PICCIRILLO UNDER FIRE: Developer Calls Out Political Motivation in Landmark Designation

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By: Tony Farina

While he doesn’t identify him by name, the Buffalo developer who is hoping for positive action this week from the Niagara Falls City Council on demolishing the former Johnnie Ryan building on Niagara St., clearly targeted the city’s economic development and code enforcement director in a letter to city lawmakers for their consideration prior to Wednesday’s vote.

In an obvious reference to Seth Piccirillo, who blocked the demolition and pushed for a landmark designation, Matthew Moscati, president of Buffalo-based MATC, Inc., suggested the rules of development should not be changed in the middle of the game for possible political reasons.  Piccirillo is a candidate for mayor.

In his letter, Moscati urged the City Council to “consider the best interest of other property owners or those considering property ownership in Niagara Falls in regards to precedent” and not send the wrong message on possible development in the future.

He urged the council to not be a part of actions that change the rules of development in the middle of the process contrary to the City Charter.

Taking aim at the possible politics involved in the Johnnie Ryan last-minute designation after he had completed the permit process, he wrote:  

“Whether that process was subverted by a public official due to good intentions and a responsibility to represent the vocal minority of less than a few dozen citizens; or that process was subverted by a public official to engender himself to a section of the electorate for an upcoming election; or that process was subverted by a public official to undermine one of the development opportunities post demolition being negotiated for 822 Niagara to engender himself to a past political contributor who would benefit from the investment opportunity prioritizing that contributor’s site over 822 Niagara.”

If the council does not designate the Johnnie Ryan building as a local landmark on Wednesday, as appears to be the case based on our conversations with three lawmakers who plan to vote no, the demolition process would go forward under court order brought by Niagara Falls attorney James Roscetti, who represents Moscati.

Council President Andrew Touma and Councilmembers Chris Voccio and Kenny Tompkins have told this newspaper they are opposed to the landmark designation and will vote no on the request for such a designation at Wednesday’s meeting.

All expressed concern about the timing of the landmark designation after the process had begun, and Voccio urged that, in the future, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission provide lawmakers with a list of potential properties under consideration well in advance of council action.


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