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DUNKIRK – Members of the city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee heard from a local company asking for support for a home renovation program in the city.

Planning Director Steve Neratko said that STEL, Inc., would like to do a home rehabilitation program using New York State Tax Credit funding. Steve Ald, from STEL, said the company is seeking $100,000 from the city’s Community Development Block Grant program.

Ald said that STEL hopes to bring in $10 million to rehab homes and wants to work with Chautauqua Opportunities to provide financial management education to the home owners in the targeted area. The existing homes to be remodeled would be located on Route 60 in the city from the city line to the lake front area.

STEL will seek funding for the projects starting in 2015. Chautauqua Opportunities currently operates a program to help homeowners make improvements. The Chautauqua Opportunities contract expires this year. Ald said that STEL would own the homes for 15 years and lease them to occupants who would have the opportunity to purchase the homes at the end of the lease.

Ald said the company will seek options to purchase up to 30 homes or vacant lots in the area targeted. Thomas Whitney, chief executive officer of STEL, said the company will try to find the homes that need the most work. STEL currently operates several programs in Chautauqua County, including group homes and community-based case management. Whitney said the application for funding is due this fall and they are in the process of completing it now for submission in November.

The company used the tax credit program to renovate the former Cardinal Mindzenty High School in Dunkirk,which is now apartments for low-income residents.

“If we can take 30 homes that are derelict in this area and improve them, we think it will be a win for everyone,” said Whitney.

In other news before the committee:

• Shelly Wells, project coordinator for the Creating Healthy Places Program, reported that the farmers’ market will open at 8 a.m. Wednesday near the Dunkirk Senior Center on Ruggles Street. The market will accept food coupons from the Women, Infants and Children and senior citizen programs. She also reported that all eight community gardens have been rented and planted.

The Creating Healthy Places Program paid for a study on pedestrian and bike trails for the city. Andy Dickson presented the study to members of the committee. He said the first part of the study recommended a connecting trail between the existing trail on Point Drive North and Lake Front Boulevard. The group also recommends a trail that goes around the current NRG plant on the waterfront area.

The study, completed by Pashek Associates, recommends continuing bicycle and pedestrian paths along the waterfront to encourage fishing and water access for residents.

The group also recommended widening the access area near the Department of Environmental Conservation fishing area from six feet to 10 feet.

Neratko said that currently the two bicycle paths in the city are separated by Route 5. “I don’t think at this moment we would be willing to implement these plans, but it would be nice if the funding opportunity came up,” he said.

Neratko said that now that plans are final for the NRG plant to change from coal to natural gas there may be an opportunity to utilize land around the plant.

The total changes proposed would cost about $1 million. Dickson said that connecting the two bike trails would be much less. He said that 80 percent of the funding may be available from a New York State transportation grant.

• Nicole Waite reported on funds drawn from the Community Development Block Grant Program. She reported that $979 was sent to the Meals on Wheels Program. They used the funds for delivering meals to extremely low-income elderly persons, who received 196 hot meals, and 28 frozen meals for weekend use.

• Lacy Lawrence, Deputy Director of Planning, said a new restaurant will be moving into the boardwalk area. The new business will be called “Fortunato’s” and is expected to open within the next two weeks. 

• Neratko said he recommended hiring LaBella Architects, which recently opened an office on Brigham Road, in Dunkirk, to design the improvements of the Coburn Block Building on Central Avenue. There is funding through the New York State Main Street Program to assist with renovations under the grant. Neratko said the grant funding is available through this year and needs to be expended within the next six months. The recommendation to hire the firm will go before the city council at the first meeting in July. The cost is expected to be $15,000.

The Coburn building is mostly occupied by a non-profit, Rural Ministries. It has six store fronts, apartments, and a soup kitchen.