by Terry Duffy
Neighboring residents of a planned unit development eyed for the northeast corner of Creek and Pletcher roads met this week with Lewiston Town Supervisor Steve Reiter and officials of the proposed Creek Road Commons project.
The two sessions on Wednesday and Thursday, which followed residents' criticisms aired on the project at the Town Board's May 23 public hearing to rezone the property to enable the PUD, were intended to set the course for some sort of compromise with the residents. It resulted in some, but saw continuing disagreements also.
Reiter opened Wednesday by telling residents the current status involving the 40 acres of land, located just south of the Lewiston-Porter School campus is currently zoned for both R-1 single family and R-2 residential, high density housing. Current owners of the property, attorney Michael Dowd and Joe Deck Jr., have been marketing the property.
Representatives of People Inc. presented a plan for mixed development involving roughly seven to eight acres of the 20 acres on the western portions of the site, at the May 23 rezoning public hearing that resulted in criticisms from neighboring residents (Sentinel, May 28). Included was a proposal for senior housing in a two-story building of 43 units. Also discussed that evening was another plan for eight two-story buildings of multi-family, high-density housing totaling 64 units, and the possibility of commercial development on three sites fronting on Creek Road.
At the informal meeting Wednesday at Town Hall, one which saw eight residents of the Creek-Pletcher neighborhood attending, the focus was on reaching compromise. "I'm meeting with you to get some type of feeling here," said Reiter. "You cannot totally deny their plans."
Reiter reported the town had decided to limit its focus to the senior housing element. He said the commercial element was initially sought by the town, not People Inc., as part of the town's overall plans for the area following suggestions from consultants involved with the Master Plan. "That was a town decision," said Reiter. "Now we're reacting to it."
While residents appeared satisfied with removing the commercial proposal, they also remained skeptical and had questions on the remaining proposals. Issues such as traffic safety from increased residents and the impact on the Lew-Port students were raised. So was the upsetting of the rural character of the area. So too were questions over the type of future transitional populations envisioned in the neighborhood.
And then there was the question of whether approval of this project would be setting the stage for still more development.
One resident commented that senior housing was not the "scariest part" of this. It's the others, she said, raising questions about plans regarding the "Garden Housing" proposal (the 64 units) eyed for the property.
"We moved to Lewiston because of the quality, not the quantity," commented one.
"Once they get started they'll just keep going. If we give them an inch they'll take a mile," said another.
"You're opening up a Pandora's box here," said yet another.
And then there was the desire to keep the neighborhood just as it is.
One resident spoke of a recent survey of area property owners on the potential projects. He told Reiter that more than 95 percent of the residents in the area surveyed all said their biggest concern was that it was currently zoned R-1 (single family) and R-2 (higher density) housing. "That's their biggest concern," he said. They want to keep it that way."
"The board is listening to you. There's give and take here," said Reiter, indicating that there are areas to negotiate.
That came in another session on Thursday, one which featured Reiter, about a half-dozen Creek-Pletcher residents, plus representatives of People Inc.
Rhonda Frederick, CEO of People Inc., again discussed her group's proposal - the single two-story building consisting of 43 one-bedroom apartment units. It would utilize roughly 7 to 8 acres of land on the northwest corner of the property with an access driveway off of Creek Road. She said the complex would be geared solely to providing independent living for seniors with income eligibility guidelines, and that the earlier discussed "Garden Housing" proposal was not theirs. "We are not in the business of doing rental housing," said Frederick.
She and Reiter told the group that People Inc.'s PUD proposal for the site was contingent on the organization obtaining HUD grant funding, which she said People Inc. is pursuing.
Of the planned complex, Frederick said it's typical of others People Inc. has built in Western New York area communities, all which have proven successful. She described the building as being of brick construction with shingle siding on the exterior, with the interior being two floors of one-bedroom units, plus a community room. "They're great buildings," said Frederick, telling the residents People Inc. has waiting lists in other communities and that their marketing analysis indicated Lewiston has a need for this.
Reiter stressed to the group that the "Garden Housing" idea came from the current landowners, Dowd and Deck, as the overall property is currently zoned for R-2 high-density housing. He said the two merely presented the plan as part of the overall discussion. "They are trying to listen; they are also trying to develop their properties," said Reiter.
As discussions continued, some residents slowly began to soften their stance to the People Inc. proposal, while others remained uncomfortable on the overall plans for the site.
"This (People Inc.) is a safe bet for us," said one.
But "they're just going to keep coming back for more," said another.
As the session concluded, the residents appeared to be receptive with the following PUD modifications offered by Reiter:
•The People Inc. proposal would be allowed to proceed.
•The commercial development idea would be completely off the table.
•The "Garden Housing" idea would be removed with instructions by the town for current landowners (Dowd and Deck) to consider and plan for R-2 housing (duplexes) on the property instead.
•The previous R-1 single-family housing designation for a small area fronting the property on Creek Road would return.
•The town would retain all control of the PUD designation on the affected portions of the site.
One resident told Reiter, that should there even be any discussion of commercial development returning to the site, that, "You're going to have one hell of a fight on your hands."
"Look, I'm trying to work with you here," said Reiter to the group, again stressing to them that he understood.
The Lewiston Town Board is expected to address this issue further at its Monday, June 13, work session, beginning at 6 p.m.