ADVERTISEMENT

The Lancaster Town Board on Monday approved the $1.4 million sale of a former industrial building to a North Tonawanda manufacturer that plans to move to the town once the sale closes in October.

The sale of the 74,000-square-foot former Colecraft Manufacturing building, at 3949 Walden Ave., concludes a decade of contentious debate that began when the town bought the facility in 2003 with a plan – never realized – to move its police and courts operations there.

The sale closing is delayed until fall to give the town time to move out equipment and employees, and give Erie Engineered Products time to move from its current location on Niagara Falls Boulevard.

The manufacturer of shipping and storage containers used in the defense industry would bring its 55 employees to the new location.

“Obviously, I’m excited about it. I wanted to see it sold eight years ago,” Supervisor Dino J. Fudoli said after Monday night’s meeting. The Republican supervisor won election in 2011 after criticizing his predecessor for the purchase of the Colecraft facility.

Fudoli and a group of town residents have blasted the Town Board for buying the former industrial building, and a critical State Comptroller’s Office audit said the $1.6 million purchase largely was a waste of taxpayer money.

Democrats on the Town Board continue to insist the town made the fiscally responsible decision 10 years to try to buy and rehabilitate the Colecraft structure, but they say circumstances changed and the sale makes sense today.

Critics charged the town with ignoring other options for a new law enforcement building, and the project was marked by delays and a citizens’ lawsuit.

The town moved in its Detective Bureau and used the warehouse portion for storage of Lancaster-owned vehicles.

“We got a lot of use out of that building,” Councilman Ronald Ruffino said.

Town officials say rising cost estimates for renovations ultimately scuttled the rehab plans. The town now is building a new police-and-courts structure at a less-centrally located site on Pavement Road.

The comptroller’s audit concluded that the town spent $2.5 million on the Colecraft project, including about $500,000 in interest bond payments, and found that the town, county and Lancaster Central School District had forgone $440,000 in property taxes since 2003.

The town put the eight-acre Colecraft property up for sale last year and tentatively reached a sale agreement with Erie Engineered Products in December.

Erie now leases space in the former Wurlitzer Building, 908 Niagara Falls Blvd., but was not assured that it could renew its lease when it ends next February, company officials said last year.

The board vote followed a review earlier Monday by members of the Town Board and town Planning Board that found the sale and Erie’s plans wouldn’t harm the environment.

“I’m glad to see that it’s done,” Dan Beutler, a Depew resident who joined the citizen lawsuit, said just prior to the vote.

email: swatson@buffnews.com