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JUNE 16 - JUNE 24, 2015

You Wanna Buy Swampland in Lewiston?

JUNE 16, 2015

An aerial map of the Riverwalk area before the houses were built.
An aerial photo of the Riverwalk area after the homes were built. Notice the expansion of the ponds. Much of the year the areas outside the ponds are wet with swamp creating a stink and dangerous condition.
As you can see the developer never connected the two ends of Riverwalk Dr.
The long and winding (and disconnected) road that needs to be fixed.

The Niagara Falls Reporter is on this story.

And it’s not going to go away.

We’re talking about the stench that is the Riverwalk Subdivision in Lewiston NY.

First a little background.

The Riverwalk subdivision was initially proposed in 2002 by the late Joseph Deck, who was a well-known local developer.  

His company is now owned by his son, Joseph Deck Jr.

The development was planned to include 150 homes, including 105 patio homes on a 60-acre tract extending from Pletcher to Lower River roads with most homes fronting a new road to be put in by the developer - Riverwalk Dr. 

Less than half the planned homes were built by Deck’s designated builder, Ryan Homes, before drainage problems surfaced when people started moving into the new project around 2006.

The drainage problems were so bad that Ryan pulled out and Deck was unable to sell the many unsold lots.

Probably they couldn’t even give them away.

This was a classic case of ineptitude –if not worse.

The proposed site of the subdivision was known to be low lying land that had extremely poor drainage.  In fact the area was labeled at the time by at least one board member to be a swamp.

That may have been the reason that a large parcel of land in such a desirable location had never been built on during the housing boom of the sixties and seventies. 
Deck’s preliminary plans had been drawn up by local surveyor James McIntyre and had to be amended several times to address the many issues that concerned the Town Board.

Those issues included planning, zoning, and environmental concerns.

But Deck played hard ball.

He commenced a series of lawsuits against the Town of Lewiston, along with months of name calling.  The town board, despite misgivings, finally approved the plans after several years of fighting during a meeting lasting over three hours.

From the start of road construction there were problems.

In order to access the building lots, Riverwalk Dr. was constructed from both Pletcher and Lower River Roads.  They were supposed to meet but never connected.

About 500 feet separate the two portions of Riverwalk Dr. and a cinder and dirt foot path lies between – which seems to be in violation of promises made by the developer to win approval for his plans.

Fire inspectors have complained that this is a safety hazard for about a decade.

The problem is that first responders called to a home on Riverwalk could end up at a dead end if they approached the road from the wrong road.

The worst issue however was the fact that the property was so low-lying that Riverwalk had to be built several feet above the existing grade.

There is a suspicion that the developer may have not presented fully accurate topographical information and how to remediate low areas when he submitted his original plans.

The lots themselves had to be raised just to make a dry area to build the homes.

Much of the supposedly clean fill that was promised to be used to raise the property turned out to be little more than concrete rubble which also may be another violation of the plans approved by the town.

But the major problem was caused by the fact that the elevated road (Riverwalk Dr.) served as a virtual dam across a large area where water used to flow.

In the subdivision plans a series of ponds were to be constructed that would eventually drain the water through a stream running through Joseph Davis State Park and eventually into Four Mile Creek.

Ponds were installed but the system never worked which suggest that either the design was faulty or the developer did not actually install the ponds as designed.

So now there is an area of property behind some of the residents’ homes that never drains.

During the warm months they are plagued by mosquitos and other insects, and the water is so foul that the stench is almost unbearable.  It has rendered the backyards of residents useless and has been a source of aggravation and frustration for at least seven years.

A preliminary inspection of the site indicates that there may have been some tampering with the original grading – perhaps suggesting that the developer “stole” some fill from the back of the property to bring to the front where the homes were built – suggesting another violation of the approved plans.

For some reason, and it might very well be tied to the desire to accommodate longtime Republican powerhouse Jerald Wolfgang, who plans to develop a subdivision adjacent to Riverwalk, that the town has decided to put in a large drain line to try to solve the Riverwalk swamp problem.

Over eight hundred feet of twenty four inch pipe is planned to be installed starting on the north side of Riverwalk and will run further north to connect to a larger concrete (60 inch) drain pipe inside Joseph Davis Park which drains into the Niagara River.

 The town is awaiting NY State approval for the right to trench and lay pipe inside the state park and to connect to the state’s drainage pipe.

If approved, hopefully, this will begin to provide a long overdue solution to residents’ problems.

Town engineer Robert Lannon, of Conestoga Rovers & Associates, has estimated that the project to install this drain will cost $200,000.

As for the cost to install the pipe, Town Supervisor Dennis Brochey agrees with Lannon’s $200,000 assessment of costs if the work is bid out to an outside contractor, but Brochey said if the Highway & Drainage Department tackled the work it might cost closer to $100,000.

Highway Supt. Doug Janese agrees that his department might be able to do the work for less money given that the town has equipment and the town would only pay for time and materials.

“But I would need to see the plans before I could safely say for certain,” Janese said.

What is known is that more than 800 feet of pipe is planned to be installed and connected to a pipe inside Joseph Davis State Park.

What is unknown is whether the drainage issue will have to be addressed not only from the north side of Riverwalk Dr., but from the south side as well.

“I have warned the town board that this pipe alone is not the solution to the drainage problem,” Janese said. “The pipe only gives you the means to get collected water off the property.

But plans still have to be designed to collect the expanse of swamp water and into the pipe. 

“To solve the drainage issue the plans must address how to get the ponds to drain into the pipe,” Janese said. “Obviously you have to identify a low point and dig through standing water, where the soil is mushy - it’s so soft that people can’t put a deck in their backyard.

“The challenge is the grading is wrong. Plans may have to call for some grading, and potentially to install a lift station and bring the water up two or three feet to get it to the pipe.” 

If some or all of this is required to successfully drain the property, then it is not possible to fix a final price at this time.

Town Supervisor Brochey said, "Whatever the final cost is, the taxpayers shouldn't be paying for this. The developer should be held accountable."

So a question has to be answered.  Who will foot the bill for this work?

In the past, Deck blamed the town for the drainage problems at Riverwalk claiming that because the town approved his plans the town should bear the cost of solving the drainage problem.

Yet there is a possibility that Deck did not follow the plans and recklessly built knowing that there was serious issues that should have and would have been fixed by any responsible developer.

To develop a failure such as Riverwalk is a standing blot on the reputation of any decent developer – living or deceased - and is a standing blot on his character.

In the opinion of the Niagara Falls Reporter, the Riverwalk homeowners have suffered with this issue far too long.

Yet the taxpayers should not have to donate hundreds of thousands of their hard earned dollars to fix an issue caused by a developer. 

If the present owner – the heir to the late Joseph Deck – his son Joseph Deck Jr.  is unwilling or unable to remedy this problem then the Town Board should file legal action against the developer’s company and the assets they own including the land – now worthless - that remained unsold - to recoup the taxpayers’ costs on this project.

Winning a judgment should lead to foreclose on the remaining unsold lots –which will be very valuable if the drainage issue is solved.

To spend taxpayers’ money to solve the drainage problem and fix the reckless work of an incompetent private developer and then allow his development company to profit from the newly valuable lots would be a dereliction of the duties of a town board.

Either the developer should pay for his woeful mistakes – which include both the drainage issue and the failure to connect the two parts of the road – halted because of the dead in the water (pun intended) project - or the town should fix the problem and simultaneously begin legal action against the development.

A small amount of investigation on the part of the town should easily demonstrate that Deck willfully proceeded with a development doomed to fail – and quite possibly deliberately failed to follow the very plans the town approved and for which he claimed was the reason the town, and not he, should pay for his failed project.

In our estimation, if the drainage issue is solved and the road connected, the increase in the value of the unsold lots should surpass the cost of the remedial work.

In our estimation, Joseph Deck Jr. has an obligation here: pay to fix or surrender the unsold property to those who will solve the problem.

What prompted the sudden urge by the town board to at last try to remedy this long standing problem is as yet unknown.

But the time has come.

The Reporter sees it as our role to investigate this matter and uncover how a developer could be so utterly shameless as to leave the people he induced to buy from him and make their homes in his development in pain and with near worthless properties.

The Reporter sees it as our role to watchdog the remedial work and ensure that the taxpayers are reimbursed for the work they pay for to fix private property.

Nobody asked us to do this. 

No doubt there are some that would prefer we did not.

But we’re going to do it.

You can rest assured that if this subdivision’s problems are fixed, we will let you know the cost and what efforts the town makes to collect the money from the developer.

 This is just the beginning of what we expect to be a many layered and ongoing story.

Stay tuned. 

This is not a pond you want to swim in, or view from your terrace, or even let your dog go near - in case he mistakenly takes a drink. It is a pond that smells from stagnancy and from disease.






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