by Autumn Evans
Residents of Errick Road and Lemke Drive were vocal in their concerns about a nearby Rosal Homes development last Wednesday at the public scoping session on Cobblestone Creek, held at Town Hall.
Many residents, Rosal Homes President Gary DiMatteo, Town Attorney Robert O'Toole and the Town Board attended the two-hour meeting.
Also present at the meeting was Andrew Reilly of Wendel Companies, who was called in for his experience in conducting State Environmental Quality Reviews. The scoping session, which is the first part of an environmental impact statement, was designed for members of the public to state their concerns and direct the town in what should be studied in the eventual environmental impact statement.
"We want a simple document that talks about the issues of concern to you and how they're being resolved," Reilly said. "Tonight's about you. In the scoping process, the public gets the input."
The public did not hold back.
Several residents spoke about drainage issues in the area. They argued that the developer's plan to raise the ground 8 feet would worsen already dangerous flooding conditions. Joe Downie pointed out that part of the land to be raised included an area that currently forms a natural retention pond.
"The model suggests that, instantly, the water will just drain because it goes higher. That is unadulterated nonsense," he said. "If it was gonna drain, it would already drain. ...The emperor's not wearing any clothes on that one; the theory's just bunk."
In terms of mitigation, Downie suggested the developers just avoid building on the retention pond, or find a way to reroute the drainage to an area like Ward Road, which has a bigger sewage line.
Bob Parkhill, who has lived in the area since 1955 and has worked on its sewer system, said flooding has been a problem for a long time, since before Lemke Drive was developed.
"It's like a bathtub with a plug drain, that's what we have. ... It's gonna be a constant issue, it's almost like you're in Venice or New Orleans," he said. Although he supported development in general, he said the area could not handle Cobblestone Creek's drainage, and it was not the fault of either Rosal Homes or the Town Board.
"Granted, the developers, they do do a good job. They build nice houses in the Town of Wheatfield, and this is a complete drainage issue - it's maxed out," Parkhill said.
He was met with applause from his neighbors after speaking.
Residents also pushed for a new traffic study in the area, stating they were unsatisfied with the one prepared by Rosal Homes. A major issue with the study was that it relied on the subdivision being occupied mostly by non-driving senior citizens.
"My problem with that is this: that study was done under the assumption that the target market is seniors. However, there's nothing that limits this patio home project to seniors," said Richard Lipis, an attorney representing some of the residents in attendance. Pointing out that the development could also attract young families, he argued, "Either you can accept the traffic study and restrict ... the project to a senior community ... or it seems to me you have to redo the traffic study assuming that the patio homes, the number of cars going back and forth, will not just be based on senior citizens."
Reilly agreed and said a traffic study should look at the worst-case scenario, because the project couldn't be restricted to only seniors.
Resident Debbie DiBartolomeo also requested a new traffic study consider the effect of accidents at the intersection between Ward Road and Niagara Falls Boulevard, because it happens frequently enough to cause issues on Errick Road.
"Sometimes it's three or four hours our street is blocked with traffic because there's an accident and Mercy Flight has to land," she said. "If you add 80 more cars to that from 40 houses, that's going to be a big deal."
Even if the area did attract only senior citizens, though, DiBartolomeo said that raised a new concern, because they would likely require ambulance services more often than others, and the narrow roads make it difficult for emergency vehicles to maneuver in the area.
"What happens when a person in the senior community has a heart attack, and the ambulance and the fire department have to get through, and school's letting out?" she asked. Downie added that the board should speak with St. Johnsburg Fire Co., because some people there had also voiced concerns.
Emily Frank, a Wheatfield resident of 30 years, also brought up the possibility of wildlife being impacted. Frank, who grew up in Buffalo, said she originally moved to Wheatfield not knowing anything about it.
"Then I found out about what a great place it really is," she said. "One of the things I was really impressed about, with the proximity to the cities ... it's amazing how much wildlife we have here."
Frank read a list of different animals she'd seen in her yard, including foxes, deer, coyotes, owls, herons and, once, a bald eagle, among others.
"Even the bugs - praying mantises, Luna moths - these are things that, growing up, I would have never expected to see them around here in Western New York, where there's all these chemicals and other things," she said. "We talk about the rainforest and the Amazon and all these terrible things that are happening in the world in the environment. ... It's right here. We have a choice right here to facilitate the growth of these things. Or else we could turn into Amherst or the City of Buffalo."
Frank suggested the land where the subdivision is located be rezoned agricultural, deeded to the town and turned into a nature preserve named after DiMatteo.
Another issue brought up was property values, which Reilly warned could not be included in an environmental impact study.
"If the effect of the project would result in deterioration to a nearby neighborhood, which of course would then result in property value diminution, the deterioration of the neighborhood and the adverse effects on the neighborhood, which would affect property values, certainly is appropriate for an EIS and in fact, would be required to be in an EIS," he argued.
Downie also brought up how the development would affect the character of the community, because for some residents the raised elevation would mean going out to their backyards and looking at at least 6 feet of dirt.
"I believe that being within the development would be a nice place ... I'm not concerned with that, I'm talking about being below that," he said. "The elevation issue is just absurd. It's arrogant; the fact that we would all just put up with that and that you guys would even consider letting them do that is just preposterous. It just goes beyond insanity."
At the end of the meeting, Damon Morey attorney Jeff Palumbo, representing DiMatteo, spoke. He began by addressing the town's positive SEQR declaration, which in turn led to the scoping session.
"We quite frankly take exception to that, because we believe the information in front of them should have led them to what their engineer recommends, which was a negative declaration," Palumbo said. "But we're not objecting to it, we're not opposed to that, because we understand this is in your backyard. We do, believe it or not, understand it's in your backyard and you have concerns - rightfully so. We're going to address those concerns. ... I don't want to fight about this, and I don't think you do either."
When he began to talk about the elevation and drainage and traffic issues, unhappy residents countered his points as he spoke.
On drainage, he said, "Our obligation is not to cure the town's flooding problem, and I don't think anyone is suggesting that. But we do have an obligation not to make it worse."
As residents insisted the project would worsen the issue, he said, "If we can't control the water, it (the project) is over."
Palumbo also called traffic an "insignificant issue" because it would represent a small increase over the cars already in the area, but he did agree that the possible impact on Errick Road Elementary School was "critical" to look into.
On Monday, the Town Board scheduled a furtherance of the Cobblestone declaration for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 22, at Town Hall.