the feeling that some demographics are pushed aside," said Scott. "You have a plethora of multiple units in the North End. Why should there be more?"

Scott said with Niagara Falls having just received a promise of $10 million in state grants from the Downtown Revitalization Initiative, there's an opportunity to address the housing needs of the North End community.

Even with DePaul's decision, he said he will continue to push for a one-year moratorium on housing projects in the North End, giving the newly elected City Hall administration a change to revise the zoning ordinance.

The project would have included an "urban farming" project, a community vegetable garden, in cooperation with the African Heritage Food Co-op.

"It was clear that we thought we were doing a good thing," Fuller said.

But residents were more concerned about DePaul's plan to allocate 30 of the 80 apartments to clients receiving mental health services from Community Missions of the Niagara Frontier.

DePaul would have rented only to tenants earning 60% or less of Niagara County's median income, but the resolution by Scott and Councilman William Kennedy II said the monthly rents of $625 for a one-bedroom apartment and $725 for two bedrooms were "extremely high."

"The only individuals who benefit from projects of this nature are the property developers, contractors, management team and organizations who exist due to the economic hardships of the poor," according to the resolution.

"The above-referenced groups come into impoverished neighborhoods to work and leave that community taking their tax dollars with them at the expense of the impoverished community," the resolution continued. "The supportive housing project will add even more poverty and transient people in the Highland Avenue community."

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