Board hears from local resident prior to regular meeting
By David Yarger
On Tuesday evening, the Town of Niagara Town Board held a work session on the Bri Estates development, as well as its regular monthly meeting.
During the work session, Colonial Drive resident Paul Torrey presented a few issues that raised concerns to other locals.
To begin, Torrey asked the members of the Town Board how they would look at the proposed Bri Estates development, which would place over 100 homes behind residents of Colonial Drive and Miller Road. Torrey is also a member of the Concerned Citizens of Town of Niagara/Lewiston Facebook page, and he said the group has worked hard to gather documentation and other information regarding the development.
For some of the councilmen, it's their first development as members of the board, but they said they'll go through and listen to department heads and, ultimately, do what's best for the town.
"It's the first time I've been involved in anything like this, so I will learn from past experience on the board and from our counsel," Councilman Sam Gatto said.
For Councilman Marc Carpenter, it's different, as he's been an elected official for a little over 28 years.
"Over the years, I've been through many of these subdivision requests, and this is the third one over in that area," Carpenter said. "We listen to our counsel - Corey (Auerbach, municipal attorney) or Attorney Mike Risman. We take input from the highway superintendent, the water superintendent, we take input from the Planning Board, Zoning Board and we also take input from the residents. And the combination of all those inputs - we'll do what is proper and legal for us to do."
Town Supervisor Lee Wallace agreed with much of what Gatto and Carpenter said.
"They're the experts," he said. "They advise us, not just on this project, but numerous other projects. No one is going to deny this is a very volatile project - very hot potato. We will do our due diligence to make sure that we cover all our bases and do what is right for the town as a whole, and the residents that live in that area."
Councilman Charles Teixeira said much of the same, and that the town will look through all the pros and cons of the development, in order to make the proper decision.
Teixeira added, "I have not taken a look at it, because until it comes in front of us, I do not want to take a slighted judgement. Now, I've heard a lot of things ... but did I look into it deeply? No, not until it comes in front of the board, because I don't think that's fair, because you're getting slighted information. Until all the facts are in front of us for us to make a decision, I determined that I would not look into it."
Torrey asked if Teixeira felt the facts presented to the Planning Board were slighted. Teixeira disagreed and said the facts presented to the Planning Board were just for them and not the Town Board. "That was the Planning Board's job. That is not my expertise," Teixeira said.
For Councilman Rich Sirianni, it's also his first development and he said, "I will rely on our heads ... what their recommendations are. But I'm also going to look at the laws - the town codes. The town codes are there - they've been there for a number of years and those are the laws that we need to go by. Those laws were put in place, not only to protect the town, but to protect the residents."
Next on Torrey's agenda was the town's master plan.
In a letter from Risman regarding the plan, it said, "I have investigated whether the town has an existing comprehensive plan. After conferring with the town clerk and reviewing the town's record, I have determined that there is currently no town comprehensive plan. Although one was considered by the town Planning Board in 1973, no plan was adopted or approved by the Town Board. Under town law 60 and 264, Town Board approval is required for all town zoning and land use regulations."
Wallace replied, "So we really don't have a master plan, which is part of the reason why we're going through one now." Wallace added the town will rely on its town codes, and information from the building inspector and attorneys for the development to determine what's best for the town.
Torrey added that the comprehensive plan is mentioned 20 times in the town code and that for the environmental assessment (there are 18 questions on the assessment), the plan is mentioned 11 times.
Auerbach stepped in and said in the case a master plan hasn't been adopted, the town codes would technically be part of the plan.
Torrey took a step further and said the town's comprehensive plan was actually registered by the Niagara County Planning Board back in the '70s.
Wallace replied, "Let's assume that it was even approved and it was in existence. From 1970-whenever until the year 2018, a lot has changed in this town. ... It doesn't change the ground and the topography, but it will change how a town approaches rendering a decision based on the codes, which is, again, why we're in the middle of trying to rectify a situation that we believe was not fully engulfed and encompassed in the '70s, and we want to make sure we take care of this properly now."
Moving on, Torrey turned his sights towards the egress/ingress routes of the proposal. Currently, the design will construct two egress/ingress routes a short distance away from each other around 7100 Colonial Drive.
Wallace, who has said he doesn't agree with the fit for the routes, stayed adamant on his stance.
"I don't think it's a good fit for the neighborhood. ... I think it's too close to the first one. I think it may affect a variety of things. I don't believe it's proper to tear down a perfectly good house and make a road that doesn't even exist at a certain point. Our water and highway superintendent doesn't believe that's the way it should be going and I take their decisions, as well," Wallace said.
Torrey also discussed lot sizes being in harmony with existing homes, and possibly a new traffic study. Wallace said the board will look into it. Torrey also asked about the Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District's involvement and Wallace said they are currently not getting involved.
At the end of his session, Torrey said, "I would not be standing here before you tonight if the developer had followed town code. We are not here as a group to say this developer can't build - we've never said that. We are asking that the developer build it right. That's all we've ever asked.
"We the people would like to request from the Town Board, that this not be the last opportunity to speak at length about (the) proposed development. I would like to ask the Town Board not to close the public hearing on Sept. 18, but to leave it open, so the citizens of this town can provide (the) Town Board with additional help and information needed to make this proposed development a healthy, safe environment for the existing and future residents of this town."
During public input, more residents chimed in about the development.
Suzanne Rizzo presented the geotechnical engineering report prepared by Glynn Geotechnical Engineering, dated July 11, 2014. The report provided subsurface investigation data, subsurface design parameters, foundation and construction recommendations of the area of the proposal. In the report, Rizzo highlighted several recordings that were noteworthy about the soils and foundation construction. Rizzo also presented pictures of flooding in the area, and agreed with Torrey that the public hearing should not be closed.
Fran Rosati mentioned her disappointment in the Planning Board. At the last Planning Board meeting, the board, in a 3-1 vote (Ed Herman voted no), recommended the Bri Estates proposal to the Town Board.
Rosati said, "This development will not enhance the town, but will increase our taxes. The developer said a homeowners association will cover the extra costs, but we have Woodlawn Acres and Wildwood Acres in the town, which show most homeowners associations do not pay their fees and it will fall on the town's taxpayers to fit the bill.
"The town does not need any more puppets deciding on new developments. We need our elected officials to do their public duty and protect the town, not themselves."
Another Grauer Road resident said the board should take more time to consider what the development could mean for the town.
"I've seen the town grow. ... The Town of Niagara doesn't have much more room for development. ... What we do have, however, is a parcel of pristine farmland - clean, no contamination of any kind. ... I'm just asking you to do the right thing. You've done it in the past, the boards have done it in the past - they've listened to the people. Please, give yourself more time to consider this and make it more of a first-class project," she said.
The next Town of Niagara Town Board meeting is Sept. 18 at 6:30 p.m. At that time, the board will hold a public hearing regarding the Bri Estates development.