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Village clarifies WJBT sale

by jmaloni

Williams meeting draws full house

Sat, Dec 4th 2010 11:00 am
Shown is a view of the restaurant now, and a proposed expansion. (drawing courtesy of Silvestri Architects)
Shown is a view of the restaurant now, and a proposed expansion. (drawing courtesy of Silvestri Architects)
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by Joshua Maloni

The Village of Lewiston has clarified what was sold in its recent transaction with Whirlpool Jet Boat Tours. On Nov. 15, a 197.23-foot parcel of property was sold for $1. Of that land, 101.15 feet is actually under the Water Street Landing restaurant, and not in front of the building.

"I think a lot of people are misconstruing this," Mayor Terry Collesano said.

The architectural sketches presented to both the Planning Board and the Zoning Board of Appeals seem to suggest the entire strip of land is in front of the restaurant. Moreover, neither of those boards -- nor WJBT President John Kinney's representatives -- said anything to the contrary.

Collesano said residents have come into his office, and approached Clerk Anne Welch, asking why the village would sell usable waterfront land for just $1.

"The property that was deeded over, I mean the building has been sitting, how many years has it been sitting on the village right-of-way?" Collesano said. "I'll explain this at our next meeting, because people are looking for answers. It'll be explained there."

"As far as that piece of property, I mean, gosh, the building's been sitting on it for years and years and years and years," he added. "That's what I'm going to explain."

Kinney said the other 96.08 feet of land, which sits in front of where the proposed WJBT addition would be built, is a thin strip that has no other practical usage.

"It's nothing but a steep slope," he said, noting it's not waterfront property.

"That's the misconception that I'm running into," Kinney said.

The Village Board meets this Monday at 6 p.m. in the Red Brick Municipal Building.

‘Save The Lower Niagara River'

The local group opposing any WJBT expansion met this past Monday at the Village Pub. Lewiston resident Jerry Williams, a prominent businessman who has threatened to file an Article 78 lawsuit against the village, hosted the informational session.

"What we're trying to do, is we're trying to bring some halt or resolution to the growth of the jet boat facility on our river," Williams told the overflow crowd of about 100 people.

He again reiterated his concern that the village acted prematurely in granting variances for the WJBT proposal. "Irregular" is how his attorney, Town of Lewiston counsel Mike Dowd, called the sequence of events wherein the ZBA acted on a plan not formally presented, accepted or denied by the Planning Board.

Williams also expressed dismay that the Village Board would so quickly lend support to the idea of erecting a two-story structure that would at least partially obstruct a portion of the waterfront view.

If the expansion plan is approved, Williams told the crowd, "As you crested over the hill, going down Center Street, as you looked, you would be looking at this facility instead of looking at the river."

"If you want to be in a tourist (town), like Niagara-on-the-Lake, and you want to buy a glass of wine for $12, and if you want buses running up and down the street, and you don't want to park, and you want the jet boats, go to Niagara-on-the-Lake," he added. "I don't want that here, and I don't know that they understand that from us. ... I think if (the Village Board) wants Niagara-on-the-Lake, they're going to have a battle on their hands."

With regard to the waterfront property transfer, Dowd said trustees moved a bit too fast.

"I have a problem, frankly, with how public land was sold," he said. "I will say this: Villages do not have to have a referendum every time (they) want to sell public property. But, if it's public property that has been designated for public use -- and certainly a sidewalk is, particularly when it's abutting really the best vista of the river, when you come down to the river's edge -- and they sell it to him, there's a very real likelihood that they should've first had a referendum. Because they couldn't have just sold it without going through that process first."

"We believe that we have found a very substantial conflict in the law, that we feel very confident that we can get that piece of the puzzle overturned," Williams said. "Now, the next piece, which is the variances, we also believe we have a very strong argument and we believe it was done improperly. And we believe that we have the documentation to bring an Article 78 proceeding against the village, which is never a good thing -- because if we live in the village, we lose on both sides."

"We believe (trustees will) see the light in that information and understand that they should overturn," he added.

"I don't know what more (Williams) wants us to do, other than he wants us to rescind what we already did," Collesano said. "That's out of the question. We're not going to rescind what we did.

"I would like to see cooler heads prevail in this whole situation. I think if people understood the whole situation they wouldn't get so rattled."

Williams said legal action against the expansion would potentially be the beginning of a long-term effort -- one in which his goal would be to see WJBT out of Lewiston all together.

"I believe, with your help, and with direction from counsel, and from myself, we can put together a plan that will not only reverse what has recently occurred, but reverse some of the things that have occurred in the past," he told the crowd.

At this Monday's Village Board meeting, Williams plans to reference the municipality's Local Waterfront Revitalization Program, which was adopted in 1989 and approved at the state and federal levels in 1991. Williams said the program was designed to support fishing, marinas and charter boat activity.

He claimed the village's actions in supporting WJBT are a "blatant disregard for what the plan was."

"This whole thing is so contrary (to the LWRP)," Williams said.

Local environmental interests would seem to agree. Several members of Western New York environmental groups attended the meeting at the pub and expressed support for curtailing any expansion.

"I couldn't believe when I first saw these jet boats in the river that such a thing could be allowed," said Niagara Falls historian Paul Gromosiak, who caucuses with the Niagara Heritage Partnership. "If you want an amusement, go to Darien (Lake)."

Margaret Wooster, representing the Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper, said her group is concerned about the effects of jet boat wake on birds and botanical life.

"We totally support this position to get the jet boats out of the river -- not just out of Lewiston," Wooster said.

Williams encouraged residents and interested onlookers to visit his website, www.savethelowerniagarariver.com, and voice their opinions.

WJBT Open House

Kinney, meanwhile, will host an open house from 6 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday at Water Street Landing, 115 S. Water St. He will showcase the artistic rendering shown above.

"People that have questions or comments can come down and speak to me or to my architect," Kinney said.

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