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Gautieri announces supermarket lease for downtown building

By Howard B. Owens

Downtown Batavia can support a supermarket and a group of businessmen who have done the marketing research to prove it have entered into a lease agreement to open a Save-A-Lot in the former Latina's location on Ellicott Street.

The new store will be 18,000 square feet.

"These guys have really got their heads straight," said Vito Gautieri, the building's owner. "We were looking at another chain, but this one looked like the best deal. I think it will be really good for Downtown Batavia."

The Gautieri's own Washington Towers and Vito said the family recognized the need to bring a supermarket downtown, both for the sake of tenants at Washington Towers and also 400 Towers.

"We really need a supermarket downtown," Gautieri said.

In fact, said Gautieri, the family decided to pass on an offer from a discount retail chain that would have filled all 40,000 square feet of the building because the need seems so great to bring a supermarket to the space.

The ownership group, operating locally as Batavia Food, Inc., has three other Save-A-Lot locations. The other stores are in Wheatland, Salamanca and Bradford, Pa.

Save-a-Lots operates as a kind of co-op of locally licensed stores. The new owners of the planned Batavia store have no affiliation with the owners of the Le Roy Save-A-Lot.

Gautieri said the owners of the Le Roy store were given first crack at the Batavia location, but for some reason a deal couldn't be put together.

Now Gautieri and his son, Vic, need to work on getting a tenant for the remaining 22,000 square feet on the first floor. He said they already have a couple of solid leads on possible tenants.

Gautieri is still working on ideas about what to do with the second floor. The space is currently 15,000 square feet, but because the building was constructed to support warehouse space on the second floor, the second floor roof could be raised and the area expanded to 25,000 square feet.

If Gautieri decides to expand the second floor, the space would either become premium office space or residential apartments.

Gulls find 'not welcome' signs on the roof of former Latina's building

By Howard B. Owens

Right on schedule, the migratory gulls that have plagued downtown buildings the past few years -- most notably the former Latina's location on Ellicott Street -- are returning.

This March, they're getting a slightly different reception.

The one-time Montgomery Ward store has a new owner, V J Gautieri Constructors, Inc., and CEO Vito Gautieri is determined both to get new tenants in the building and keep the gulls away.

"The key is to keep them from nesting," Gautieri said. "Once they nest, we can't touch them."

To that end, employees of Gautieri's were recently on the roof installing streamers and decoy owls (mean-looking ones at that).

Today, the gulls circled the building and cried their perpetually angry sounding cry, but none were landing on the roof.

Friday, Don Burkel, executive director of the Business Improvement District, sent a message to BID members asking them to deal with any developing gull problems promptly.

As the gulls return downtown we should be prepared to resolve any problems that may develop. If they are beginning to nest or create a problem with your property do not hesitate to contact us. We can put in touch with the Wildlife Services who professionalyl deal with these issues promptly.

As for the building on Jackson, Gautieri said he is weeks away from signing at least one new tenant for the building, and possibly two. He said he's had interest in the building from two or three grocery store operators and discount retailers. One particular retailer and one grocery store would be a particularly good fit as neighbors in the building, he said.

"They would be a draw for each other," Gautieri said.

Gautieri recently closed his purchase of the building from Tom Lewin's LKLWL Properties. Lewin made regional headlines late last summer as the city took steps to condemn the building and press code violations charges against the Buffalo-area resident.

Gautieri said it's in his best interest to keep the property clean and gull free, especially if he hopes to attract a grocery store to the location.

The second floor, Gautieri said, will also be available for office space or apartments. The plans are still being drawn up but, in either case, Gautieri said he is planning to install an elevator to help draw tenants to the location.

Gautieri was the contractor who built the structure and he said because of a high water table under the building, it was too expensive to put in a basement, so the second floor was originally designed as warehouse space with the ability to hold a150 lbs.-per-square-foot load.

Latina's signs finally taken off vacant building

By Howard B. Owens

I just noticed that after years of the Latina's signs staying up on the vacant Ellicott Street market, the signs are now gone.

While in some cases, the city could cite a property owner for old business signs, City Manager Jason Molino said he doesn't think the signs came down because of any city action. So perhaps Latina's, after a summer of bad publicity over seagulls on the building, finally asked that the signs be taken down.

Meanwhile, owner Tom Lewin appeared in City Court last week. Given that the building is now cleaned up, the charges against Lewin could be dismissed in six months if there are no more violations. (via WIVB)

Deadlines loom for former Cristina's location

By Howard B. Owens

Nonprofits which might want to donate to the former Cristina's Restaurant location on Ellicott Street in Batavia need to act quickly, said owner Charles Brumsted today.

He set a deadline of 3 p.m., Aug. 26, for nonprofits to apply for ownership of the property.

At the same time, Brumsted is facing a deadline of his own -- he has until Sept. 17 to dispose of the property one way or another, or go to trial on a series of misdemeanor charges levied by Batavia code-enforcement inspectors.

Brumstead was summoned to Batavia City Court today -- his attorney appeared on his behalf -- to answer to a series of complaints by the city that Brumstead has not been maintaining his property in compliance with local codes.

The allegations include: problems with the roof; cracks in exterior walls; a front door boarded over with plywood; and the structure's vacant appearance, all of which create a blighted appearance in the neighborhood, among other complaints (Source: WBTA).

Brumsted told WBTA's Geoff Redick today that the deadline in court and the new deadline for the nonprofits is merely a coincidence.

"The deadline that was set for Thursday, August 26th," says Brumsted, "was the effect that we were overwhelmed with the amount of response, and the not-for-profit organizations that have come forth for the interest in Cristina's restaurant."

Brumsted told The Batavian that some 15 nonprofit organizations have expressed an interest in the property.

The selection criteria, he said, will be based on what the nonprofits want to do with the property and how well that use will serve the community.

Of course, if the property is donated to a nonprofit, it will be taken off the city's tax rolls. At the same time, if the right nonprofit put the property to good use, it would bring people and activity to that section of Ellicott Street.

"I still own property in that area," Brumsted said. "I want to see something that helps other businesses in the area."

In a brief conversation today, City Manager Jason Molino said he didn't have a position on whether the property remains with a private owner or goes to a nonprofit.

"It's his property and he can do what he wants with it," Molino said, adding "Of course, he has a few issues to clear up first."

In other Batavia City Court actions on code-violation allegations:

  • Latina's is in significant compliance with city codes, officials said. The deadline for full compliance was extended to Sept. 17.
  • Ron Graziaplena, who has upset some neighbors with his 19 mallard ducks and other issues in his yard on Oak Street, appeared with an attorney, Frank Zinni. Judge Robert Balbick gave the attorney until Sept. 17 to get up to speed with the case.

Latina's property manager makes court appearance

By Howard B. Owens

Scratch Tom Lewin off Batavia's "Most Wanted" list.

The man city inspectors believe is responsible for another summer of gull poop and stink around the former Latina's Foodland voluntarily appeared in Batavia City Court yesterday morning with his attorney.

An arrest warrant was issued for Lewin after he failed to appear in court last week. 

On Friday, Amherst PD reportedly went to his house looking for him, but he wasn't home.

Lewin did not enter a plea to the code violation charges against his company, LKLWL Properties, which owns the Ellicott Street building. He is schedule to appear in court again at 10 a.m. on Aug. 20.

Latina's property manager not in court, arrest warrant issued

By Howard B. Owens

Tom Lewin is a wanted man.

Lewin, representative of LKLWL Properties, did not appear in Batavia City Court this morning on the matter of alleged code violations at the former Latina's Market property and Judge Robert Balbick issued a warrant for his arrest.

Meanwhile, attorneys for IPTV-B-C-45, LLC, the current mortgage holder on the property at 45 Ellicott St., did appear in court.

Franklin Hiller, attorney for the mortgage company, said that IPTV, not LKLWL as previously indicted by Lewin, hired PestRX to evaluate the gull issue at Latina's and come up with a plan for deal with the issue.

To implement that plan, which was turned over to the court by the attorney for IPTV, will cost IPTV $16,600. It will involve cleaning bird debris off the 41,580-square-foot roof, power washing the sides of the building, cleaning drains and putting in new drain covers, and implementing an "exclusion" procedure to deter the gulls from coming back.

The exclusion method was not specified.

"We intend to put forward our best effort and resolve this issue and put it right with the city," Hiller said.

As mortgage holder -- having only recently been assigned the mortgage, Hiller said --  IPTV has the right to protect its financial interest in the property and insure the building is well maintained.

Without IPTV stepping in now to try and resolve the issue, IPTV could ultimately face a bigger bill down the road.

"The cost of any fines or penalties or the cost of the city's remediation would ultimately come out of the mortgage holder's pockets," Hiller said.

One potential stumbling block is that before PestRX will begin work, Lewin must sign a liability waiver.

Outside of court, another attorney for IPTV, Mary Redmond, said that one way or another, IPTV will handle the issue.

As for Lewin, Judge Balbick wants to see him in court.

"The defendant will answer in my court independent of what you (Hiller) do," BaIbick said. "It’s imperative that this man appear in city court."

City Manager Jason Molino said the city will actively pursue the warrant against Lewin to ensure he appears before Balbick to answer the code violation charges.

Photo: Franklin Hiller, courtesy Geoff Redick, WBTA.

Pest company manager says gull problem at Latina's can be handled

By Howard B. Owens

The gull problem at Latina's is "hand-able, but a large-scale problem," according to a manager for Pest RX, a company out of Clarence hired by LKLWL Properties to assess the situation and recommend a solution.

"It's not like it's a one-shot deal," said Jeff Waiter. "It's not like we're going to come in here for however long and we'll never see a seagull again. We're going to have to work with the property owner and work on a long-term solution."

Both Waiter and Pest RX owner Jeff Phelps said they still need to put together a plan, but the preliminary solution includes fixing the drainage on the roof, getting rid of standing water, and coming up with an "exclusion" system, something to make it harder or scarier for the gulls to land on the roof.

Just ensuring it's a clean, dry roof will do a lot to deter the gulls.

"The first thing is, the standing water has to go," Phelps said. "Once that's gone, we'll do a power wash and clean off the roof, but to keep them off permanently, there's a lot of obstructions there.

"We're trying to put our heads together and come up with a plan," he added.

It shouldn't be necessary to get the DEC involved at this point, Waiter said. He said the team spoke with the DEC this morning, they have a copy of the DEC manual and so long as they're not disturbing eggs or active nests, no DEC permit is required.

He said they found no eggs and only old nests on the roof today.

"We can definitely make the place tidy without a DEC permit," Waiter said, "so long as we don't harass the young or the eggs."

Photo: From left, Phelps, Waiter and another Pest RX employee.

Seagull discontent at Latina's takes to Facebook community page

By Timothy Walton

Discontent of the seagull population is continuing to grow and so is the media attention. Social networking site is one of the latest media outlet to show the public support asking for LKLWL owner Tom Lewin to take responsibility for the growing problem that is occuring on the building owned by his company.

The facebook page, titled Tom Lewin remove the Seagulls at Latina's- Batavia, NY! is a community based page currently with over 100 fans supporting the group and the cause.

Previous coverage of Latina's can be viewed here

Property owner hiring pest control company to look at the gull issue at Latina's

By Howard B. Owens

Tom Lewin, one of the owners of the former Latina's Market location on Ellicott Street will have a pest control company on site Monday. It will evaluate the gull problem that city residents and business owners have been complaining about for months.

"Hopefully by Tuesday, I'll have their recommendation," Lewin said.

Asked about DEC involvement -- the city was required to get a permit before dealing with the gull issue atop City Centre a couple of years ago -- Lewin said he didn't know anything about that.

"I'm not a gull expert," he said. "Are you?"

Earlier today, Lewin was quoted on the WGRZ website as saying he was cooperating with the city on the issue.

"We are working diligently and cooperatively with the City of Batavia to find a solution," Lewin reportedly said.

Reached this morning, City Manager Jason Molino said he had spoken with Lewin, but also said he would like to see some action before he would call it cooperation.

"If there’s a move over on that property, then I guess you could say that’s true," Molino said.

The city issued a condemnation notice on the building, which could provide a path for the city to take steps on its own to deal with the gull infestation; however, the County Health Board has ruled the gulls are not a public health hazard.

Lewin, principal in LKLWL Properties, has also been summoned to City Court to respond to allegations of code violations at the vacant site.

County Board of Health gives Latina's gulls a clean bill of health

By Howard B. Owens

BATAVIA, NY -- The gulls roosting atop Latina's may be noisy, stinky and prone to poop on anything and everything, but they are not a public health hazard, according to the County Board of Health.

Board President Mary J. McJury notified BID Director Don Burkel of the board's finding in a July 7 letter.

"Although the Board of Health empathizes with the current situation, it was the board's determination, following careful review of the investigation, that this situation does not constitute a public health nuisance."

The Latina's building was condemned last week by the city for allegedly unsanitary conditions.

LKLWL Properties, the building's owner, has been summoned to City Court on July 23 to answer a complaint by the city that the company has failed to deal with unsanitary conditions on the property.

In her letter, McJury notes that the Herring Gulls are attracted to the Latina's roof because it is flat, warm and protected from harassment and predation.

"It is a short flight for them to feeding opportunities in the agricultural land surrounding the city," she wrote. "They are omnivores and eat anything from garbage to berries."

She said the actual issue with the property appears "to be property maintenance and aesthetic in nature."

She notes that the New York Department of Health issued a report finding no negative human health issues associated with Herring Gull populations.

Also, to date, there have been no reports of illnesses related to Batavia's gull infestation.

Condemnation notice placed on Latina's building

By Howard B. Owens

City officials are ramping up the enforcement action against LKLWL Properties, owners of the Latina's Foodland location on Ellicott Street.

Today, a condemnation notice appeared on the building's doors and a criminal complaint was filed in City Court.

Representatives of LKLWL Properties are being ordered to appear in court on July 23 at 10 a.m. to answer to a charge of creating unsanitary conditions, in violation of city code.

The condemnation notice prevents anybody from entering the building.

Also, based on the feces and feathers on the floor inside of the building, it seems pretty clear that gulls now have access to the interior of the building as well, not just the roof.

City Manager Jason Molino has not been available for comment this afternoon.

UPDATE 4:36 p.m.: City Manager Jason Molino said the court action and the condemnation are two seperate tracks that are part of the same effort to get the property owner to take the condition of the building seriously.

If the gull problem isn't remedied in 30 days, because of the condemnation notification, the city will be able to send crews in to deal with the gulls and clean up the property and then bill the property owner for the work.

"At this point we have to do what we can to try and remedy the situation," Molino said.

Asked about cleaning up the parking lot, which is increasingly covered with feces, Molino said it would be reasonable to consider billing the property owner for any clean up work there.

For previous coverage, click here.

City swoops in on Latina's for a day of enforced clean up

By Howard B. Owens

If you noticed the bright red trucks of Scalia's Landscaping around Latina's today, don't get your hopes up that purported property owner Tom Lewin of Buffalo has suddenly taken responsibility for the rotting hulk of a former supermarket.

Scalia's was hired by the city after LKLWL Properties allegedly failed to comply with a code violation posted on the building on June 24.

LKLWL Properties will be billed for the clean up -- which included weed abatement and hosing down the sidewalks, which were covered with gull poop, along with a $250 fine.

The city took the same enforcement action against LKLWL Properties last year. The city is also working on a court case alledging that the hundreds of gulls nesting on the roof of the former Latina's Food Store are creating an "unsanitary condition."

Neither court nor city officials were able to say today when that case might be heard in Batavia City Court.

For previous coverage, click here.

Latina's update: time for weeding

By Howard B. Owens

Last year, city workers had to remove the weeds from around the seemingly rotting Latina's building, billing the property owner for the abatement.

LKLWL Properties out of Amherst may be in for another bill from the city if owner Tom Lewin doesn't deal with the growing weed problem soon.

BID Director Don Burkel said he spoke with Lewin the other day and he said Lewin was adamant that he's not going to do anything with the building, neither in regards to upkeep nor selling the property.

I called Lewin this morning and left a voice mail asking him to confirm whether that's his position. No call back yet.

Of course, most of us call the building the Latina's building because that's still the company name on the side of the structure. 

I called Latina's Food Services out of Tonawanda and asked if a company spokesman would comment on any potential public-relations problem in having a decrepit building in the middle of Batavia with its name on it. No official spokesman would come to the phone. The only response was through a receptionist who said he was told to say, "We don't own the building."


Property owner refuses to discuss sea gulls plaguing former Latina's location

By Howard B. Owens

Reached on his mobile phone, Tom Lewin, reportedly manager of LKLWL Properties out of Amherst, the listed owner of the former Latina's Market building at 45-47 Ellicott Street just hung up on The Batavian.

Asked what he plans to do about the sea gulls roosting on top of the apparently deteriorating former grocery store, Lewin said, "I have no comment" and terminated the call.

Lewin reportedly took the same tact when reach by Geoff Redick of WBTA earlier today.

Lewin reportedly said there are no plans to sell or develop the building. Redick reports that Lewin refused to comment on the issue.  Redick said he asked if he had a reason to disregard the public health in Batavia, Lewin reportedly called it a "loaded question" and discontinued the interview.

WBTA reports that the Business Improvement District has requested LKLWL clean up the problem, and USDA Wildlife Services have been contacted, and that the County Health Department regards the growing number of gulls as a possible public health concern.

WBTA reported that LKLWL has refused to let anybody on the roof to investigate the situation.

Ken Mislter, who owns 10 properties downtown and has in previous years helped organize the classic car show in the Court and Ellicott parking lot said the reason there is no classic car show this year is the car owners don't want to subject their rides to gull droppings.

The property is listed on the BID's website as for sale or lease. The current assessed value is $700,000.

Gulls at Latina's market a nuisance again this year

By Howard B. Owens

There are times you can stand in the parking lot next to the vacant Latina's market and swear that you were on the film set of  The Birds. The screeching gulls seem to get louder and grow in number.

But rather than swoop down and pluck your eyes out, these feathered varmints are more likely to poop on your car.

And those droppings have area residents complaining once again, but to little avail. 

According to City Manager Jason Molino, there is no city ordinance that the property owner is violating by allowing gulls to nest on the Latina's roof.

When the city had a problem with gulls on top of City Hall, it got a DEC permit to remove the gull eggs. Once the gulls can't nest on a roof, they look for another nesting location.

Last year, we are told, the Latina's owners didn't do anything about the gulls.

Vito Gautieri is a co-owner of the building. He hasn't returned the call The Batavian placed to his office on Thursday.

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