NIAGARA FALLS – Some city residents aren’t buying a proposal to build apartments that have been billed as veterans housing in their neighborhood.
Members of the public packed Council Chambers in City Hall on Tuesday night to oppose the plan, with some concerned that it could provide housing to people with mental health issues.
“It just seems that this could be bad in the long run for us who live in that area,” said 38th Street resident Ron Ketch.
DePaul Properties, a Rochester-based nonprofit, along with Niagara Falls Memorial Medical Center, has floated a proposal to build a 50-unit apartment complex on a portion of the site of the now-demolished 39th Street School.
The developers have stated that veterans would receive preference for housing units.
But a large portion of funding for the project is anticipated to come from the state Office of Mental Health – about $7.2 million of the total $12.3 million cost – which has caused concern for those who would live nearby.
Unveiled in May, the project was billed as being an independent living campus where medical and veterans services would be provided, a one-stop shop aimed at preventing some from falling through the cracks of the health care system.
Gillian J. Conde, a DePaul vice president, told city lawmakers on Tuesday night during a presentation about the potential project that the project is only in its early stages, and the organization has yet to complete its due diligence on the site. While one public meeting has taken place, others would be scheduled and there would be a public panel set up to guide the project’s development.
“Our goal is to communicate clearly and transparently our interest in building apartments in Niagara Falls,” Conde said before about 80 members of the public and city officials.
Tuesday night, many of the neighbors close to the city-owned site between Walnut and Ferry avenues, just west of Packard Road, said they aren’t getting the full truth from developers.
Nicholas Karbowski, a Ferry Avenue resident, said a flier distributed in the neighborhood to advertise a community meeting left out any mention of housing people who have mental health issues in the apartments.
Karbowski, who said he went door-to-door in his neighborhood, reported he was told by his neighbors that many did not attend because they believed the housing would be for veterans. Karbowski said the community feels the flier, delivered a day before the Aug. 20 session, was part of a strategy to suppress turnout at the meeting.
Dennis Winchell, of Sherwood Avenue, described himself as a proud veteran and a member of the Patriot Guard Riders.
“We are absolutely appalled that this corporation came in here under the pretense that they were going to be for our veterans,” Winchell said, “somebody that gave us the liberty to do what we’re doing right here today.”
The apartments, which would include 46 one-bedroom and four two-bedroom units, would be “mid-market” rate, according to Conde.
The income limit for the one-bedroom would be $26,880, while the income limit for a family of three would be $34,560, she said.
The one-bedroom apartments would rent for $600 per month, with all utilities included. The two-bedroom would rent for $750 a month, including utilities.
Low-income housing tax credits are also anticipated to help fund the project.
No action on the proposal was taken Tuesday, though any sale of city-owned land would have to be approved by the City Council.
In another matter, recycling was up and garbage disposal was down last month, Mayor Paul A. Dyster said.
Dyster reported that the curbside recycling rate in the city in August increased almost 47 percent compared to August of last year, with an additional 73.8 tons of recyclable material collected.
Refuse disposal decreased by about 9 percent, or by 206.9 tons.
In total, the shift meant a financial gain for the city of about $7,100, the mayor said.
New 96-gallon, wheeled bins distributed citywide to residents and some businesses were delivered across the Falls as part of a revamped garbage and recycling program, which also includes a 64-gallon tote for weekly garbage pickup. Recyclable materials are picked up every other week.
The totes were distributed, but their use is not yet mandatory as a proposed law establishing the program has yet to be passed by city lawmakers.
As of earlier this year, Niagara Falls had a 4 percent recycling rate – the worst in Western New York – according to an analysis by Investigative Post.
City Administrator Donna D. Owens said a contractor for the company who sold the bins to the city distributed more than 42,000 totes to about 21,000 parcels in July.