Proposed races in local business park hears mixed reviews
By David Yarger
Back in early March, the Town of Wheatfield Town Board brought in Jon Rosen of USA Cycling for a work session about a proposed series of bicycle races at the business park of Vantage International Point off of Lockport Road.
At the session, Rosen said the series would include three races for 10 Thursday nights from June 21 to August 23 on Inducon Drive. Rosen, race director and promoter for the Wheatfield criterium, said the three races would include a 30-minute women's race at 6 p.m., a 45-minute beginner/intermediate race at 6:45 p.m. and then an hour-long trek for top tier racers at 7:45 p.m. He said each race would attract around 20 to 50 racers, with a limit of 75 racers.
On Monday night at the Wheatfield Town Hall, the board brought Rosen back for a public hearing, which drew several comments, both negative and positive, from businesses in the industrial park, as well as Wheatfield residents.
Rosen began the public hearing by presenting to the well-attended audience. Rosen, on traffic safety, said, "I plan to have two people handling traffic control at the entrance of the park and another 11 people assigned to each business' driveway. There will also be signs around the park informing people of the race and I will contact each business to discuss how we can inform their staff about the event.
"During the races, we'll ask any drivers to stop and wait no more than one minute when the racers are approaching to allow them to safely pass. After the race group has passed, traffic can proceed in the same direction to their destination. It's my belief and my goal that all traffic will be allowed into and out of the park during the race, and that no one be turned away."
Rosen also said him and Councilman Curt Doktor, who was absent from the meeting, studied the traffic in and out of the park during the typical race hours. Rosen said during the first hour there were around 20 cars and three trucks that entered and exited, and in the second hour, five cars and no trucks.
Rosen also added, his goal is to stage the event in the Niagara Industrial Development Agency parking lot, which holds over 200 parking spaces. He said the town and the Niagara IDA would be covered under USA Cycling's insurance. Councilman Larry Helwig asked Rosen what would happen if the IDA didn't give a commitment to him. Rosen replied, "If IDA refused us, we would approach one of the other businesses and if none of the businesses support it, then that would end it."
Councilman Gilbert Doucet asked Rosen about safety for cyclists and if there would be medical assistance at the races. Rosen replied, "We made arrangements with Tri-County Ambulance and to be present on site."
A 'No' from Pizza Logs
Following the presentation, Jason Cordova, owner of Original Pizza Logs, voiced his concerns about the proposal. Cordova talked about the possibility of a lawsuit, communications with Rosen, as well as business concerns.
"If someone broke their leg or got a concussion (on my property), whatever the case may be, I'm going to get sued. ... It's going to cost me time and my money; things that would draw value to me.
"In the start, I didn't hear from you, but you talked to other business owners, so I can ask you later, why didn't you knock on my door?
"Most importantly, what I think matters for my business compared to others here is that we are inspected federally every single day by the USDA from 1 to 1:30 the next day. So we have constant federal inspection by the USDA. They come whenever they want ... they come out without notice. I'm also inspected by the FDA and the New York State Agriculture and Markets. These are people that I do not know, most of which provide surprise visits. ... If they see someone impeding the road, they may have common sense to say, 'You know what, we gotta go through, I have a place to inspect,' or, they're going to say 'You know what, forget it, I'm not going to inspect.' "
Cordova followed by showing the board a recall a company in Iowa received, because "They were produced without the benefit of inspection."
"If one of these inspectors turned around and do not come to our building, I get an automatic recall. I work too hard, provide too many jobs and do the right thing every single day to provide our customers with the best possible product. ... To risk my business for a bicycle race 10 times is a big ask. And I can not support."
Cordova's remarks drew various applauds from the audience.
Wheatfield Supervisor Don MacSwan asked Cordova if the inspectors could be notified about the event and Cordova said the inspectors rotate and he never knows who will show up or who to contact and that risking a $250,000 recall is just not worth it for the bicycle races.
Cordova later spoke again and asked Rosen if USA Cycling provided insurance to businesses, which Rosen said they do. Cordova also continued his stance against the proposal saying it's too big of a risk.
Neighboring Resident Worried about Noise, Litter
Next, a resident close to the venue noted his opposition to the proposal. The resident also told the board that if Cordova were to get a recall, it would probably get back to the town via lawsuit. The resident also named recent lawsuits against towns that were not the town's faults, but because the injuries happened on town land, the municipalities were sued. He said the same thing could happen if the races occur.
Another concern he voiced was litter and noise.
"I live on the corner of Inducon Road and our storm sewer is filled with trash from people throwing stuff out their windows. ... I can't imagine this not happening (at the event). We live there because it was a farmland and always a quiet neighborhood. ... We sit on our back terrace in the summertime, so you're saying during the summer we're going to have to sit on our back terrace and hear screaming and yelling ... and it's going to disrupt us, as well as our neighbors," he said.
Rosen responded saying he would take full responsibility for picking up any trash at the event and the events usually do not garner much noise. Rosen added the races are the "road to the Olympics," and that the event can put Wheatfield on the map as a special place in New York state to start bike racing.
"We can do something here that we can't do anywhere else," Rosen said.
More Businesses, More 'No's'
Amanda Lombardo from Borderworx Logistics spoke on behalf Dean Wood, CEO, about the company's opposition to the proposal.
"My business operates seven days a week, 24 hours a day to allow truck traffic to enter our facility. Furthermore, our facility is used by U.S. Customs for sensitive matters of restricted cargo. ... If this plan goes through, our property, which is the largest street frontage affected by the proposal, will be effectively cut off to any access for us to do business during period of setup," Lombardo said.
The letter from Wood went on to say that from 6-9 p.m., the time of the races, is the peak of truck traffic entering the Borderworx facility. The letter also said, "Our business is community minded, however, we can not support any activity that would completely block out access to our business, even for a brief period of time. ... In conclusion, should the town choose to grant this permission, I will have no choice but to ... file a suit against the Town of Wheatfield and the organizers for the loss of business associated risks to my property."
Susan Langdon, interim executive director of the Niagara County IDA, also spoke during the hearing and said the proposal is nice but not located in the industrial park.
"It would be very nice to have this race and I'm not against the idea either, but this is not the venue for it. Peoples livelihoods are depending on it and as far as using the IDA's parking lot, it would be totally up to our board and I'm happy to me with you, get more details about your project and we can let our board know and see if that's something they're interested in," Langdon said.
Langdon, like most of the businesses, said she had a problem with liability because each business is a landowner.
A resident of Lockport spoke after Langdon and said as a property owner in the Vantage Point Park, the idea of a bike race is "completely unacceptable."
Resident Praises Series' Possibilities for Youth
Next, a Wheatfield resident from Katherine Drive showed his support for the project and said it would be a vital community project to get youth of the town outdoors.
"I moved my family to Wheatfield to have a nice neighborhood, an area where kids can go ahead and play, ride their bikes - riding bikes is a huge part of my family - and my kids can't find anyone to play with because they're all inside playing video games. ... So when we're talking about the benefits to our local area, that's one that no one is really speaking about," he said.
The resident also said cyclists are not a group to worry about with litter and concerns with traffic are over exaggerated, because there has been no traffic or safety concerns with a similar series at Larkin Square in Buffalo.
Cyclist Calls for Event in Wheatfield
Next, James Thompson from the Buffalo Bicycling Club showed his support for Rosen and the event.
"These events are not held in a vacuum," Thompson said. "This race series would be part of a large bike racing community. ... Our goal is to develop bicycle racing in Western New York. ... The venue does benefit from having the bicycle race here."
Following public input, MacSwan said the town would look deeper into the proposal and he decided to take no action on the matter during the regular Town Board meeting.
"When we were approached by Jon about the street races; and I'm glad the businesses came here with real concerns tonight ... Curt kind of spearheaded this event for a community program. ... We thought, 'What a great event for the Town of Wheatfield,' again, if it could be worked with the businesses there.
"That was our initial response - to make it a community event for the youth and adults in this area. They don't have to be a Wheatfield resident, but it would be something for the Town of Wheatfield. I have mixed feelings about it ... if you would like to come in my office, I'm here everyday, if you want to talk about it," MacSwan said.
After the hearing, MacSwan said he came into the meeting expecting a mix of opinions.
"I came in hear with an open mind tonight knowing there would be some negativity, because I received a few phone calls," MacSwan said. "All I'm asking is these business owners to maybe calm down a little bit, talk about it and if we can't work it out then we're going to say no. I'd like to see it happen, just because it's a community event."