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Town 'open for business,' not looking to bulldoze the Island, advisory board says

by jmaloni
Tue, Feb 5th 2013 07:00 am

Grand Island is putting out the "Open for Business" sign and taking a proactive approach to business development.

Members of the town's Economic Development Advisory Board are ramping up efforts to promote the town as business-friendly. EDAB Co-chair Tom Knight said the group's goal is to recruit new business to the Island "that are a fit and makes sense, without stepping on the toes of existing businesses."

"I don't think it's so much what we have that others don't," Knight said of the town, "I think it's our willingness to find the right fit for here and to go after it. A lot of communities take a sit back and wait approach, and Grand Island is willing to realize that this is a help for both jobs and taxes for the people."

Co-chair Jeff Halpin said other general ideas the board is developing "highlight Grand Island as 'open for business.' I think in the past, it's been a very sheltered community. I think the tax base is now to the point where businesses are interested in us. The size is 21,000 people, so people have an interest in the Island now from a business perspective."

The desire for lower taxes has created the right climate to work for business development, with support from residents.

"The taxpayers I think are really looking for tax relief. So that's a good combination, that's a nice storm right there, for economic development to get involved to say, 'All right, we need to reduce our tax burden. We have a nice population here. We sit in the middle of a very large region between Buffalo and Niagara Falls. How can we capitalize on that?'

Halpin said, "Really our ultimate goal is to bring business to Grand Island that fits the overall long-term plan of the Island, and that reduces the tax burden for the taxpayer."

What businesses fit that plan, and then actively recruit businesses that fit that plan.

Knight said, "We want a place where our kids can have an opportunity to work instead of having to go away."

One initiative by the board, helping Benderson Development develop the empty parcel next to Tops, came under fire after Benderson clear cut the trees on the property. The town's Conservation Commission unanimously approved a motion recommending a change to town zoning code allowing review of plans for the clear cutting of trees on commercial property.

Members of the EDAB said, though, that the desire for conservation and the desire for economic development are not mutually exclusive.

Knight said, "We would rather fill our existing empty business slots than tear something down. Our first goal is to fix what is there, and expand in the right zone."

He characterized the growth in the business climate on the Island as "slow and sustainable."

Robert Ratajczak of the EDAB the Benderson parcel is an example of the long-term vision of the board's.

"It's the business district. "Yes, they took some trees down, but that's the business district. That's where we want the trees to come down. We don't want to pick an open green space and demolish it. That's not what we're looking to do. The Town Board's vision and what's in our zoning code and what's in the long range plan has the focus on bridge-to-bridge."

"We're not grabbing the center of the Island and bulldozing trees. That's not what we're looking to do," Ratajczak said.

Councilman Gary Roesch, liaison to EDAB, added. "Where you see more of an encroachment into the environment is with residential development than you do with commercial or industrial development."

"The Town Board is pro-business, it's also pro-conservation," Roesch said.

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