PETER CONRADI/Bullet News
Niagara Falls City Council Tuesday night passed a motion to sell the former Battlefield School to the Stamford Kiwanis Club for the development of a seniors’ residence.
The plan was met by stiff opposition from the Friends of Lundy’s Lane Battlefield, which wanted to lease the land from the city for 10 years, demolish the school and protect the entire property, which it says is of historic significance. The property is on Barker Street, adjacent to where the Battle of Lundy’s Lane was fought in 1814.
However in a 6-2 recorded vote, most councillors decided the staff recommendation represented a win for all parties: The Kiwanis get the school for $450,000, a piece of the land will be purchased by Morse and Son Funeral Homes for $100,000 to be developed as parking, and the remaining 1.9 acres will be preserved by the city and promoted as the battlefield site with a net cost of $100,000.
“We’re the only (government) stepping up,” said Coun. Vince Kerrio. “This is a positive for everyone. It is not a loss for the Friends of the battlefield.”
The school was closed last year and put up for sale by the District School Board of Niagara. By law, other school boards and the levels of government have the first option to buy before the property is put on the open market.
The city purchased the land and school last April for $900,000. After receiving an unsolicited offer from the Stamford Kiwanis Club, the city decided it would sell the existing building to the club for the purpose of converting it to a housing complex for seniors. The federal government was also approached about acquiring the land, given Ottawa’s appetite for War of 1812 celebrations. Interest was lukewarm at best.
“No one used the word no, but no one said yes, either,” said Mayor Jim Diodati.
E.S. Fox donated $250,000 to help the city’s purchase because there was fear the land could be sold by the school board to a private developer. The property is zoned to allow single and semi-detached homes and a company would not have needed council permission to move ahead with developing the area.
The city had initially embraced the Kiwanis proposal, but that was put on hold six months ago to allow the Friends of Lundy’s Lane Battlefield time to raise money for the purchase and demolition of the school. However the group has been able to raise only $25,000. Councillors were concerned that further delays would mean the loss of the Kiwanis project and the accompanying tax revenue and the city would be holding a $900,000 piece of property.
Friends’ lawyer Rocco Vacca argued Tuesday that the tax money would not come close to the funds that could be generated by tourism revenue.
“Is the Battlefield School building the only place an apartment can be done in this city? The answer is no,” he said.
Niagara Falls chief administrator Ken Todd said the city will now create pathways and walking tours to connect the property with the neighbouring Drummond Hill Cemetery and new Niagara Falls History Museum on Lundy’s Lane.
Supporting the motion were Coun. Wayne Thomson, Diodati, Coun. Carolynn Ioannoni, Coun. Joyce Morocco, Coun. Bart Maves, and Coun. Vince Kerrio. Against were Coun. Wayne Gates and Coun. Victor Pietrangelo. Coun. Janice Wing declared a conflict.
“I really can’t see a government buying a nationally historic site and then piecing it off and selling pieces of it,” said Pietrangelo.