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By Joshua Maloni
Officials in the Village of Lewiston are uncertain if the Lewiston Event Center can be converted into a 300-unit self-storage facility. Confusion centers on primary vs. accessory use in a B-1 zoned area, the definition of a warehouse, and what the codebook allows as it pertains to permitted stowage.
No consensus was reached during Tuesday’s Historic Preservation Commission and Planning Board meetings. Instead, Building Inspector/Zoning Officer Ken Candella and municipal counsel Joseph Leone will be tasked with interpreting village law and rendering a ruling on acceptable building usages.
Buffalo-area real estate investor and developer Vick Singh Ghotra seeks to purchase 845 Cayuga St., a bowling alley and sports bar owned by Emery Simon and Harold Hibbard. He has had discussions with Life Storage about becoming a franchisee.
If Candella and Leone determine a self-storage facility is not allowed in this business district, Ghotra could seek a use variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
HPC alternate member and architect David Giusiana said, “There’s absolutely no warehousing permitted in the B-1 district.”
He was told Lewiston Mini Storage operates from right across the street, and similar units can be found in the general vicinity. But Giusiana said those are accessory and “site use storage is a lot different than zone use storage.”
Specifically addressing the units on the other side of the street from the LEC, he said, “We don’t know what regulations that was approved under. Per regulations that we have right now, (Ghotra’s proposal) is absolutely not permitted. There's a very specific line that says that there are other possible uses not fully enumerated under the code, but that has to go to ZBA for their interpretation. It’s not up to us. There is also a provision that allows for parking storage … but only, again, as vehicle storage. But only as a party to a vehicle use – like a service garage or an auto (shop).
“So, again, just the strict warehousing, my reading of that … is it’s not permitted.”
Fellow board member and architect Jim Fittante said, “It's not a permitted use anywhere in the village.”
“Right; only as an accessory use or done by Zoning Board of Appeals,” Giusiana said.
Fittante said, “Historically, in the walkable community, to lose a recreation center that's been here way over 50 years – to change the use as a storage and that amount of square footage for one square mile of a village – I think it's way above and beyond.”
Several times, Ghotra cited research he said indicates Lewiston – and the River Region as a whole – has a lack of self-storage units. He noted the Life Storage property on Military Road in Niagara is renting units at record pace, and nearby storage facilities won’t have rentals until next year.
“There is a need for storage (in Lewiston) – and the storage facility six miles down the road (off) Niagara Falls Boulevard, that's filling up at 4% a year. It was actually on Discovery Channel as one of the fastest filling-up storage facilities in the country,” he said.
HPC Chairwoman Loretta Frankovitch said, “I don't think we're arguing that there's a need. I think we're arguing that, in a historic village, it might not be an appropriate use of the space; and it may not, in fact, agree with our code – depending on how we interpret storage versus warehouse. I think that's what the issue is, is more of does it actually work with our code or not.”
At the Planning Board meeting, Candella offered a different explanation: “I don't see where it's not permitted. And also, what's the deal with across the street? That’s in B-1, right?”
He asked if the other storage building was an accessory to another business or property. Receiving conflicting reports, Candella said, “I think we better pull some paperwork on it, and see what it is.”
The chatter from an audience that included Village Board members Mayor Anne Welch and trustees Vic Eydt and Tina Coppins suggested that storage unit cluster was OK’d in the 1990s.
Candella said, “Before we make a decision on if it's permitted or not, maybe we have to get more into that one.”
Planning Board Chairman Norm Machelor said Ghotra’s proposal is “not not permitted. I think the distinction between warehousing and storage is a distinction without a difference, but it is in the rules. And it’s a business.”
Vick Singh Ghotra discusses his self-storage facility plans with the Village of Lewiston Historic Preservation Commission as his architect, Mark Dean, looks on and displays renderings.
Ghotra vowed to abide by the village code and said he wants to create a product that will benefit residents.
“Currently, it is a bowling alley. The reason why Mr. Emery and Mr. Harold are selling the bowling alley is because it is not being used as much as it should be,” he said. “It is not a profitable location for them. And the people in Lewiston, the village and the town, are not using it in its full potential. It is a building that’s sitting there that is deteriorating every year.”
He later noted, “I'm going to keep the historic look of the building, and just change the inside – and actually provide the village with something that they actually need and use.”
Both boards were pleased with aesthetic changes presented by Ghotra and Mark Dean, a registered architect and principal owner of Dean Architects. New renderings show more earth tones (tan, brown, maroon) on the building’s exterior, as well as additional green space and plantings along the property.
“I think it just looks better,” Ghotra said.
HPC member Rita Geiben agreed: “I think you’ve done a great job. … I think it looks better than what is does now.”
Her board took no action.
Member Peter Coppins said, “We appreciate you bringing this. It looks great. It looks much different than last time. But I think there's more to it than just that. Whether we decide what it looks like or what it doesn't look like, I'd be more comfortable to table it and let the other boards decide whether it's 100% legal to do this in our village. That would be the end of it. And then you would bring it back to us, and we would work with you on the aesthetics.”
Planning Board members voted to approve a second submission.
Machelor said, “I would like it to be approved, because they did what we asked them to do (with regard to exterior changes), which has nothing to do with the zoning.”
He added, “Send us to the village attorney and Kenny to research the zoning question.”
LEC Remains Open
As purchase talks continue, the Lewiston Event Center remains open to the public. Posted hours of operation are 4 p.m. to midnight Fridays, 2 p.m. to midnight Saturdays, and noon to 8 p.m. Sundays.