Updated: Village of Lewiston taxes going up, café going inby jmaloni
Gibson seeks ideas for plateau development
by Joshua Maloni
Village of Lewiston residents can expect a mild tax increase in the next fiscal year. Trustees voted Monday to increase the tax rate to $7.26 per $1,000 of assessed valuation - an increase of 14 cents. A homeowner with a $150,000 property, for example, will pay $21 more as of June 1.
The total budget is $3,319,852, down about $20,000 from last year's $3,339,986 figure.
Mayor Terry Collesano said the Village Board worked hard to try and maintain the tax rate.
"We were trying to get it down the best we could," he said. "It's hard."
Ultimately, Collesano said, "We have cut just about every area you can think of. We've cut all the fat out. Unfortunately, we've still had to raise taxes, though."
Village employees will receive a 3 percent pay raise. Neither the mayor nor the board members will see a change in salary. One summer Department of Public Works position was eliminated.
The board voted 4-0 in favor of the tax rate. Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland was excused.
Café gets green light
The Village Board approved a special use permit allowing Niagara Marketplace & Bistro to operate inside the "Kelly House" at 400 Plain St. Now called "Fresh Start," the business will offer vegan, vegetarian and organic foods.
Trustees Vic Eydt, Nick Conde and Daniel Gibson voted in favor of the project, saying it was the right fit for the large, historic building. They acknowledged the café would add traffic to a historic village street, but said the property has traditionally been a business, and is in the middle of a cluster of commercial properties (including a church, offices and a parking lot).
"It's been a business (in the past)," Eydt said. "The restaurant that's going in there is a very low-impact type of a restaurant."
"You had a residence in there," he said. Conde added, "It didn't work."
"Almost every single person that I've talked to about it ... has said, 'If you guys don't vote for it, you're crazy. Because we don't want another Frontier House,' " Eydt said.
"It also gives people a healthy alternative," Gibson said. "Everybody's looking at healthy alternatives today. And I think there's going to be more walk-up traffic than drive-up traffic."
Residents Camille Heim, Dave Meteer and Lisa Poirier said it doesn't make sense to burden an already overloaded street. They said the Fourth and Plain streets corner has become inundated with cars thanks to Artpark and gazebo concerts.
"I would be curious if anyone within a two-block radius from where it would be affected, if they would appreciate the extra traffic on the most historic street in Lewiston?" Meteer asked.
His girlfriend, Poirier, lives on Plain Street. She said, "It's one thing if you want to open a business and run it from 8 to 5. A market, you can have people in and out. But to have a restaurant, people are sitting and dining and everybody's bringing their own car. There's not sufficient parking at that location."
"The area that is there for the public, there is (sufficient parking)," Eydt said. "They have parking on site."
Kathleen Harold, who lives across from the nearby Red Brick Municipal Building, said the café shouldn't adversely impact the neighborhood.
"I personally did not see that more people were going to be coming into this area and parking on my street, or on Plain Street, because this restaurant exists," she said, and noted she has a background in transportation.
"The closest business that I could think of was, perhaps, Mangia," Harold added. "They're a bakery. People come in and get their baked goods. But they have a few tables. Some of their options are also healthy. I don't see a lot of heavy traffic parked on the street. ... I don't think that (Fresh Start) would attract any more traffic to the neighborhood than already exists at that time."
Collesano disagreed. He said he's concerned with the lack of parking in the village. Plus, he said Lewiston has more than enough restaurants located between Fourth and Fifth streets.
He cast the lone "no" vote.
"This has been weighing very, very heavy on my conscious the last few weeks," Collesano said.
"I understand what they're trying to do, and I love the concept. ... I just have some very deep thoughts against that location for what you plan on doing," he added.
Kelly House owner Claudia Marasco and Fresh Start partner Paul Licata said they are relieved their project was approved, and look forward to serving patrons healthy meals.
"This is our fifth meeting, so I'm glad that a decision has been made," she said. "I'm glad the majority of the board ... see's the potential of what's coming. I think once things settle down, and the actual restaurant/café is open and the public comes in and sees, I think they'll be reassured that this is going to work out and there's room for all of us."
The Fresh Start owners are working to find parking in nearby lots.
"We have to strike an agreement with owners, and we're looking to do that," partner Loretta Serra said.
Licata said he and his partners expect patrons will come in and come out, or pick up takeout, and not linger. The café is limiting the number of inside tables to six, and the operators have decided to limit nighttime hours, too. Moreover, they said Artpark patrons might not be their ideal customers, and the café could be closed on concert Tuesdays.
"I'm from Lewiston. The partners - we all love Lewiston. The last thing we want to do is damage the community," Licata said.
Harold and Conde both said an alternative use for the building could be worse. Realtor Dian Ruta, who sold Marasco the Kelly House, said a two-family use could result in loud parties, late-night activities and just as many cars.
"If you have tenants there, you have no control," she said.
No one expects rambunctious behavior at Fresh Start. The café will not sell alcoholic beverages.
The Historic Preservation Commission/Planning Board voted in favor of a special use permit last month. The Zoning Board of Appeals granted the project a five-spot parking variance, which the Village Board has since realized wasn't necessary.
Fresh Start is expected to open sometime in June or July.
Gibson is working on a plan to develop the upper plateau area located down the road from Artpark. He encouraged residents to contact him with ideas.
"I'd like to get input from the community - what you'd like to see up there," he said.
The New York Power Authority gifted more than 40 acres to the village in 2008 with the stipulation the land be used for recreational purposes. About half of that land is still open. The other half was dedicated to environmental research and a dog park.
The board will contact Niagara County government agencies to see what can be done about a flock of turkey vultures hovering around the Mohawk Street area. Trustees have heard from residents concerned about the animal, which is a protected species.
Resident Terri Brown likened the birds' group movement to an airplane taking off.
"It's frightening to see these huge birds flying overhead," she said.
"It's throughout the entire village," Collesano responded. "Unfortunately, we're all having the same problem."