by Joshua Maloni
A motion to dismiss the PSR Press lawsuit against Richard Hastings, his hired architects, and the Village of Lewiston was dismissed in state Supreme Court Thursday by Justice Richard Kloch Sr. Hastings' attorney, John P. Bartolomei, filed the motion claiming the petition incorrectly listed the respondents.
Kloch agreed the wrong parties were listed - and eliminated Hastings and the EI Team's architects and engineers. He also removed Hastings Niagara from the suit. However, Kloch said the Village of Lewiston and Hastings Lewiston would have to make an account for their actions regarding the Frontier House.
A court date was set for late February 2009.
Exactly one year ago, Hastings Lewiston, via EI Team architect Timothy E. Kupinski, presented a plan to build a four-story, U-shaped development wrapped around the historic building that was formerly occupied by a McDonald's restaurant. The new project would consist of a 50-foot housing complex facing Ridge Street, and a 31-foot, adjoining addition west of the Frontier House on Center Street.
The village's Planning Board determined the project needed four variances to the municipality's codebook: density, parking, green space and playground. On March 11, the village's Zoning Board of Appeals granted the variances (see full report online at www.wnypapers.com).
On May 29, PSR Press, under the direction of Editor-in-Chief Herbert Richardson, filed suit claiming the ZBA acted erroneously in granting Hastings Lewiston's request for relief.
The Lewiston-based academic publishing company claims the Zoning Board's variances are baseless and without cause. The ZBA, the petition alleges, failed to submit a full cache of information to the Niagara County Planning Board. In particular, the lawsuit claims input from the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation was left out of the materials sent to the county.
PSR also contends the variances were granted before the expiration of the requisite 30-day review period given to the county board. In other words, the suit alleges the county didn't have enough time to review whatever documents it did receive relative to the Frontier House proposal.
The petitioners claim the village failed to act in accordance with the State Environmental Quality Review Act, but Kloch disagreed, saying the lead agency was in compliance.
Hastings had no comment on the lawsuit, but did say he intends to move forward with the project. His company owns the Frontier House and its surrounding property.
Richardson also said his company would press on with its litigation. He said, "The village should go through what are the legally prescribed steps. ... The variances, in our judgment, they are illegal."
His motivation in establishing the lawsuit, he said, was to preserve "fairness and justice in the village." Richardson claims Hastings bullied his way through the process, and wants the Lewiston Board of Trustees to take a step back and consider the proposal's potential consequences.
The ramifications to PSR Press, Richardson said, would include a lack of parking in proximity to its properties (442-446 Center St., and 450 Ridge St.). For the village, he said a giant addition would hinder community activities. Richardson believes the Frontier House should be open to the public and used as an educational resource.
Prior to the PSR lawsuit, Richardson spoke publicly of forming a citizen group to buy the Frontier House from Hastings. He hired former Lewiston-Porter school vice principal Vance Agee to solicit interest - and funding, if possible - from community members and business owners.
"I worked on that all summer," Richardson said. "There was not much response."
At 77 years of age, he added, "I do not have the time to do this."
Hastings has repeatedly said he is not selling the Frontier House. In fact, he took a big step forward in protecting his property this week when he installed a chain link fence around the 184-year-old building.
"We've had a number of break-ins and what appears as an attempted arson," Hastings said. He explained the fence's sole purpose is security.
"I'm not vindictive; I'm not tearing it down; I'm preserving it," Hastings said of the Frontier House. Despite rumors of a grudge between him and the Village Board, he said, "It was not done in a hostile environment. I'm out to protect my property, that's all."
Business owners adjacent to the Frontier House were not thrilled about losing access to the property's 40-plus parking spaces. One went so far as to ask, "Is this the Grinch stealing Christmas?"
However, the move to add a fence was previously announced. At the Village Board's October work session, Mayor Richard Soluri said Hastings' intent was to close his property off at the end of that month. The parking lot has been used for municipal parking in recent years, and the mayor expressed hope Hastings would keep it open for the Christmas Walk. The developer did, in fact, abide by the mayor's wish.
With Center Street parking already at a premium, the loss of the Frontier House lot will force business owners to become even more creative in attracting visitors.
"It's going to affect us, because there's no parking. There's no parking on Center," Little Yellow Chocolate House owner Jonathan Boas said. His business is directly next to the Frontier House.
Hastings obtained a permit to install the fence from Ken Candella, the village's building inspector. He said his parking lot would remain closed "indefinitely."
When the Planning Board meets in January, Hastings plans to ask for permission to make some minor sight changes to the Frontier House.
In 2004, McDonald's decided to end its lease with Hastings. Soon after, the developer proposed building an inn behind the building. When he got wind of a second potential inn - what residents now know as the Barton Hill Hotel - Hastings abandoned his plan.
Last year, local politicians made a case for the Niagara County Community College culinary school to be located in the Frontier House. The NCCC board instead decided to place the training facility in downtown Niagara Falls.Hastings' building has remained closed since December 2004.