The facts are in. Only two possibilities remain.
Either the purchase of an apartment building located at 631 Chilton Ave. by an appointed volunteer city official with close ties to the Dyster administration represents some sort of shady deal, or the Department of Community Development and its youthful head, Seth Piccirillo, simply botched the process, allowing valuable city property to be possibly transferred into private hands for a measly $500.
The building was never advertised as being for sale and no sign was ever posted on the property to let neighbors and others interested in the property that it was available.
According to the Niagara Gazette, last week, an Aurora area man, Joseph Gullo, emerged to say he had been interested in the property since last April, and had the emails and phone records to Piccarillo’s agency to prove it.
“If we could find the right house, we could rent out the property short term, fix it up, let our kids live there when they attend college, and eventually retire in it,” Gullo said in an email to the Gazette.
Piccirillo said the emails were apparently relegated to the Department of Community Development’s spam account, and that neither he nor anyone else had seen them.
So he placed a tiny ad, last August, in the Gazette, asking for a Request For Proposals (RFP) on acquiring and fixing up the Chilton Avenue property. In addition to getting the apartment building, the potential buyer could also get a $40,000 grant to rehabilitate the property, the RFP said.
As far as can be determined, the only person to have seen this ad was Karen Mock of Keller Williams Realty in North Buffalo and a member of Dyster’s Healthy Community Committee. She submitted the lone bid of $500.
The 3,160 square foot brick building has an assessed value of $37,261, according to records at City Hall. And it comes with the $40,000 reimbursable grant for renovations. The property was gifted to the city by Wells Fargo bank after the previous owner defaulted on the mortgage.
And of course this isn’t Mock’s first experience with buying property from Dyster and the city. In 2013, members of the Niagara Falls City Council unanimously approved the sale of a city-owned property at 435 Memorial Parkway to Mock for another measly $500.
That seven-bedroom, two-and-a-half bath brick structure has an assessed value of $44,047. In other words, over the past two years, Mock has been able to pick up Niagara Falls real estate assessed at more than $81,000 for $1,000 and get an additional $40,000 grant in the bargain.
That might be described as insider trading. It also might be described as a gigantic screw-up on the part of Piccarillo and his Community Development Department.
Mostly though, it could be described as business as usual in the Niagara Falls run by Mayor Paul Dyster, whose idea of economic development has more to do with building housing for the welfare cases his policies have created than it does with creating jobs.