Upper Mountain Road construction access, traffic study among new conditions
Morreale votes 'no' on all resolutions
By Terry Duffy
Following significant discussion, the Lewiston Town Board, by a 4-1 vote, gave its endorsement Monday of a local law to approve the amended Rubino brothers' concept PUD - with conditions - for a proposed development off Upper Mountain Road near Bronson Drive. The planned unit development covers 107 units, including 91 patio homes and four-unit townhouse buildings on property currently owned by Donald Smith.
The session opened Monday with neighboring residents again making their feelings known in a continued public hearing. The evening followed with extended discussion from Supervisor Steve Broderick, board members and town officials on what steps to take next.
Of the six who spoke at the hearing, Margaret Dimino of Bronson Drive was perhaps the most vocal as she presented the board a notarized petition of residents in opposition.
She went on to share her thoughts on the Amherst developers.
"On their website, for over 34 years, they've been selling real estate; they started building in 1991," Dimino said, telling board members she saw three completed developments by the firm in that timeframe. "Unless they haven't updated their website, they've never built anything of this magnitude. I was wondering if they can handle it."
Dimino went on to infer the town, through the absences of board members at past sessions and its attorney working with the developer to reschedule the PUD vote, had been acting more in the interests of the Rubinos versus residents.
"Do you guys work for us or do you work for the Rubinos?" she asked.
Others, including James Drive resident Bill Justyk, and Tracy McLaverty, a Niagara Falls resident and Lewiston property owner who serves as building inspector for the Town of Wilson, spoke out in favor of the project.
Dan Witten, an elder at the Niagara Frontier Bible Church, was likewise upbeat on the Rubino plan to donate upward of five acres land for creation of a children's park to benefit the neighboring area as well as the development.
Developers John and Joe Rubino, who are pursuing the patio home-townhouse project, said the new park would address what the town officials had deemed a dangerous situation.
"We met with the Bible Church to donate at least five acres to them. The park will benefit the community; it will be a best-case scenario, a win-win for the town and church," John Rubino said.
Resident Don Anderson of The Circle Drive raised safety concerns on using the Bronson Drive access. He suggested a new access road off Upper Mountain Road would be more palatable to him, and he would then be inclined to support the plan.
It turns out that suggestion was one of a host of new conditions the board included with its approval of the PUD.
As discussions moved, board members at times appeared leery on approving procedural matters to move the PUD from its 1984 local law status to the new local law.
Starting with a resolution to establish the Town of Lewiston as lead agency with regard to the State Environmental Quality Review, Councilman Al Bax had questions.
"I thought that this was basically amending the prior law, to allow this to go forward pursuant to our code," he said. "But this is actually approving the concept plan?"
"Correct," responded A. Joseph Catalano, attorney for the town.
Councilman Bill Geiben asked Planning Board Chair Bill Conrad if all the comments expressed by residents throughout the months of public hearings would be taken under advisement by the board as the process moved along following PUD approval.
"And incorporated?" Bax added.
Conrad answered "Yes" to both.
"Mr. Anderson had raised a concern that I have, which is the safety issue. We've tried to address it in a number of different ways through the developer. ... I want to make sure that we know what we're voting on as we go forward," Bax said.
In response, Conrad said, "Every review that's done by any other agency is (included). What the Planning Board has done and will continue to do is take every comment from the other agencies that have reviewed it, including the Town Board, and incorporate that into our review.
"If this does move forward tonight, we can start developing more answers; the Rubinos can start developing more detailed answers on the issues that really haven't been able to be finalized until we move to the next phase."
"Does that include setbacks, green space?" Bax asked.
"Yeah, a lot of the detail that has been missing so far, because, as a concept, everything is very vague," Conrad said. "(But) that's the process. The next phase we're going to get a lot of the answers that we have been asking all along.
"The whole process of a public hearing will be repeated for the new plan, if a new plan is developed."
"So there's no shovels in the ground in the next weeks?" Bax said.
"No," Conrad said. "This phase, if it does move forward, the new phase ... allows a lot of the engineering to go forward, which a lot of these answers (will) come from that development work. There's been a lot of things we haven't been able to answer, because that phase is conceptual. Engineering does not move forward until that next phase, of design."
Soon after, a vote was taken on lead agency. It was 4-1, with Councilmember Rob Morreale voting "No."
Next up came votes on approving a negative declaration on SEQR parts one and two. Town Engineer Bob Lannon gave his recommendation on the negative dec and advised a traffic study be completed "by phase, to determine the impacts on Bronson Drive."
Lannon explained a trip generation study done earlier "addressed a full build-out of all the phases," including Upper Mountain access. "However, the concerns during the phasing, during the construction is where ... we have to take a closer look," he said.
Lannon said that, under the plan, construction during phases one and two would exit to Bronson Drive, with only phase three to exit to the Upper Mountain connection.
"It is at that condition that I want to take a look at the traffic impacts, at that point (phases one and two)," he said.
"I think the anticipation is that there's going to be an impact on Bronson ... in phase one, with the truck traffic in construction," Bax said.
Lannon said that matter would be addressed in the detail plan phase. "That is something we could discuss with the developer, to have a haul road and construction access road off of Upper Mountain, not off of Bronson."
"That could be done during phase one and phase two," he said.
On the vote for the negative dec, SEQR I and II, the count was 4-1, with Morreale again voting "No."
Next came a resolution enabling Broderick to sign SEQR II and III for the amended PUD. Again a 4-1 count, with Morreale voting "No."
It was followed by extended board discussion en route to approving the amended PUD concept.
Here, Morreale, who remained quiet earlier, proceeded to offer comments on the purported traffic study.
"The way I read it ... I read it that the traffic study should have been done first," he said.
Morreale added he felt the traffic study had been done in 2011 from earlier comments voiced at the hearings, and from Conrad.
Morreale proceeded to read from parts of the Department of Transportation study of Upper Mountain Road in 2011.
"The proposed development is expected to add approximately 1,300 vehicles per day," he said.
Referring to the Bronson Drive portion, he continued, "Based upon the proposed site layout and internal roadway configurations shown on the planned unit development plan ... it is anticipated that approximately 24 of the 100 single family home units (have) to access Upper Mountain Road. The remaining 76 homes as well as all the townhouses are expected to use the new roadway connection to access Upper Mountain Road."
"A traffic study was never done," Morreale said. "I don't even know what you would call this. (It's) a trip generation letter, Upper Mountain Road PUD. There was no traffic study done."
"We shouldn't (just) approve every PUD that comes before us," he said.
Morreale went on to criticize other elements of the site plan as not adhering to town codes and not being in harmony to neighboring properties.
"I'm not against developments. ... I asked a few things to be done," he continued. "I asked for financing information; nothing was turned into the town clerk or Mr. (Tim) Masters. I never saw a market study; I asked for four lots to be removed to increase the density of the project. I was told 'No.' There was no guarantee of an access to Upper Mountain Road."
Morreale then spoke of Lewiston's past developments - started, but, in many phases, still unfinished over the years - and their costs in varying impacts to the town. He named Sattleberg, Big Vista, Little Vista, French Landing, Country Club Trail and River Walk.
"This is the reason I have a 'No' vote on this right now," Morreale said.
He received a standing ovation by many in the Town Hall crowd.
Commenting further on the traffic study, Conrad told the board, "The intent of what the Planning Board asked for was a full traffic study covering the whole area. I wasn't satisfied with the trip generation letter.
"The Planning Board asked a full traffic study ... that was the intent. That's why we made it contingent upon our approval to have that traffic study. ... We did our approval ... with a promise from the developer that they would do that. I think we're kinda getting jerked around here, with the idea of just having these trip generation letters. So I agree with Mr. Morreale."
Of Morreale's other concerns regarding lot sizes, etc., Conrad called them subjective and said the Town Board has final say. "But as far as the traffic study is concerned, we did ask for a full traffic study."
Conrad said Planning approved of the concept plan in order to get the engineering work underway. "But the traffic study, again, is not what a traffic study is typically, or what we had asked for, from the Planning Board."
As discussions continued, Broderick inquired if a traffic study would ever get completed under phases one, two and three. Lannon replied they would and said he agreed with Morreale.
"Mr. Morreale is correct that the letter is a trip generation report, it's not a traffic study. It is an attempt to ... verify that one is not needed," he said.
"And I would agree with Mr. Conrad ... that a traffic study comes at the detailed design phase," Lannon said. He recommended the Town Board pursue a detailed traffic study per phase in accordance with the town code.
Lannon also suggested the town consider a construction phase access road off Upper Mountain Road, beginning with phase one. Conrad said that Planning, in its follow-through, would support that.
In the motion for establishing the local law and amended concept PUD, presented by Bax and seconded by Councilwoman Beth Ceretto, the following new conditions were included: The Upper Mountain Road construction phase access road would be built under phase one; that a traffic study would be required at each phase of the development; and any sought-for financial information would be provided by the developer.
The measure went on to be approved by a 4-1 measure, with Morreale again voting "No."
Commenting on the board's actions this week, John Rubino said the new conditions hadn't been discussed earlier, but he said he would meet with the town further.
"We will look into it - close what we need to do. (We) will do everything we can as this moves (forward)," he said.
Rubino added he wasn't sure at this point where the new construction phase road would be located, and that the developers would be working with Town Building Inspector Masters on the new route.
With that, Rubino reiterated his firm's commitment on the merits of the project and to the Town of Lewiston.
"We have a big stake in Lewiston; we have a lot invested already," he said.
He also pointed to documented market studies and surveys indicating community support as well as market needs for patio homes.
"Patio homes (also bring) the least amount of traffic," Rubino said. "Joe and I are excited about it. Everyone (in the town) we have dealt with - it took a few meetings - they like the revised plan a lot."
Of a timeframe for construction, he said he envisions a start-up of early-to-mid-summer of 2018 - "if all goes well."