by Terry Duffy
It was an active work session of the Lewiston Town Board this past Monday, with town planning and projects the main areas of discussion.
The session opened with a public hearing where representatives of the Wendel Companies provided a synopsis on the town's comprehensive plan update (discussed in last week's Sentinel), along with a number of zoning changes under consideration by the town.
Later on in the session, Bill Hilts Jr., Niagara County sports fishing coordinator who works with Niagara County Economic Development, discussed the merits of a fish hatchery, one of a growing number of proposals eyed for Joseph Davis State Park that was recently taken over by the town.
Leading off, engineer Andrew C. Reilly, PE, AICP, along with presenter Ellen Parker of Wendel, discussed the comprehensive plan update draft. Reilly said the document works off the 2000 comprehensive plan document and is intended to supplement the existing plan but not replace it. Reilly said that as written the 2000 plan still provides the town with good guidance in such areas as land use, housing, the natural environment, recreational and open spaces, growth development and the like. The new document merely "reaffirms aspects of the exiting document that remain pertinent and notes changes and updates," said Reilly.
He said Wendel's major focus was on the town's zoning code, which was last updated in the 1960s. "Our wish is to make it a more modern zoning code," said Reilly.
Parker noted the draft update features what she called a vision statement for Lewiston. "The previous plan was a more land use approach," she said. "The new document is a vision type approach."
Included in that vision is flexibility, said Parker, with updates recommended in the document's overall goals and objectives, its existing land use characteristics, recreation and land use inventory, population and housing characteristics, traffic circulation and infrastructure, and assessment of environmental impacts. "The plan update is intended to be more flexible," she said.
Discussing it further, she said the document provides the town a framework in such areas as cluster development, recreational planning, environmental concerns, the Village of Lewiston, hamlet of Sanborn, Niagara River Greenway corridor and the area's historical heritage. "It contains visionary maps, intended to provide more guidance, and be more flexible, than a single map (approach)," she said.
With respect to zoning, Reilly said the town has been mulling over this issue first since the 2000 plan when no action was taken, and again in 2005 when a zoning ordinance was written by attorneys and then put on hold. "In 2010, the town approached us about helping them bring about implementing those zoning updates," said Reilly, adding those needed to be coordinated in an updated comprehensive plan.
He said Wendel focused on a number of procedural changes "to make it for a more modern zoning code," again pointing out that the current Lewiston document dates to the 1960s and has "proven to be difficult for building inspectors to work with."
Included among the recommended changes: new language on height restrictions; the number of zoning districts, which Reilly said were too many in number; a new cluster development law; site plan review additions; a new special use permit section; planning board changes, new Zoning Board of Appeals definitions for area variances and use variances, and a new section on adult use zoning.
Town residents' comments were limited, but constructive. Paulette Glasgow, a former Town Council member who has been active in Niagara County planning interests, praised the new special use permit directives outlined in the zoning provisions. While overall complimenting the update, she did fault the document on its lack of attention in such areas as smart growth, climate changes, environmental justice, right to farm, the issue of wood burning, historical districts, environmental sensitive use areas, and the issue of hydro-fracking. Glasgow also urged the town to be leery with regard to zoning changes affecting adult businesses.
Resident Amy Witryol suggested Lewiston in its land use planning consider categorizing past government land areas in the town for potential residential use versus industrial use to ensure better governmental clean-up of the properties.
Reilly said many of the issues raised by the two are in fact being looked at by Wendel and will be addressed by the town before the plan becomes final. Soon following closure of the public hearing, the Town Board went on to adopt the plan and the zoning code updates, with provisions to be included for targeting many of the above concerns.
Moving on to the actual work session, Hilts offered an informative presentation on what he called the "Joseph Davis Park Fisheries Legacies Proposal." Describing it as visionary, Hilts said he approached Supervisor Steve Reiter on exploring the merits of an eco-park facility at Joe Davis and said such a concept could involve a fish hatchery, a state-of-the-art freshwater research and educational facility, and a visitor's center highlighting the region's cultural and geologic history. "The (main) idea here is to provide for a healthy fish support system," said Hilts, pointing out that lake trout populations in the Great Lakes have been struggling. He said a fish hatchery in Pennsylvania built by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service with a goal of bringing back trout populations has been struggling, with the result being much lower stocking in Lake Erie, the lower Niagara and in Lake Ontario. "It has had an effect on the area's sport fishing," said Hilts. He described lower Niagara and Lake Ontario sport fishing as "world renowned."
Hilts said a successful fish hatchery at Joe Davis would enhance the area's sport fishing industry and provide a major economic impact. "The potential here is huge," said Hilts, who told the board of a successful salmon fish hatchery in Oswego County that draws a half-million visitors to the eastern Lake Ontario area north of Syracuse, making it the No. 1 fishing destination for sportsmen in the state.
He added that USFWS, the sport fishing industry and a number of regional Greats Lakes interests are encouraged by the Lewiston project, but that there have been reservations expressed with regards to water quality for the fish hatchery. The town is working with engineer Robert Lannon of CRA Associates on developing a system utilizing wastewater from the town's Water Pollution Control Center together with groundwater for the hatchery operations. "I'm confident that technology exists to treat effluent from the waste water treatment plant for the fish hatchery," said Lannon, pointing out the Lewiston WPCC capital improvements include new wastewater treatment techniques.
Hilts suggested New York Power Authority money, possibly USFWS funding and assistance from the sport fishing industry could be used for the project.
"This sounds like an exciting avenue for the park to be used," said Reiter. "It could have a huge impact on the area."
"It's exciting to see," added Councilman Ernie Palmer.
Hilts closed by saying discussions continue among various agencies including USFWS on the Lewiston proposal, along with a similar facility considered on Lake Erie. "It's dependent on a lot of things," Hilts said. "Most notably the water.
More on this one as news develops.