by Susan Mikula Campbell
Changes in Benderson Development's plans for Military Place brought a crowd of concerned residents to the Town of Niagara Town Board meeting on Tuesday.
Benderson wants the town to OK its construction of a LongHorn Steakhouse near the front of the proposed plaza at the site of the old John's Flaming Hearth restaurant on Military Road. Meanwhile, it wants to delay finishing the back portion of the plaza where a large anchor store was to be sited, because the tenant for that space has opted out of its contract.
A planned strip plaza also would be delayed. Construction of a Five Guys Burgers and Fries and a TCBY in the former Perkins Restaurant building is nearing completion.
Benderson engineer Matt Oates said company officials were willing to have a special meeting with residents at a date and time of their choosing to discuss any of their concerns and answer questions.
Councilman Marc Carpenter asked for a show of hands from residents attending on whether any decision by the board on the Benderson request be delayed until after that meeting, and everyone seemed to support the delay.
The board set the meeting with residents for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 27, at Town Hall.
Ziblut Court resident Ken Micon and Debbie Bolents of Effie Drive were suspicious of Benderson's motives in asking for the change. They also expressed concern that the construction delay would mean work on the wetlands at the back of the property and the promised berms, trees and fences that were supposed to shield their properties from the commercial development would be abandoned.
The wetlands work was delayed in March after residents voiced concerns over trees being cut down. Oates said wetlands work as approved by the Army Corps of Engineers was expected to resume in two to three weeks and should be done in about two months.
Benderson plans to leave current trees at the back end of the commercial section of the property as a buffer until the wetlands mitigation work is complete.
"Once we have a tenant in the back, we will finish the project," he said. "We are still committed to doing everything we promised."
Micon said the Military Place project was just "a small pittance" to giant retail builder Benderson. With the trees already cut in the area of residents' homes, it has become a giant mud pit, he said.
"This is a significant change of what this board approved. I, for one, want to see the modified picture. I want to see what residents say next week," Councilman Danny Sklarski said, adding that he remembers a story "from when I went to Sunday school - David and Goliath."
Town engineer Norm Gardner of Clarke Patterson Lee said his only concern with Benderson's proposal was that he had just received the revised storm management calculations and hadn't had a chance to review the document yet. He also noted that if Benderson makes the anchor store and its accompanying buffers bigger or smaller, it would have to come back to the Town Board for approval.
Councilman Rob Clark said his understanding of the change is that the drainage from the LongHorn area of the project will go directly to Military Road until the entire project is finished.
"If you come back and say you're doing something else, you'll never get approved," he warned Oates.
Councilman Charles Teixeira also was concerned about the change in plans. He agreed with residents that if the fencing, drainage pond and berms by the anchor store don't go up for say, five years, it could affect the value of their homes if they decide to sell.
Once Benderson has a tenant for the anchor store, Oates emphasized, "Every single item we promised, we will do."
•Meanwhile, across the street, work on the addition to Fashion Outlets of Niagara is going well. Jeff Salvatore, project manager for Mark Cerrone Inc., contractor for the project, said the project was on schedule for an Oct. 23 opening. "We're in the homestretch right now."
The board approved an amended State Environmental Quality Review Act negative declaration and a revised site plan for the expansion that includes two to five connections for internal traffic flow to the LaSalle Center next door and drainage system improvements.
The mall, which was bought by California-based Macerich from AWE Talisman in 2011 for $200 million, is undergoing a $71 million expansion.
Some of the approximately 50 stores the company earlier announced are expected be in the 175,000-square-foot expansion include American Eagle, Aerie, Asics, Auntie Anne's, Brooks Brothers, Clarks, Crocs, Destination Maternity, Disney, Forever 21, Gold Toe, Helly Hansen, IT'SUGAR, Janie & Jack, Kenneth Cole, Merrell, NY & Co, Perfumania, Perry Ellis, Puma, Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5th Outlet, Spencer's Gifts, Steve Madden, Swarovski, Talbot's, The Body Shop, The Limited and White House Black Market.