by Joshua Maloni
Everyone likes Gary Hall.
But that doesn't mean everyone is on board with his plan to build a tennis center at his North Second Street property.
For a second time, Hall's proposal to add an 80-by-120-feet-long stand-alone tennis complex at Waste Technology Services was submitted to the Village of Lewiston Planning Board. A standing-room-only crowd of about 30 came out Monday to voice opinions on the project. To a man, each speaker called Hall a good person. Some, however, expressed concern about his project.
"As you can see, it's going to be a first-class building," said Harold Hibbard of Park Lane. "The Halls have been good to Lewiston. We should be good to them."
"This isn't about Mr. Hall, though. This is about the procedures - how you went about this issue. And it was totally wrong," Robert Martinez said. He lives across the street from WTS, and serves on the Town of Lewiston Planning Board. "You went about it in a quick way. You tried to push it through, and then you tried to tell everyone, like, 'Where you been? This has been going on for a while.' This was done without people knowing about it."
In March, both the Planning Board and the Village Board of Trustees gave Hall the go-ahead to start construction. However, as preliminary work began outside WTS, the municipal committees were informed they did not follow proper protocol. Subsequently, their approval was withdrawn.
Last month, Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter sent a letter to village Mayor Terry Collesano stating the Planning Board was "poorly informed" when it approved Hall's submittal.
"The Town of Lewiston recently learned that the Village approved a site plan on March 11, 2013 submitted by Waste Technology Services, Inc. to build a 60' x 120' x 35' free standing indoor tennis facility at 435 North Second Street (on) its premises," Reiter wrote. "A Special Permit for the operation of Waste Technology Services, Inc. was issued in 2002 and the Special Permit does not permit the use of the premises as a tennis facility. The proposed facility is being built within 500' of the Town of Lewiston and prior to site plan approval the matter should have been referred to the Niagara County Planning Board pursuant to General Municipal Law §239-m with notice to the Town pursuant to General Municipal Law §239-nn. Depending on the proposed location of the structure in relation to the Niagara River it may also have been necessary for the Village to notify the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Referral of the matter is required for both site plan approval and the issuance of a special permit.
"As you may know, the Environmental Assessment Form (EAF) submitted by the applicant pursuant to the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act in support of site plan approval must also be submitted to the County Planning Board. The Town brings this to your attention as it appears that the Village Planning Board relied on a two year old EAF dated February 7, 2011 detailing an addition to the existing building while the site plan which was recently approved details a standalone building situated closer to Lower River Road. It is obvious then, that the EAF should have been amended and that the Village Planning Board was poorly informed about the site plan at the time it was approved. This is confirmed by the brief minutes of the Village Planning Board meetings held on January 14 and March 11, 2013 wherein board members indicate that their approval of the site plan is conditioned on the fact that there were no revisions to the 2011 site plan approval. In fact, the site plan was materially altered by the change in location of the building with the result that a large number of large, old and significant oak trees have already been cut down on the site."
Martinez said the special use permit only applies to the principal building, and not to the tennis center, which he called an accessory unit. Reiter, in his letter, wrote, "it appears the premises are located in a residential district and that the Village issued the applicant Special Use Permit to conduct limited personal services business. A tennis facility does not appear to be a permitted use and in such circumstances a municipality would normally require an amendment to the Special Permit after appropriate public hearings. It does not appear that any public hearings were held regarding this additional use and (although the Village enjoys jurisdiction over this application) the Town of Lewiston encourages the Village to comply with its own zoning and planning regulations in this regard."
David Giusiana, who is both chairman of the Planning Board and Hall's architect on the indoor tennis center, said the SEQRA form was not completed prior to March's meeting and plan approval. He said the village was taking steps to correct that oversight, and that the proposal is now before the Niagara County Planning Board.
Developer Sylvester "Sonny" Barone and his wife, Kathy, live and own property north of the WTS site. Sonny said he was out of town when the Planning Board approved the project two months ago. On Monday, the Barone's attorney, Maxwell Coykendall, said the Planning Board was "putting the cart before the horse" in approving Hall's facility.
"There are a lot of detailed zoning issues - legal issues of the code - that need to be worked out," he said. "There is a principal use on this property right now, and that is an office space. That office space was approved through some pretty extraordinary measures about 10 years ago when WTS came in and they said, 'Hey, you know what? We'd like to come to this parcel, and we'd like to use it as a business.' The problem is, this is a R-1-A district and the code does not permit that.
"But they came and they made certain representations. Those representations (were) they were going to operate this solely as an office, they had no plans to expand, and they wanted just a nice, quiet environment. Your code provides for one principal use of a property. Any other use is an accessory use."
Oak Street resident Jack Armstrong said he had anxiety about WTS when it moved into his neighborhood a decade ago. Since then, however, he said Hall has been an ideal neighbor.
"There was a lot of concern about the usage of that facility 10 years ago when it was vacated," he said. "I can say, as a neighbor being 200 yards away, it's enhanced our neighborhood. Gary Hall, and WTS in general, have been wonderful neighbors, and I see no reason why we wouldn't support this."
Sonny Barone said he spoke Monday morning with Hall. "I think we need more time to talk," he told the Planning Board. "I don't think that everything that was done by this board was done properly."
He asked if Hall could build the tennis center on the south side of WTS.
Hall was not in attendance at the meeting. His son, Brian, said the plan is set and the tennis court will not move. "We want to keep it where it is. We don't have any reason to discuss this any further. We're happy where it's at; we're happy moving forward just as it's presented here tonight."
Kenneth P. Friedman of HodgsonRuss, representing Hall, declined comment.
The Planning Board did not specifically address its previous approval, or Reiter's letter. Members approved the tennis center concept (Giusiana did not vote), and sent the proposal back to the Village Board for a final verdict. The WTS EAF and a motion to approve the development plan are both on Monday's agenda. The Village Board meeting begins at 6 p.m. in the Red Brick Municipal Building, 145 N. Fourth St.
In February 2011, the Planning Board and the Village Board approved Hall's first tennis center proposal, which was a 60-by-120-foot expansion to WTS.
Hall then offered to put his plan on hold and spearhead funding for a public recreation center. He offered to work with the village, the Town of Lewiston or Niagara University. During this time, his building permit expired. When he couldn't find a partner for a public facility, he revisited the idea of a tennis center on his own property.
His second plan was for a freestanding structure, which would be built on the north side of his parking lot.