Plan to Create 140-room Tenement House,Perfect for Ex-Cons and Sex Offenders on, Pine Ave Has Neighborhood Up in Arms
By Mike Hudson
They never were stately and, over the years, they’ve seen their fair share of murder, robbery and drug deals gone bad. But if Vinnie Bevilacqua gets his way, the Eleanor Apartments at the corner of Pine Avenue and 8th Street may get a new lease on life as a residence for as many as 140 ex-convicts, some neighbors believe.
According to the application on file with city hall, Bevilacqua is acting as the local agent for Aron Deutsch of Brooklyn.
When contacted by the Reporter, Deutsch said he was not the sole owner but a partner on the deal.
He said the plan for 140 smaller than code rooms would hopefully attract students.
When asked what students from what school, Deutsch said, "I'm honestly not familiar with the whole procedure. I was only there once."
Asked if he would rent the rooms to parolees if he could not attract students, he said he didn't know.
"The whole thing is shaky," he said, and suggested that he thought it was quite possible that the Zoning Board might not approve the plan as it is now.
The city assessor's record shows the owner of the property to be Tzemach Tzedek C. LLC, a shadowy Columbus, Ohio-based company that according to the city website bought the Eleanor in September 2002 for a reported $250,000.
Originally built in 1925, the 23,952-square-foot apartment building currently has 25 units, each with a bath, and a total of 36 bedrooms. All that would change if the Bevilacqua proposal is approved.
He will appear before the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals next Tuesday (Sept. 17), at 5:30 p.m. to request variances that, if granted, would accommodate converting the Eleanor into a rooming house ideal for parolees including sex offenders who are hard to place in most communities, but have been increasingly placed in Niagara Falls by the New York State Division of Parole.
The current city zoning ordinance requires a minimum of 120 square feet per occupant, but Bevilacqua is asking for a 50-square-foot variance per occupant, which would give each of the proposed 140 residents just 70 square feet of living space, pretty much what they were used to in prison.
Also the ordinance requires 70 parking spaces. Bevilacqua is proposing no parking spaces, and asking for an additional variance of eliminating all parking spaces. One assumption is that sex offenders and parolees, living in seven-by10-foot rooms, by the terms of their parole, are not likely to be permitted to drive even if they could afford a car.
The neighbors are up in arms.
Well known community activist Norma Higgs lives not far from the Eleanor on Augustus Place. Last week, she sent out a mass email to warn area residents about Bevilacqua’s scheme.
“Can you even imagine 140 persons living in a building with no indoor amenities (at least none that I know of) such as a common social room, etc.?” Higgs wrote. “My community park is two buildings away from the entrance of this structure which means 140 persons could be hanging around this park. This is unacceptable.”
Given the Dyster administration’s open door policy towards ex-convicts, parolees, registered sex offenders and other forms of human and inhuman garbage (see related story), it is impossible to predict what influence the mayor will have on the Zoning Board of Appeals or what the mayor will have to say about the Bevilacqua proposal.
The zoning board is advised by Code Enforcement Director Dennis Virtuoso, and the owners' previous request from the code enforcement department for the 140 room rooming house was denied by Virtuoso's department because it did not meet the code.
This prompted the appeal to the Zoning Board.
Higgs is urging everyone with an interest in keeping city streets safe to attend the meeting and speak out against Bevilacqua’s proposal.
“If we continue to allow this type of occupancy in our city neighborhoods, we will never grow as a city,” she wrote. “Occupants living in a 70 square foot living space will be forced to roam the streets to avoid claustrophobia and, assuming they are on parole or probation, this could lead to further problems.”
Deutsch said he was planning on having his agent present the plan nevertheless, and should it not be approved, he said he would have an alternative plan.
"We are working with an architect to redesign the building for small (studio) apartments with a bathroom,” he said. “Smaller apartments - 250-300 square feet. The bedroom, it is not even called a one bedroom. An open type for a single person.”
Asked if the architect had determined how many small studio apartments the property was likely to have should the Zoning Board deny their appeal, he said “in the range of 40 to 50.” Bevilacqua could not be reached for comment.
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
SEP 10, 2013