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Condemned building now up to code

City is satisfied that problems are fixed

By Gail Franklin
News Niagara Bureau

06 September 2006

NIAGARA FALLS - The city Inspections Department has taken down the "condemned" sign from developer Frank Parlato Jr.'s downtown office building, and the first floor is now open for retail business under a new certificate of occupancy.

Parlato had continued to operate food and souvenir sales during the last few weeks despite the warning that the location was unsafe, saying the problems city inspectors wanted fixed were "minor."

Three city inspectors found last week that all fire safety and electrical issues have been addressed, according to Inspections Director Guy Bax, who condemned the building in August because several promises for safety upgrades had not been met after several months.

On Tuesday, the head inspector said he is satisfied with a report he received from the company that installed the improvements at the former Occidental Chemical office building at 360 Rainbow Blvd.

"It covers the first floor, allowing retail sales, public assembly-type uses and vendors," Bax said of the certificate. "However, the entire matter is still subject to the Planning Board's approval, as well as issues outside the building and [approval is] a condition of the certificate."

Parlato's retail operations at the nine-story downtown property gained local attention this summer because he began using the mostly vacant building for a new use without first gaining the usual permits and approvals. The building had been cited by the city for various code violations last year and the developer's attorney, Paul Grenga, negotiated an April settlement with the city that allowed Parlato to operate during the tourist season as long as he worked to bring the building to code and gain site plan approval by October.

City Council Chairman Charles Walker objected to the agreement when he learned about it from a reporter because he said it would send the wrong message to other business owners who have to gain approvals before making changes.

But the developer said the city agreement allowed him to make money so he could install improvements to bring the building to code. He pointed out that he filled an eyesore pit in front of the building, left behind by its previous owners who had planned an underground aquarium. Parlato took over the building in 2004 and was in arrears $700,000 in back property taxes as of the beginning of August, but said he plans to make a large payment soon.

The whole matter is set to go before planning officials later this month. City Senior Planner Thomas DeSantis said Parlato submitted an acceptable site plan for the property in May but withdrew it before it was presented to the board for review. The planner said Tuesday that the developer now has submitted a slightly revised site plan that includes a handicap-accessible ramp and will come to the city board after it is reviewed by the Niagara County Planning Board.

The plan shows a retail use on the first floor of the building, as well as a restaurant and lounge, outdoor fountains and about 100 parking spaces on a paved lot in front of the building. The city's Planning Board will have to determine whether the paid parking on the property is allowed under a city ordinance that often bans private paid lots.

The project also requires a special permit from the Zoning Board of Appeals for the operation of tour sales inside, which also was allowed all season without prior approval.


e-mail: gfranklin@buffnews.com

 

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