by Joshua Maloni
Village of Lewiston trustees plan to use their next four work session meetings to discuss several of the larger issues looming over the municipality. At 6 p.m. on Mondays, Feb. 7, March 7, April 4 and May 2, the Village Board will address topics including food collections, festivals on Center Street, the Piper Law Office Welcome Center, right-of-ways, the Water Pollution Control Center, the upper plateau and the Local Waterfront Revitalization Program.
"If we don't address them, then nothing is going to get done," said Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland. The second-term trustee suggested the board take this course of action at a meeting last month.
Mayor Terry Collesano said it was his intention to jump headfirst into these topics when he was elected last spring.
"I said, 'In the winter, when we have not a lot going on through the winter months, we're going to start ... going over some of the problems that we felt we had, and spend time at our work sessions.
"The idea of having a work session is so you can discuss things and try to come up with planning as to what's the best way to approach things."
Collesano said this model recently worked when conferring about another hot-button village issue: Artpark. Trustees used work session meetings to iron out a new traffic pattern for patrons leaving the weekly "Tuesday in the Park" summer concert series. Pending the results of a public ordinance, motorists would exit Fourth Street south toward Ridge Road and north toward the Robert Moses Parkway; those exiting via the upper plateau would have direct access to the RMP before reaching Center Street (click here for more details).
"The work sessions are, as I said, work sessions to work out the problems and try to bring everything together," Collesano said.
At Monday's meeting, trustees are expected to speak on food collections along Center Street, the village directory signs and a new garbage truck.
Members of the team heading the collection efforts for Niagara Falls organizations Community Missions and Heart & Soul Food Pantry spoke to the board last month. They intend to solicit contributions outside of Artpark's Fourth Street entrance just as they did in the summers of 2009-10.
"We want to continue this project this year," said resident Mamie Simonson. Calling last year's collections successful, she said the volunteers seek "to be good neighbors to Niagara Falls."
Don Luce, director of public relations for Community Missions, said his organization distributed 65,000 meals last year to those in need.
"We couldn't do it without the help of good people like you," Luce said.
Community Missions' Executive Director Robyn Krueger said, "More people are looking for things based on our economic climate."
Both Community Missions and Heart & Soul netted about $5,000 apiece last summer in monetary and canned good donations.
"It's been a very nice partnership," Krueger said. "We hope it can continue."
The Village Board, Collesano said, has to weigh this request with similar inquiries from other service groups.
"This is something, it's getting bigger and bigger every year, " he said. "It's on a lot of peoples' minds. It's steered to a lot of different organizations. But it's getting to a point where it's becoming a problem. It's been successful, but we can't just keep letting every organization - every group - come to us and keep authorizing for groups to go ahead and collect on any given night, because it's getting to be a little too much and we have to slow it down. So, we're trying to face it head on and see what's the best way of approaching this and how we're going to handle it."
The Village Board is finalizing a project to install directories at three points along Center Street (likely outside of the welcome center, between Fifth and Fourth streets, and toward the waterfront). These menus will indicate retail and dining locations, historic landmarks and other Lewiston attractions.
"That's something, (former Mayor) Bill Geiben actually started this and we're just finishing up on that," Collesano said.
"That's really not an underlying problem, but it is for us in the village (government), because it's about a $180,000 vehicle, and we don't know if we can afford it this year or not," Collesano said. "We're looking for alternative ways to handle our garbage truck problem."
Future work session topics include:
Festival Fees (March)
"There are so many festivals now, it is creating a problem with our DPW (department of public works), as well as our police, as far as costs go - and the costs are just spiraling every year," Collesano said.
Trustees are concerned about the cost of cleaning streets and maintaining order during and after each of the village's myriad festivals.
"We have to constantly think of ways to bring in revenues, and this may be a way," Collesano said.
Wastewater Treatment Plant Capital Improvements (April)
The Lewiston water pollution treatment facility is in dire need of renovation. The cost of the multi-million-dollar project will be divided among the Village and Town of Lewiston, the Village of Youngstown and the Town of Porter.
"That's something that we have to be faced with," Collesano said. "They've already told us it's going to cost us $950,000, which is going to basically cost us probably roughly $35,000 a year for the next 25 years. This is a cost that is going to have to be borne by all taxpayers. We're trying to come up with alternate ways of maybe getting those prices down, and those costs down."
Village Zoning Officer Bill Brodie has informed trustees that several Lewiston businesses (retail and restaurant) have A-frame or "sandwich" boards sitting on village property. These signs, he's said, pose a safety risk. Talks have also involved their legal right to exist and their aesthetic value.
"Some people feel this is a problem. Others don't. But we want to discuss it," Collesano said.
"We've been turning our heads for several years, but there's more and more and more of them popping up," he added.
Upper Plateau Usage (May)
"We have several acres up there (on the way to Artpark), and they have not been utilized other than the dog park and what the environmental group is using in their end of it," Collesano said. "Is there some better usage of that land that we could capitalize on for the Village of Lewiston?"
Collesano said the board's list is not all-inclusive. Topics not included at this time, but bound to be brought up this year include:
•The waterfront (not solely the LWRP) and endeavors along Water Street - "We're always looking for suggestions to improve the waterfront," Collesano said.
Trustees, he noted, are especially interested in ways to enhance public usage.
Collesano said the Village Board has a pair of large projects he'd like to see come to fruition some day. That includes a skating rink on a platform above the Water Street fish cleaning station parking lot, and a waterfront museum.
The ballpark cost for these items would likely be about $7 million, Collesano said.
"That was one of the proposals that I put forth to the New York State Power Authority in our request for various things that they're trying to do for economic development," he said. "They didn't deny it. They looked at it, and I haven't gotten an answer yet. But that is being considered."
"That would be great if they came through on that one, because it would really kind of finalize what we're trying to do down there," Collesano said.
A reconfiguration - or shaving - of Water Street (from Center Street to Oneida Street) is also possible, he said. This would be done to create more green space.
•Festival Street closings - Collesano said Center Street will close in 2011 for the Art Festival and Jazz Festival in the same way it did in 2010.
Trustees still plan to discuss the pros and cons of shutting down Lewiston's main road.
•Piper Law Office Welcome Center - "It's coming along pretty good," Sutherland said.
Local 237 recently installed the building's electrical hook-ups via an apprenticeship program. Volunteers will handle plumbing and drywall before insulation is added and fixtures are installed. Once the floor is finished, the center should be ready to go.
Sutherland said he expects the center to open by the end of April.
•Parking - Trustees are continuing to work with the village DPW and Amendola Property Management to create a new parking lot behind Coppins Service Center and next to First Niagara Bank on North Fifth Street.
•The Frontier House - Collesano said the building's principal owners, which include Richard Hastings, Niagara Falls attorney John Bartolomei and the architectural/engineering firm E.I. Team, have created a new sketch representing their interest in building baby-boomer and senior living quarters behind the historic landmark. These new designs include a brick façade, which more closely resembles the Frontier House.
The owners presented a similar plan in 2007, but were delayed by a lawsuit. They won in court, but haven't yet revisited the issue.
"There is some movement," Collesano said. "I hope that will continue."
Though it appears the village has a lot of problems to sort through, Collesano said it's nothing out of the ordinary.
"We always had problems; they are always there underlying," he said. "What I want to do is nip the bud before it blooms, so to speak. If it's going to create a problem, I want to confront it up front immediately. (So then) at least we know where we should be going and which direction we should be headed, hopefully, to correct the problems."
Collesano acknowledged some residents are concerned about the board's transparency. He encouraged residents to attend local government meetings - and stay until the end.
"Everything is in the open," he said. "We've had all these meetings in the open. I'll tell you what part of the problem is, as I see it, is people will come into a meeting and they'll voice their opinions about this or about that. And, as soon as they've done that, the meetings will go on and there's more in the meeting, which could be very instrumental in the topic that they talked about. But yet they'll leave. They leave the meeting and they miss what's going on."
When trustees are ready to take formal action on the work session topics, Collesano said public hearings or information sessions will be scheduled.