by Susan Mikula Campbell
It took some verbal wrangling, but by the end of the Town of Niagara meeting on Tuesday, the Town Board officially agreed to direct new funding toward a drainage and sewer project in Belden Center.
Supervisor Steve Richards negotiated a community host agreement with Macerich Partnership LP, new owners of the Fashion Outlets of Niagara, which will provide $100,000 yearly to the town. In a meeting earlier this month, despite Richards objections, Councilman Charles Teixeira led a successful bid to have the new money go into the town budget's capital projects fund. Although like other councilmen, he is in agreement that the Belden Center repairs are necessary, Teixeira was hesitant to specify one neighborhood over another for the funds and concerned about legalities if the project was paid off before the 15-year funding ended, as well as whether the town could find other grants to help with the project.
Richards and Councilman Danny Sklarski came back this week with a new resolution to direct the mall money in the capital projects fund be earmarked for use in the Belden Center sewer and drainage project.
Richards also said Tuesday that the town has been turned down for the second time for a federal grant for Belden Center work.
In order to acquire loans for the Belden Center project, "the banks want to see where that money (to pay for the project) is coming from," Richards said.
After arguing over wording of the new resolution and whether the new resolution should even be on the agenda, agreement was reached.
"I want to see us start and finish this project," Councilman Rob Clark said.
Belden Center residents in the audience pointed out that this older section of the town has been neglected for too many years. They've been told that street repairs have to wait for the sewer repairs. The town is in the midst of negotiating a change for that area from the City of Niagara Falls to the Niagara County water district.
Belden Center resident Stephanie Tierney Toby read a letter to the board noting, "I understand not everyone will believe this is fair. I ask those people to put yourself in our shoes; we work just as hard for our money to pay our taxes as you do. Please understand it is our turn to reap some of the benefits. I do not believe this is an effort to exclude other areas of the town from anything other than a tax hike to repay me the cost of the bond for the work required here."
•Also in the audience was a contingent from the Ziblut Court and Effie Drive area, who want to make sure no more trees come down that provide cover for them from the planned Benderson Development project on the old John's Flaming Hearth property on Military Road.
The group also had sent a letter to the board.
Richards praised the letter as "one of the finest I've ever seen," because it doesn't argue "not in my backyard," but welcomes the development with reservations and offers solutions.
Matthew Polster of Effie Drive urged the board to table any Benderson site plan proposal that comes before them until the issues with the nearby residents are resolved. Richards advised him and other residents to attend Planning Board and Zoning Board meetings where the site plan will be discussed and approval must be given before it is sent to the board.
Ken Micon of Ziblut Court said there seems to be a large group of trees absent from the Benderson plan and asked that until the matter is resolved no more trees be cut to "at least somehow preserve what's there."
Richards said he had spoken last week with Eric Recoon, Benderson vice president, asking him not to cut any more trees and that Recoon agreed.
In addition to preserving the wooded area that provides a buffer for the residential area, the residents' letter listed other concerns, such as a request to eliminate or scale down a building at the rear of the site to reduce noise and light pollution, fencing, a proposed ditch at the property line of the Ziblut Court side of the site and wetlands mitigation.
In other matters:
•Richards and Teixeira's differences also came to light in a debate over providing the budgeted $5,000 to the Niagara Community Action Program. Teixeira suggested the money should come from the town's charity fund.
Sklarski, a member of the NiaCAP board of directors, said the funding allows the agency to help the most needy in the town. He called Teixeira's attempt to table the matter a disgrace since the funding is used as part of a federal matching grant by NiaCAP.
Richards explained that the Town Board has no control over the charity funds. That $50,000 a year was negotiated with Fashion Outlets in 1998. Projects are chosen by Richards, the mall manager and one independent person.
"It keeps the politics out," Richards said.
Most recently, charity funds helped provide new water heaters and furnaces for elderly residents of two homes in the Tuscarora Road area who were left without heat and hot water after flooding in Cayuga Creek.
•John Parfinski, who has been regularly attending meetings to complain about Belden Center conditions and ask that something be done, noted that while residents are waiting for water and sewer improvements, something ought to be done about abandoned and deteriorating homes and buildings. He listed sites at Portland Avenue, Rhode Island Avenue, St. Paul Street and an old apartment building at Lockport Road and Portland Avenue.
Richards said this should be a county issue, but the county isn't even providing reimbursement for cutting grass on abandoned properties now. There is money in the town budget this year to at least get a start on some of the demolition projects, he said.