By Joshua Maloni
The Village of Lewiston Planning Commission approved a mixed-use plaza second submission from Ellicott Development on Monday, moving the project one step closer to final municipal approval.
The board also accepted a conceptual revision from James Jerge, who has modified his plans for the site of the former Fairchild Manor nursing home.
The Planning Commission approved the plaza plan by a 4-0 vote, contingent on the regranting of variances by the Zoning Board of Appeals, and a safety endorsement from Lewiston No. 1 Volunteer Fire Co.
"I think it looks good," Planning Commission Vice Chairwoman Anne Welch said. "You've made a lot of revisions, which we really appreciate. It's a nice-looking plan now, and I think it works. I think it's a great asset to the village and, hopefully, you can move forward."
Claudia Marasco initially voted "no," but then changed her vote to abstention. She cited sympathy for residents who fear Lewiston is losing its walkable nature.
Ellicott Development owns 4.1 acres of property on Center, North Eighth and Onondaga streets. Its "Paladino plaza," so-called by residents in honor of developer and CEO William Paladino, was sent to the Niagara County Planning Board for review on June 20. That body ruled the matter of no intercommunity or countywide significance, and sent it back to the Village of Lewiston.
Paladino intends to erect three two-story buildings: two comprised of restaurant and retail units, and a third with retail and apartment units. He first pitched the idea in 2013.
"This project ... this is much-needed tax base for our village," Welch said. "It's going to help all village residents. The services, the restaurants - whatever he puts in there - is going to be a benefit to this whole community. ... I think it's a great project."
The front half of the property (buildings No. 1 and No. 2) is zoned RB-2/retail business, while the back building (apartment complex) is zoned B-1/general business.
Ellicott counsel Peter Sorgi said, "The plan really hasn't changed, except to address issues with the fire department."
Prior to the Planning Commission meeting, Paladino, along with Sorgi, of the Buffalo law firm Hopkins Sorgi & Romanowski, and project engineer R. Christopher Wood, of Buffalo's Carmina Wood Morris PC, met with Lewiston No. 1 Volunteer Fire Co. director Barry Beebe, Chief John Penzotti and Vice President Les Myers.
"We increased some of the interior radiuses for (fire) truck turning ... and we also revised our water system," Wood said. "Before, we were tapping two of the buildings up from Onondaga street. We revised that to tap the two front ones off Center Street, which has a bigger (water) main and better pressure. And we also provided a hydrant interior to the site."
"We met with them at 6 o'clock for a half an hour," Beebe said. "We really didn't look at the drawings. Without knowing the layout of the buildings, we don't know what's going in the buildings. Yes, fire lanes would be appreciated. But, again, we don't know where the entrances are to the businesses. All we ask is (for) accessibility to get into the businesses and, more importantly, to get into the apartment on the upper floor in the back building."
Zoning Officer Edward DeVantier, Wood said, ruled the apartment units can be two-bedroom. The village codebook is ambiguous on permitted usage in a B-1 district.
All plaza exits remain on Onondaga and North Eighth streets.
Both Planning Commission Chairman Norm Machelor and Welch reiterated they would not ask for or vote in favor of a Center Street plaza exit.
Welch called it "dangerous" and said, "We do not want people coming up over the sidewalk there. We have maintained that all along."
"(It's safer) for the people walking on Center Street," Machelor said.
The Planning Commission met and voted without its customary courtesy correspondence with neighbors. As such, the residents who normally attend plaza meetings were not in attendance.
"We've (already) had two or three public meetings," Machelor said.
On May 6, the ZBA granted Ellicott Development five variances: primary building (three units instead of one); number of parking spaces (187 instead of a required 262); parking space size (9 by 18 feet instead of 9 by 20 feet); green space (25 percent instead of 30 percent); and drive-thru windows (two are not rear-positioned).
Those variances were rescinded as they were granted prior to NCPB review.
The ZBA is expected to re-approve the variances at a special meeting scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, July 21. Additional variance requests also have been submitted and will be discussed.
Barring any unexpected happenings with the ZBA, the plaza project will be in the hands of the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees, which is required to hold a public hearing before voting for or against the plan. The board also will hear the results of the State Environmental Quality Review, which village Engineer Mike Marino will explain in depth.
If trustees approve the plaza proposal, Paladino and his team would return to the Planning Commission for building design approval.
Orchard Park developer Jerge brought forward his fourth proposal for 765 Fairchild Place and nearly 1.6 acres of property bordering Onondaga Street. He was forced to revise the plan when the ZBA strongly suggested it would not grant variances to the previous proposal, which was approved by the Planning Commission in February.
Wood, also representing Jerge, said this project keeps the three-story Onondaga Street apartment complex, but moves it back off the road 10 feet. Previously shown parking on village right-of-way is reduced from more than 20 spaces to less than 10, including some reserved for handicap parking. This plan also calls for six attached single-story patio homes, each with an accompanying garage, on Fairchild Place. These units would be rented out.
Of the 28 apartment complex units, 10 would be two-bedroom and 18 would be one-bedroom. The structure would have 44 parking spots, which is 24 less than required. Those spaces would primarily line the east side of the complex. The covered garage units are no more.
Within the development of the 1.6 acres, at least 30 percent must be green space. This project calls for 44 percent.
"Since last time, we've taken input from several village members," Wood said. He noted this proposal is similar to the original design.
Machelor and Welch said they preferred the last plan, which called for a three-story apartment building with no setback on Onondaga Street. That structure would utilize the existing parking spaces in the village right-of-way, as well as two new units of covered garage spaces (closer to Fairchild Place).
Wood said the ZBA would reject that proposal. As such, Machelor and Welch agreed to vote in favor of the new concept. Marasco and board members Joshua Krupp and Joseph Sorce voted likewise.
Board Chairman H. John Ritter was in attendance and said he did not favor allowing parking in the village right-of-way. He chastened the Planning Commission for allegedly not adhering to village code, and recommending myriad variances. He said variances are supposed to be for minor project adjustments, and suggested a smaller apartment complex would solve the required parking space problem.
"If the Village Board wants parking in the right-of-ways, they have to change the code," Ritter said. "As long as the code is what it says, this village should try and stick to the codes. That's what we're here for."
Machelor said, "I guess the question I have is, if you were a person who purchased a piece of property, and you came to buy the property and observe the conditions of that property, and went ahead and purchased it, and then somebody said to you afterwards, 'You know, the fact that the former tenant for 60 years has parked there, we're not going to give you that privilege,' (what would you do?)"
"That's the way it goes," Ritter said.
Jerge chided Ritter for failing to be straightforward with what the ZBA wants from him, and for baiting Machelor.
He later shook Ritter's hand and the two spoke privately.
Ritter said he preferred Jerge's new plan.
After the meeting, Jerge said, "They're great people here. There's just a nice town, nice village, and you can see that the need is here. The need is here. Sometimes it takes a little longer to get people educated along with how long the process really does take. But if you believe in something, you just dig in and you want to finish it up.
"So, we're pretty deep into it. We just want to finish it up."
Jerge acquired his property and first presented project concepts in 2014.
The discord between Machelor and Welch and the Board of Trustees continues.
At the start of the meeting, Machelor read a statement wherein he said trustees acted disrespectfully last month in removing Historic Preservation Commission duties from the Planning Board without preceding notice or discussion.
In turn, it appears the mayor's office was caught off guard about Paladino's appearance and Machelor's board's intent to approve the second plaza submission.
The mayor's office had stated Paladino would first visit the ZBA in August before returning to the Planning Commission. Some people were surprised to see him Monday.
Minutes before the meeting, Machelor and Welch both said Paladino was attending, which was news to Edward Walker, village deputy treasurer, who is pinch-hitting for the recently retired Melody Griffith.
NFP requested a meeting agenda last week. No agenda was presented until the start of the meeting.
Though the plaza project appeared on the agenda, Walker suggested it was there simply as a topic of discussion following the NCPB meeting.
Machelor, Welch and members of the Board of Trustees have exchanged words in recent months concerning the proper review of procedures concerning the handling of these two projects.
Despite that, the Village Board reappointed Machelor and Welch at a reorganizational meeting last week.