Town and Lewiston residents pleased by decision
By David Yarger
Residents of the towns of Niagara and Lewiston were able to breathe a little easier after Tuesday night's Town of Niagara Town Board meeting. In front of a jam-packed audience at Town of Niagara Town Hall, the board issued a positive declaration for the preliminary plat for the Bri Estates subdivision.
The Bri Estates proposed development would place over 100 homes behind residents of Colonial Drive and Miller Road. Concerns with lot sizes, including issues with new homes not being in harmony with current homes; elevation, traffic concerns, including two egress/ingress routes onto Colonial Drive; health and welfare, safety concerns and other environmental issues have all been on the minds of town residents during this multi-year development talk. Lewiston residents are also opposed, due to flooding concerns that would possibly arise from the development from a ditch that would flow storm water into Lewiston.
Back in late July, the Town of Niagara Planning Board recommended the proposal to the Town Board with a 4-1 vote (Planning Board member Ed Herman voted no). The Town Board, since then, has held work sessions regarding the development.
Tuesday night, the development garnered majority of the attention. Town of Niagara and Lewiston residents began the meeting with public input alerting the board of their concerns.
One resident of Miller Road said, "We must make sure that the negative environmental aspects for this project are thoroughly examined and commented on by the community through the public scoping process that the community deserves."
A resident from Colonial Drive said, "I guess they just want to get the development passed as cheap as possible, not really caring about the health, welfare and safety of the town. They will leave us with the bill and high taxes with a development that looks like a concentration camp. ... We only seek and hope for a good development that fits into our town and enhances our community."
One Grauer Road resident added, "We all bought homes here so that we could live in a rural area. If we wanted to live in the city, there's lot of homes that are for sale. If we wanted to live in a mobile park, there's homes that we could find. But, if we're going to have homes that we can't even put a driveway between the homes, because they're too close together - this is not what we all ... (did) when we bought our homes."
Anita Muzzi, a resident of Lewiston, raised concerns about child safety in the new development.
"When you look at turnarounds, a Niagara-Wheatfield school bus is unable to go into that development with 29 homes (Phase one). There is not a proper turnaround, there is a hammerhead (turnaround). School buses are not allowed to back up. So here's what we have: We have children walking out to Colonial Drive where that bend is, and if we have parents at home, they're going to load the kids up and park all along Colonial Drive, between Miller, this (development) entrance and beyond that. ... There's that blind curve before you get to Miller Road. That frightens me as a parent," Muzzi said. She added there wouldn't be sidewalks for children to walk on either, and if the development were to go through, children would be walking through a construction zone as well.
Concerned Citizens of the Town of Niagara member Suzanne Rizzo questioned if an increased elevation for a development had ever been done before in the town. Houses with the new Bri Estates proposal are currently designed to be 4- to 6-feet higher than current homes on Miller Road and Colonial Drive. Nobody on the board could recall a proposal or development of that nature.
Mike Metzger of Metzger Civil Engineering, the engineers for the project, said he received a letter from the Community Environmental Defense Services and he said the letter presented inaccuracies about the assessment of the plan's stormwater system. "I can attest to the fact that the stormwater system that we have proposed here is fully compliant ... with the most stringent state stormwater regulations," Metzger said.
Sean Hopkins, attorney for Bri Estates developer George Churakos, was also present and said the board, at last Wednesday's workshop, presented 10 categories of negative environmental impacts from the environmental review.
The board later unanimously voted for the positive declaration, with councilmen Sam Gatto making the motion and Marc Carpenter seconding.
Of the matter, Town of Niagara Supervisor Lee Wallace said, "I believe that this town needs new housing. I will say that, because whenever we have a home that goes up for sale in this town that's worth anything as a decent home, it sells very quickly and most of the time it sells for more than they're asking. So people want to live here.
"But then there becomes a question of at what cost? ... In my estimation, and in the estimation of most of the fellows up here ... there are way too many questions and not enough answers with regards to some of the things that exist around this subdivision. ...
"I've been saying for quite awhile that I am not in favor of the second road off of Colonial. I am not in favor of the housing sizes that they're asking to put on the Colonial Drive side. I have some questions about the elevation, the storm water and we will try and look into another traffic study. ...
"It would be remised of us if we did not take a hard look at this. There are way too many questions and I commend the residents for the work they have done."
With the positive declaration, the proposal is now back in the hands of the developers and they will look at the environmental concerns the Town Board found with the development. For the next steps in the process, Municipal Attorney Corey Auerbach said, "A scoping process will proceed at this point, with the request of the applicant to draft a proposed scoping document for submittal to the Town Board ahead of a public scoping session, where the public will have an opportunity to comment on the draft scope of the environmental impact study."
Concerned Citizens of the Town of Niagara member Paul Torrey said he and residents alike were happy with the board's decision, plus it felt good to see the concerned citizens' work prevail.
"I felt positive walking in and I feel positive walking out. The positive declaration makes them sit down and go through item by item to make this project right," Torrey said. "We additionally did a lot of work and all of the people you saw here tonight ... they all came here because of the work we did, but the work was for them, not just ourselves."
Town of Lewiston councilman John Jacoby was also happy with the board's decision and said it will pay off positively for residents of both the Town of Niagara and Lewiston.
"I think it was absolutely the right move for them to make. I think they showed a great deal of concern for the opinions of the people ... and they really seemed to have done their homework and they know what's wrong with the project. They know there's 10 items that must be looked at. I was so pleased they did it," Jacoby said. "I think the developer has to come up with an environmental impact statement that will probably address the drainage issue that we're concerned with in Lewiston."
On the status of the project, Hopkins said after the meeting he remains confident.
"It just means we have some additional homework ahead of us," Hopkins said. "Ultimately, the site is zoned and, ultimately, we're confident that in the end we'll be able to resolve to set a residential subdivision."
During input from board members, each councilman took time to praise the citizens for coming out and presenting the information and opinions they had on the development. Some also took time to display their concerns with the project, with some receiving a round of applause for their comments.
The next Town of Niagara Town Board meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 23.