Lou Visone said there are already 200 people waiting for a chance to view the units at the River's Edge apartment complex in North Tonawanda, but he worries that the picturesque view of the Niagara River won't be enough to convince them to move in.
Visone, owner of VisoneCo Site Development, which is currently in the midst of building the $20 million complex at 600 River Road, said two potential tenants have already declined to move in, citing the scenery along city's waterfront as their reason. He said that several of the neighboring businesses and even some residents aren't doing their best to maintain their properties.
"There lackluster ownership on River Road," Visone said. "There are some businesses, and even some homeowners, that really aren't being kind to their neighbors."
On Tuesday, Visone approached the North Tonawanda Common Council to request assistance in getting the area cleaned up. He pointed out that bringing residents and other businesses to the city would allow the city to expand its tax base, but that they may not want to come when the city's main entry point isn't looking its best.
He said he had been cited for having grass that was growing too long, a violation which he said he addressed, but added that he'd would like to see codes enforced across the board. Project Manager Tom Celik, who spoke with Visone at Tuesday's meeting, said property owners along River Road regularly violate city codes.
"The overall question was what can the council do to help uplift and help particularly commercial businesses follow zoning, planning and building laws, because they are being broken every day," Celik said. "We're going to be bringing over $200,000 in new property taxes to this city. There's properties that look hideous that are paying probably less than homeowners in this room."
The River's Edge development has been awarded a series of tax breaks of its own, according to the Niagara County Industrial Development Agency. A fact sheet from the agency's website said the project will benefit from a 10-year Brownfield property tax abatement, a sales tax abatement and a mortgage recording tax abatement, for a total of $3.9 million in incentives.
City Code Enforcement Officer Rob DePaolo said the city is lucky that Visone chose to build the apartment complex on North Tonawanda's waterfront, but noted that he chose a location that is surrounded by property which has been zoned for industrial use.
Prior to the construction of the city's wastewater treatment plant in the 1930s, sewage was flushed into nearby waterways, like the Niagara River or the Erie Canal, causing a bad smell and making the waterfront an unattractive place to do business, DePaolo said. Waterfront property being considered prime real estate is relatively new and that it's something the city still has to adjust to, he added.
"He's the first new kid on the old block," DePaolo said of Visone and the project. "You can't just go down River Road and say, 'Sorry mister, you have to close your business. Sorry mister, you have to move your materials. Sorry mister, you have to get your junk out of there,' ... We're lucky to have (the River's Edge project), but those people have rights, too."
Visone said he wasn't interested in hurting anyone's business, but argued that some of those business owners in fact do not have the right to do what they're doing.
Specifically, Visone said he's worried about a nearby rock pile across from the city's wastewater treatment plant, which he said may contain silicon that could cause illness if inhaled and questioned whether dust from the pile may be blowing toward North Tonawanda High School. He also expressed concern about used car dealers working on vehicles in the front of their lots.
Following Tuesday's council meeting, Celik sent an email to Council President Eric Zadzilka requested a meeting between VisoneCo representatives, local officials and various business owners in the area for the purpose of creating "an action plan to immediately rectify current violators in efforts of cleaning up the city for its citizens and business owners."
The email specifically cites the property at 235 River Road, which it describes as being a central point between the city's downtown and the River Road corridor. The email references section 103-12-E of the city zoning code, dealing with limitations on M-1 and M-2 zones, saying the property has visible fuel and oil tanks, visible broken down vehicles and heavy equipment and is failing to observe required setbacks.
Michael Zimmerman, director of community development for the city, noted that in the city's long-term master plan, there are provisions in place to reconsider zoning along River Road to push the corridor in a new direction. He said the plan will soon be up for council approval.
"That will start to remedy a lot of problems (Visone is) talking about," Zimmerman said. "It won't be an M zone anymore, it will be the W zone, it will be the downtown district. It will start to hold those property owners to a different standard. It's not an overnight fix because you can't throw them out overnight, but it does put a standard in place that you can start to hold them to."