Niagara Falls – A city-owned Chilton Avenue apartment house set to be sold to a volunteer member of the Dyster administration for $500 was never advertised as being for sale, and no sign was ever posted on the front lawn describing it was such.
Instead, Community Development Director Seth Piccirillo placed a small legal notice in the classified section of the Niagara Gazette asking for a Request For Proposals (RFP) to develop the property.
Why? The move all but ensured that the building would be purchased by a developer rather than a private individual, who may have lived in it while doing renovations.
The RFP notice contained no minimum bid amount, and may have been seen by just one person, 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,http://southbuffalonews.com60 square foot brick building, at 63http://southbuffalonews.com Chilton Ave., has an assessed value of $37,26http://southbuffalonews.com, according to records at City Hall. And it comes with a $40,000 reimbursable grant for renovations. The property was gifted to the city by Wells Fargo bank.
This isn’t Mock’s first experience with buying property from the city. In 20http://southbuffalonews.com3, members of the Niagara Falls City Council unanimously approved the sale of a city-owned property at 435 Memorial Parkway to Mock for $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 $8http://southbuffalonews.com,000 for $http://southbuffalonews.com,000 and qualify to get an additional $40,000 grant in the bargain.
Piccirillo said that Mock plans to spend $http://southbuffalonews.com00,000 on renovations for the Chilton Avenue property, although a survey of homes currently listed or recently sold at 6http://southbuffalonews.com6, 62http://southbuffalonews.com, 634 and 666 Chilton shows nearby property values ranging from a low of $2http://southbuffalonews.com,000 to a high of $60,000.
The city Planning Board approved the deal last week
City resident Diane Tattersall told the Niagara Gazette that news of the sale is circulating in the neighborhood. Criticism for the highly unusual marketing strategy are arising too as well.
“I encourage the planning board to examine all aspects, start to finish, of the particulars of this transaction,” Tattersall said.
Ron Anderluh of the Niagara Street Area Business Association, characterized the price as “very, very low” while addressing members of the planning board during last week’s meeting. And former Niagara Falls City School Board member Don King, a resident of Chilton Avenue, probed the board over a minimum bid requirement, which the request lacked.
Mock responding by saying that if she feels she is being unjustly scrutinized, or “attacked” she will pull aside her interest in the project and not move forward.
“I have an interest in making the neighborhood better and making this city better because I live here,” Mock said.
Buffalo developer Mark Hamister made similar statements back in 20http://southbuffalonews.com3 about those questioning his proposal to build a downtown hotel here. He has yet to back out of the deal, but there has been no sign that any hotel will be built.
The Chilton property was gifted to the city by Wells Fargo bank. Included in the donation was a $40,000 reimbursable grant for renovations. It sits in the middle of a two-street Historic District created by Dyster in 2009, which also included Dyster’s own street, neighboring Orchard Parkway.
Additional funding is available through various government agencies to property owners there who want to renovate in a historically correct fashion.
The formal approval of the sale will be brought before the Niagara Falls City Council on Jan. 28.
Piccirillo said he had confidence in Mock and her company, Develop Niagara, which owns 22 properties in Erie County in addition to those in Niagara Falls. He said the company will be bound by contract to submit a rehab plan in two months, and renovations would need to be completed within a year.
“We are sensitive to the neighbors. We want this to be a positive for the street,” he told the Gazette. “We want to work with the developer on renovations … and enter into an agreement where there would be a clawback if they don’t do what they said they were going to do. We see that as the most responsible role to take.”
Mock’s partners in Develop Niagara have not been publicly identified, nor have the addresses of the other properties owned by the firm, which would give a better understanding of what sort of development the company does.
Mock said she was asked by Piccirillo and city Councilman Charles Walker to sit on the housing subcommittee of the Healthy Community Committee, and added that she was a surprised as anyone she was able to get the Chilton Avenue building at such a bargain basement price.
“I didn’t think it would still be available, I’m so surprised there wasn’t other people interested,” Mock said. “We want to renovate it and make it nice. It’s beautiful, on a beautiful street.”
Piccirillo said it was only natural that someone on Dyster’s committee would want the building.
“It doesn’t surprise me that someone involved in the group was interested in that vacant property,” he said. “But I don’t think there’s a headline —member gets a sweetheart deal — that’s really not the case.”
Piccirillo said a meeting will be set up between the developer and members of the Chilton Avenue Block Club to facilitate a relationship between the new owners and neighboring residents.
“We will not bring it to city Council until that conversation happens,” he said. “And if Chilton says they don’t like it, we won’t bring it to Council.”