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Border Patrol plans delay town's eminent domain move

by jmaloni
Thu, May 20th 2010 05:00 pm

by Susan Mikula Campbell

The Town of Niagara's plans to acquire by eminent domain a strip of land along the entrance of Veterans Memorial Park on Lockport Road met a stumbling block at Tuesday's public hearing on the matter.

The Town Board voted to delay the matter until next month's regular meeting.

Legal representatives for owners of the property to the east of the park and the developer buying the property attended the hearing to say they were willing to give the small strip of their property along the park's entrance to the town in exchange for zoning concessions and another small strip of town-owned property on the front of their property on Lockport Road. They pointed out that the U.S. Border Patrol is considering the property for its local offices.

Supervisor Steve Richards trumped the offer by stating that the U.S. Coast Guard is looking at more than one location, including the former U.S. Army Reserve site next to the Niagara Falls International Airport, which the town now controls and plans to develop.

Town Engineer Robert P. Lannon said the property the town wants to acquire by eminent domain is 0.87 acres, 90 feet wide and about 400 feet long on the right side of the entrance to the park.

The property would create a buffer from any development to the east and save old growth trees there, permit straightening of the immediate entry off Lockport Road to a 90-degree angle and allow improvements near the entrance such as a park information board and a safe parking/drop-off area for bikers, walkers and skaters.

Richards had called for the eminent domain hearing because negotiations for the town's purchase of the property had been under way for years with no action.

At the hearing, Kathleen Gaines, representing the owners, said talks began in 2003. With the Border Patrol offices under consideration, she suggested "some kind of swap" with the town. The property's buyers would like a 14-foot strip of town-owned land on the front of their property (not including the park entrance), a change of zoning from residential to commercial and an opportunity for a sewer tie-in. Anthony Barone, representing the buyers, a group out of Washington, D.C., that has developed similar Border Patrol offices, said the new offices would accommodate about 150 Border Patrol people stationed in the area. The facility would be leased to the federal government and the property would be taxable, he said.

Richards said the town also has been contacted by a developer about putting the Border Patrol at the old Army Reserve Center on Porter Road, which the town is acquiring from the government.

He also pointed out that the town expects to go out for bid soon on the second phase of its park development and needs to come to a decision on the eminent domain issue.

In other matters:

•The board also delayed a decision until next month on approval of junkyard license renewals for Airport Auto on Hyde Park Boulevard, Garlock's Auto on Maryland Avenue, Satarian Auto Parts and Kach's Auto Service, both on Witmer Road, and Metalico Niagara on Maple Avenue.

Councilman Charles Teixeira said although it's difficult to blame people for doing their jobs, condition of junkyards has been a continuous problem for the town. In just the past week, he was contacted about the safety of firefighters who have to enter junkyards and went out himself to take some pictures, he said.

The owner of Garlock's, who attended the meeting, was called to the front of the room by Richards to look at maps of the junkyard and point out paper streets within the yard that need to be kept clear for firefighter access. If these at Garlock's or elsewhere are blocked by junked cars and parts, the town will send in machinery to clear them out, and the junkyards will be charged for it, he said. "Everybody needs to clean up their act," Richards concluded.

•The board also decided to drop one of its two work sessions each month for the summer, holding work sessions only on the second Thursday of the month for June, July and August.

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