A Niagara Falls City Court hearing on building code violations at what was once AquaFalls ended abruptly Monday when the city’s chief judge removed himself and two other judges from the case.
Chief City Court Judge Mark Violante recused himself, as did fellow City Court judges Robert Restaino and Angelo Morinello, after lawyers for developer Frank Parlato Jr. pointed out that the judges could end up being defendants in a lawsuit that may be filed against the city and state. In the case of Violante, Parlato’s attorneys also objected to his continuing on the case because he had issued an arrest warrant for their client.
“This practice of issuing bench warrants fast and frivolously must be curtailed,” Parlato said after the hearing. “In my case, it was egregious.”
The case will now be transferred to another court in the state’s Eighth Judicial District, which includes Niagara and seven other nearby counties. The district’s chief administrative judge, Supreme Court Justice Sharon Townsend, will determine where the case will be heard.
“I would like to have a jury trial, but I’m told that may not be possible,” Parlato said. “A jury of regular people might be able to see how the wheels of justice work (in the Falls).”
Late last week, Parlato said contractors had been working to fix the violations he had been cited for, as well as other code violations that led city building inspectors to condemn the structure, now known as One Niagara, on Aug. 18. Inspectors found work ordered by the city on the building’s sprinkler and electrical systems had not been completed.
Parlato said contractors worked on the building all day Wednesday to address what he called “minor” issues. Despite the condemnation, Parlato has continued to allow vendors to operate in the first floor of the building and contends the property is safe.
Guy Bax, the city’s director of inspections, said an inspector who visited the building on Aug. 18 found several code violations that were to have been addressed had not been completed.
“We were under the impression then that he was making significant progress,” Bax last week. “We are not satisfied that building is totally safe.”
Although renovations to the Rainbow Boulevard property, now named One Niagara, had not yet met all of the city’s planning and code approvals, city attorneys allowed Parlato to open the building to the public under a “stipulation of settlement” signed in April. The settlement agreed to drop several citations against Parlato if he brought his building up to code.
The condemnation revoked a temporary certificate of occupancy that allowed Parlato to open the first floor of the building as he worked toward compliance with the city’s regulations. The citations that were the subject of Monday’s court hearing were filed against Parlato last year for operating a paid parking lot on the site and allowing vendors to sell souvenirs on his property.
Parlato has not received approval from the city’s Planning Board for changes he has made to the site. He filled in a large hole left by the building’s previous owners who had attempted to build in the underground aquarium that was to be known as AquaFalls. He is now using the outside property as a paid gravel parking lot.
Contact staff writer Rick Pfeiffer at (716) 282-2311, Ext. 2252.