Niagara Gazette

November 10, 2013

Planned liquor store riles East Side neighbors

By Justin Sondel
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — A group of residents are trying to shut down plans to open a liquor store in an East Side neighborhood.

Neighbors and Niagara Falls Block Club Council members are distributing flyers throughout the neighborhood urging people who oppose the opening of a liquor store on 24th Street to show up to the city’s zoning board of appeals’ meeting on Tuesday where the board will vote on an application from the owner Faisel Haruna seeking a variance to open the store.

Haruna needs the varience because the street is zoned as residential.

Debby Rybarczyk was born around the corner from the 24th Street building on Monroe Avenue and moved back to the house five years ago from Clarence to care for her mother.

Rybarczyk said she is concerned that a liquor store will make the neighborhood, which already has problems with crime, a magnet for drug dealers and prostitutes.

“There’ll be winos, there’ll be broken bottles,” she said. “It’ll be a disaster.”

Rybarczyk said a convenience store down the street, also owned by Haruna, is already a magnet for crime in the neighborhood.

“The mini-mart opened and everything multiplied,” she said.

But Haruna, who moved to the Falls from Ghana 13 years ago, said that assertion is unfair.

There are no liquor stores on 19th Street and crime is still an issue on the street, he countered.

“There’s no liquor stores over there,” Haruna said. “There’s a crime every day over there.”

Haruna said his store actually makes the neighborhood safer because criminals avoid the street so as to not appear on the security cameras on the outside of his building.

The Niagara Falls Police Department has used footage from his cameras in investigations, he added.

“I have a camera that solves a lot of crimes,” Haruna said.

And Haruna, who lives and owns houses and businesses on 24th Street, has an immediate interest in seeing crime controlled on the street unlike most of the members of the block club council.

“They don’t even live in this neighborhood,” Haruna said.

Haruna bought the building in 2001 and lives in the apartments above the storefront with his extended family.

He applied for a variance on the building at 424 24th St. to use it as a convenience store in May and was granted the variance in June.

Haruna has applied for another variance, this time listing the use as retail liquor store. The board will vote on that request at Tuesday’s 5:30 p.m. meeting in city hall.

Haruna has also been granted a license to sell liquor by the New York State Liquor Authority under the name Carmen Liquor Store LLC, according to the agencies website.

An orange awning bearing the same name appeared on the outside of the building recently.

Haruna said he has followed all necessary procedures and has the right to open the store so long as he gets all the proper licenses.

He is willing go to court to open the store.

“I’m willing to lose whatever I’ve got to fight it all the way,” Haruna said.

Rybarczyk said she feels Haruna applied for the variance as a convenience store knowing he intended to open a liquor store to avoid public disapproval.

“To us it sounds like he just lied on the application,” Rybarczyk said.

Rybarczyk said the neighborhood was a great place to live when she was a kid, but in recent years it has seen an influx of crime, particularly since police began cracking down harder on criminal activity on 19th Street.

Rybarczyk believes that drove the criminal activity into her neighborhood.

“It’s very unsettling,” she said.

If the liquor store opens and crime continues to increase, Rybarczyk said she and other families that have been in the East Side for years might be forced to leave.

“There’s a lot of families that are trying to hang on in the area,” she said.

Norma Higgs, the Niagara Falls Block Club Council treasurer, said the building’s proximity to so many families and the Niagara Street Elementary School make it a bad location for a liquor store.

“It’s just not the right place for a liquor store,” she said. “They’re mostly on commercial strips.”

Higgs was also suspicious of the variance change.

“They should’ve done that in the beginning but they knew there was going to be a fight,” she said.

John Pallaci, the chairman of the zoning board of appeals, said he has not decided how he will vote Tuesday, as he has not had enough time to examine the application.

“It all depends on what the circumstances are,” he said.

The board will consider all comments at the meeting when voting.

“We’ll look at all the options and listen to the people in the crowd,” Pallaci said.

Contact reporter Justin Sondel at 282-2311, ext. 2257