by Joshua Maloni
On Monday, the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees approved a development plan for an 80-by-120-by-35-foot indoor tennis facility on the Waste Technology Services campus at 435 N. Second St.
The proposal, submitted by architect David Giusiana on behalf of WTS President and CEO Gary Hall, was originally approved in March. But, following receipt of a letter from Town of Lewiston Supervisor Steve Reiter in mid-April, in which the Planning Board was criticized for an inferred lack of attention to detail, trustees withdrew their approval.
"There was questions, procedurally, whether it had been (submitted and filed) properly relative to the SEQRA (New York's State Environmental Quality Review Act), and that's why it was revisited by the Planning Board and it's being revisited by the trustees tonight," said Giusiana, who also serves as chairman of the Planning Board.
"Legal counsel ... tells us we're perfectly right in what we've done; what we're doing," said Mayor Terry Collesano. "We're correcting any oversights at this point. So, we're carrying on. We're moving forward."
With regard to Reiter's letter, Collesano said, "Obviously, the laws and rules in the town are different than the village. He may be very well correct in how it would be done in the town, but in the village we followed everything according to our laws."
Still, the Village Board opted to complete a more detailed Environmental Assessment Form, and to send Hall's plan to the Niagara County Planning Board before approving it a second time.
The EAF, which was prepared by Village Engineer Michael Marino, indicates the tennis facility does not pose a large environmental impact. It will primarily be constructed on top of the WTS parking lot.
The Niagara County Planning Board, which is a recommending body, did not approve Hall's proposal based on a technicality (it received more "yes" votes than "no" votes, but not the prerequisite majority).
North Second Street resident Robert Martinez, who has served on the Town of Lewiston Planning Board, last week claimed WTS was in violation of its special use permit, which was granted in 2002. He said the new tennis complex, which would be built across the street from his house, was an accessory building outside the guidelines of what the permit allows.
Village Attorney Edward Jesella disagreed and said, "Everything was done correctly."
"I'm not going to sit here and argue every point that comes up regarding this position," he added. "It went to the Planning Board. They did what they had to do. Quite honestly, I'm not even sure that you had to go back to the Planning Board. But they went back. Everything was done - they dotted their I's, crossed their T's. ... I'm here to tell you that I believe everything was done correctly."
Developer Sylvester "Sonny" Barone and his wife, Kathy, live and own additional lots to the north of WTS. They said the recreation facility threatens to lower their property value, and asked for more time to speak with Hall in hopes he would move the new building to the south side of his parking lot. They also criticized the Village Board for approving the project when they were out of town.
"As far as the sensitivity of the neighbors, we've looked at that," Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland said. "When it first came out with the proposed plan, the notifications went out, as required, through the paper and everything. But there were some people that were not here, and there were some questions on the process and so forth. So, we went back and we redid the whole process again, and went through a long-form EAF, where we didn't have to; we went to the county, where we don't really have to. We've done everything, I think, by the book. And so, that process was restarted, looked at, and I think we're at a point now where we can look at the project - which I think is going to be a beautiful building. It'll be an addition to what's there, and I think it will look nice when it's done."
"This is a situation where a public official really never wants to get into because, no matter how you vote, you're going to have some people upset at you, and you're going to have some people very happy with you," Collesano said. "It's difficult in this respect: I know where people are coming from; I can understand your concerns. But just look at it the other way: I don't know what color your house is, but say it was blue. You might think the house (color) blue is beautiful, but maybe your neighbors may not like it. Maybe you like the flowers you got in your garden, but maybe your neighbors don't like the flowers. But you know what? It's your property. As long as you go by the code, and you follow everything - cross your T's and dot your I's - then it has to be approved."
Collesano said the Village Board opted to review the tennis center proposal a second time primarily to give residents the opportunity to comment.
"We didn't have to do it, but we felt that was the right thing to do, considering that they came out to the Planning Board and they were voicing their objections and so forth," he said. "We wanted to follow-through properly, where everybody had the chance to voice their opinions."
The Village Board voted 4-0 in favor of Hall's proposal. Trustee Vic Eydt was not in attendance.
Brian Hall, speaking on behalf of his father, said construction on the recreation complex is slated to begin this spring. He did not have a cost estimate.
"My father very much cares for his employees," Hall said. "Building a health and wellness center for WTS employees, he felt, was the right thing to do. Health and wellness is very important. We want our employees to be happy, healthy. If they are, they're going to be more productive workers. As a leader of WTS, (he) has always put the employees first. And this is just another example of that, of doing something that is going to benefit the employees."
The tennis facility will be private, and is not expected to increase traffic to the WTS site.