By Lauren Zaepfel
The Town of Wheatfield, with suggestions from the town's comprehensive task force, may consider zoning more area commercial along Niagara Falls Boulevard.
"Niagara Falls Boulevard is a big economic engine for the Town of Wheatfield," said Drew Reilly, engineer at Wendel representing the task force, adding, "It is a place for commercial development. It is a place for industrial and business and jobs and all those things that are important to the community, taxes etc."
"It's our best property," Town of Wheatfield Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said. "It's the property that's most important for us to have available for business and we have almost none left."
He added, "We want to keep business land available for business. ... We have a lot of things (on the boulevard) that are not taxed. And it will be better for the residents of Wheatfield to have a taxable corridor that's vibrant and successful."
Reilly said the task force does not envision the future of Niagara Falls involving more high-density residential development.
Therefore, the task force is suggesting the town add more restrictions to the Niagara Falls Boulevard area's overlay district, which encompasses property within 500 feet from the road on either side.
"The town, years ago, put an overlay in place, which has design requirements," Reilly said. But the task force is suggesting the town also change its hierarchal rule for the overlay.
"Right now, in the town, if you have a commercially zoned property, we have what we call 'hierarchal zoning,' " Reilly said. "So, if you have commercially zoned property, industrial zoned property, you're allowed to have all the uses that are lesser in the code. Which means if you have commercially zoned property ... pretty much it allows everything that can be allowed in the town in that district."
In other words, if someone currently has property that is zoned commercially in the overlay, they can put a single-family home on it if desired. With the proposed changes, this option would no longer be available.
The task force is also suggesting zoning should be changed to follow property lines.
"One of the problems we have is that the overlay district is so many feet back from the road. So it splits properties into pieces. We're going to make sure it follows property lines," Reilly said.
After hearing feedback from residents, it was determined the change would allow property owners to have mixed-use structures, such as a business with a residential area upstairs or behind it.
The exact locations that the task force would suggest be rezoned are still being looked into, however, most existing homes located along the boulevard are already zoned commercial, with only a few remaining residential. The proposed changes do not suggest eviction of any of these homeowners, and it will allow homeowners to sell their homes "in perpetuity," Cliffe said, meaning new home buyers can sell their residential homes to their future new buyers and so on.
"We've basically said that, if we're changing you to commercial ... but you're an existing residential structure, you're an allowed use, not a nonconforming use, but an allowed use," Reilly said. "You have all the rights of what you had before."
If a residential home is demolished, whether it was zoned residential or commercial, it could be rebuilt as residential because of the grandfather clause, Reilly added.
"If it ever burns down, you could replace the same house," Cliffe said. "But, if you decide you want to build a bigger house, if you want to build something totally different or you want to build a duplex there, you will not be able to do that. You'll have to do those things that are eligible within C-1."
Alternatively, if the home is zoned commercial and demolished, a commercial building could be established in its place if desired.
Residents also said
they were concerned their taxes would be raised by the town if their property
is changed from residential to commercial.
"Just because a property has changed zoning ... it does not change the assessed value of the property," Reilly said in response.
For more information or to provide input, contact Cliffe at 716-694-6680 or Town Clerk Kathleen M. Harrington-McDonell at 716-694-5419.