Council members speak out against GCASA's attempt to purchase former St. Nick's Club building
While it doesn’t have any legal right to stop the sale of property, City Council is keeping its collective finger on the pulse of the Genesee/Orleans Council on Alcoholism and Substance Abuse’s proposed offer to purchase the former North Pole Restaurant at 241-243 South Swan St. and use it as a social outlet for recovering addicts.
And at least four Council members publicly stated their opposition to the potential sale tonight following comments from two neighborhood residents during its monthly meeting at City Centre Council Chambers.
“I would not support it,” said Council Member Paul Viele, as colleague Kathy Briggs nodded in agreement, to applause.
Moments later, Council Member Rose Mary Christian and President Eugene Jankowski also stated that they were against it. Christian brought the issue to a public forum last month at a town hall meeting at 400 Towers.
“We’re going to do everything we can to stop this,” Christian said, despite word from City Attorney George Van Nest that, at this point, “there is not a role for Council to play” in this matter.
Van Nest said that Council is “not in the business to stop a project because it may be unpopular.” He advised that it needs to play out to see if any rezoning or variance issues would materialize, and those would be handled by the proper committees (Batavia Planning & Development or Zoning Board of Appeals).
City Manager Martin Moore said that GCASA Executive Director John Bennett told him that the building, which for many years served as the St. Nicholas Social Club, would be repurposed as a “retreat or private getaway” for those recovering from substance abuse.
“Still, we have to as a City take a look at it,” Moore said, noting that the area currently is zone as R-2 Residential. “The city attorney and Department of Public Works Superintendent (Matt Worth) are requesting information regarding the use.”
Moore said the specifics of the project weren’t spelled out, and that he is pursuing a written determination to be given to City Council and to be shared with the public.
Comments from council members and management came after David Fasano and Jack Chmielowiec, longtime Southside residents, voiced their strong opposition to the plan.
“These are court-ordered drug addicts and alcoholics (and they) force them onto our neighborhood,” Fasano said. “It’s not a good fit.”
Fasano said he was against it for two primary reasons – it puts addicts in a residential neighborhood and takes property off the tax rolls.
“GCASA is not a church; GCASA is a business,” he said. “With St. Anthony’s (Church on Liberty Street), it was already off the tax rolls when City Church bought it. They’ll be using our emergency services, DPW, city attorney … and we’re paying for that.”
Chmielowiec said he was “upset that it got this far without our neighborhood knowing about it” and was surprised that anyone would even consider the location with a school (Jackson School) two blocks away and a park (Farrall Park) “less than 200 paces away.”
He called negotiations a “sneaky kind of deal right from the get-go” and said he was “offended” that neighbors weren’t notified in advance.
Earlier reports indicate that GCASA received a state grant to fund the gathering place and had about a three-month window to complete the deal, and that the current owners of the property have accepted the agency’s offer.