by Larry Austin
A standing-room-only crowd of residents turned out to Grand Island Town Hall Monday to voice opposition to the Lighthouse Pointe project.
During a public hearing on the project's preliminary plat, town officials had to bring out extra seats to accommodate the more than 150 residents signed in at the meeting. Former councilman and current Grand Island Democratic Committee chairman Jim Sharpe said the only time he had seen the courtroom so full was when the Town Board held a hearing on the master plan about 20 years ago. Ironically, speakers at Monday's hearing claimed the current town government would ignore the same master plan if it allowed the Lighthouse Pointe project to proceed as planned.
The strong turnout of opposition to the project is "very indicative of the feelings of the people on Grand Island," said Lighthouse Pointe opponent Joe LaLonde. "I don't know that we've had this many people at any of the previous meetings all added up, and now when we had our time to speak, people came out and they were heard. And we're hoping that the Town Board listens to that and understands the problem that this project can cause the entire Island."
Town Supervisor Mary Cooke said the project is eyed for the south corner of Whitehaven Road where it meets East River Road. The Grand Island Planning Board recommended approval at its Nov. 10 meeting.
"This one meets the zoning, so it's not a rezoning request," Cooke said. "It is 246 lots for attached townhouse units on individual lots consisting of 41 six-unit buildings," as well as a 3,100-square-foot single-story clubhouse building along Whitehaven Road. The subdivision would include the creation of five lots of commons areas from 2 to 19 acres in size. The 45.3-acre property would include 7.6 acres of wetlands and 37.7 acres of usable land.
Whether the project in fact meets the zoning was disputed by many of the residents who spoke at the hearing.
LaLonde said, "That is what the entire thing hinges on. It's a commercial development in residential neighborhood. That's what we oppose, and that's what we need to stop to protect the rest of Grand Island so that commercial developments aren't built in residential neighborhoods throughout the Island."
At the outset of the hearing, Sean Hopkins of Hopkins & Sorgi, representing project developer Anthony Cutaia, said the parcel site is zoned R2, and the project proposes a residential subdivision of attached individually rented townhouse units.
"As such, the project does qualify for preliminary plat approval pursuant to R2 zoning classification," he said.
Hopkins noted a mixed residential use project in R3 zoning, with three-story senior housing units and luxury apartments, was withdrawn Oct. 27. "We have, over the course of several months, had several informational meetings with nearby residents. To date, those have not resulted in any type of consensus relative to the project moving forward, so we have decided in light of the amount of time that we spent to date, that we're going to proceed with this project," Hopkins said. The project would include six-unit, two-story buildings at 30-35 feet in height.
A comprehensive market analysis indicates, "There is a need for upscale new multifamily housing in the Town of Grand Island," Hopkins said. He said the project would be built out in three phases with the first phase in the center of the parcel away from neighbors to the west.
Rental units are permitted by the existing zoning, Hopkins said. The project would include a homeowners association, requiring approval by the New York State Attorney Generals Office. Hopkins said, "During some of the previous meetings, one question that came up was whether or not it would be appropriate or even legal for a single owner to seek HOA approval. And the answer to that is absolutely, unequivocally yes, it is appropriate."
"It's almost always one project sponsor that's seeking HOA approval from AG's office," he said. While the units are envisioned as rental units, "Because it's zoned R2, this site has to be designed in such a manner that Mr. Cutaia can convey any or all of these attached townhouse units to third parties, meaning if he determines in the future that there's a need to maybe keep some of this in his portfolio and then sell individual units to ultimate users, he can do that."
Among the speakers, Nancy Wonacott, an officer of the Spicer Creek development HOA on Whitehaven Road, said, "It's apparent to me that the members of each of these boards do not understand either definition" of an HOA or townhouse, and that the developer's offering does not meet either of these definitions.
"We question that a developer that owns all of the units can manage the HOA also," LaLonde said, adding the issue is covered in the master plan. "It is our belief that this will not be approved by the attorney general." He said the residents expect the town government to protect the master plan.
Dean Santorio of Timberlink Drive said the back of his property backs up to the proposed plan. He chose to build his home "where there are other developments that coincide perfectly with ours, that are aesthetically beautiful and surrounded with woods, trees, green space, the river and the golf course. They're all single-family homes or townhouses that are individually owned by the residents in these areas. I built my home knowing that at some point and some time the land behind me could be developed under the current R2 zoning."
He said he didn't object to the land being developed, but to the proposal currently under consideration, and he expects the Planning Board and Town Board to approve only a project "that property fits" the zoning, not "townhouse-like apartments for rent."
LaLonde noted that people from other parts of the Island, not just those who live near the proposed project, spoke Monday at the public hearing. Ron Rezabek of Havenwood Lane, not a neighbor of the property, said, "If anybody thinks you can build all those townhouses with all those driveways and all that concrete and blacktop and not affect the wetland, you've really got to think through that."
"The process will just take its course. We've done this before," Cutaia said after the public hearing. "It's just a process that you go through and ultimately the Town Board has to make a decision. We feel that we're using the zoning the way it was designed."
Cutaia was upbeat and friendly following the hearing, even though the Town Hall courtroom was packed with residents, not one of whom having spoke in favor of his project.
"We have a very successful project called Dockside Village in East Amherst that was opposed that is now one of the gems of the town," Cutaia said.
The public hearing remains open, and public comment can be submitted in writing to the board. The next regular meeting of the Grand Island Town Board is Monday, Dec. 15.
The board took no action on replacing former Councilman Richard Crawford, who resigned his seat on the Town Board after Highway Superintendent Jim Tomkins appointed him deputy highway superintendent. The board is taking letters of application through 5 p.m. Dec. 5.