By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
An anticipated appearance by Project Olive representatives at last Monday’s Grand Island Town Board meeting never materialized as the developers told the town they had hit the pause button on the proposal.
Town Supervisor John Whitney told the board at Monday’s work session meeting, “The representatives from TC Buffalo called me this afternoon. They informed me that they have withdrawn their request to speak at tonight’s meeting and that they have placed the project on ‘pause.’ That was their words.”
The move sparked speculation about the project’s status, but the town government is moving forward as if the plans are still on the table.
TC Buffalo Development Associates LLC proposes to develop approximately 145.4 acres of land located at 2780 Long Road for use as an e-commerce storage and distribution facility. The 3.8-million-square-foot facility, rumored to be online retailer Amazon, would be one of the largest such warehouses in America.
Michael Huntress from Acquest Development, landowner of the Long Road site, spoke to the board at the work session. Huntress encouraged the Town Board to continue to look at the project “as being a very positive thing for the Western New York area and specifically Grand Island.”
Huntress said, “The most important thing in my mind here is that the project as currently proposed in the 2,200 pages that was presented to the town is an as-of-right use, but for the height of the building, as we see it. And the current zoning being M-1 would allow us to build 10 million square feet on the 144-acre commercial property, and Project Olive, which has now been put on hold as of late this afternoon, for the moment, is one-third the size of what is an as-of-right use for that property.”
On Feb. 21, TC Buffalo submitted an application to the Town of Grand Island to designate the site as a planned development district (PDD), but the town Planning Board voted 3-2 against the PDD a week earlier. A planned development district would allow for changes in requirements to the zoning code, Huntress said, and the height of the building, which would make the e-commerce warehouse the tallest building for miles, “is the one large requirement that obviously is viewed as a negative from the community.”
“The other variance is the parking, which is a big advantage, because 10,000 cars would be required for a 10-million-square-foot project on that side,” Huntress said. “Our family bought this property 30 years ago, and the purpose of the purchase was to take advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which as it turns out didn’t work out on the Island or really anywhere in New York state. And when you drive up the QEW, you see a lot of big buildings along the QEW in Canada that were as a result of the free trade agreement, but that economic boom didn’t make its way into New York state, unfortunately, and honestly the property’s been hunting land for the last 15 years.
“We’ve had a number of different opportunities present themselves over the years, and we’ve come before the Town Board and the Planning Board, and on three different occasions had SEQR review completed and outdated, all receiving a negative declaration. And the most recent one is a project that would allow us to build 10 million square feet on that site.”
“We work all over the country developing projects and I go in front of boards all over the country presenting sometimes very difficult things, too, but this project fits the master plan. It’s something that’s been talked about back to the days, Mr. Whitney, when you were the town engineer, that this site should be developed as industrial,” Huntress said. “It’s on the 190. You know, the development project in front of you, some of the neighbors are getting 1,600 feet of setback. Knowing the property really well, the commercial site has got 10-foot-high brush on it, basically, and the residential piece that the customer is now willing to purchase in order to provide additional buffer is the wooded part of the lot, so the commercial development’s taking place on what is really just brush, 10-foot high, maybe 12, but it’s very low. Two-and-a-half million dollars a year, you know, and, frankly, that’s more money than we’ll make on the property having held it for 30 years. So, it would seem to me that it’s an absolute no-brainer for the economics of the Town of Grand Island. The fact that it’s really as-of-right use but for the height. And we would really, you know, as a Western New York resident, appreciate the consideration that you guys are giving to this project, and would hope that you work with us to continue moving it forward. I think it’s a great thing for the community.”
Vocal residents aren’t hitting pause on their opposition. Coalition for Responsible Economic Development for Grand Island (CRED4GI), opponents of Project Olive, said the group is “continuing its grassroots efforts” against the project, pause or no pause.
According to Cathy Rayhill, CRED4GI’s spokesperson, the organization is “continuing its outreach and plans to gather 2,000 signatures on its petition by Island residents in the next month.”
Rayhill said, “This fight is far from over and we remain committed to ensure that our grassroots efforts speak loud and clear to our elected officials that this project is not appropriate for our community.”
Whitney Details Requests
By Michael J. Billoni
In regard to reports the Project Olive representatives were upset with demands made by the town, Town Supervisor John Whitney admitted the town made requests to the developers, utilizing a zoning incentive law that was presented at a March 2 board meeting and approved at the following meeting.
Whitney told the Dispatch in May: “Essentially, it will allow the town to ask any developer that requires a zoning change to a planned development district for an amenity donated to the town in order for them to receive this amenity.”
Whitney said the town made a request to the developer, but said, “We do not make those discussions public. We made a request, and it is an ongoing process.”
In regard to a schedule for a public hearing and eventual vote on Project Olive by the Town Board, Whitney responded, “Now that the governor has lifted the public hearing order, we will schedule a public hearing. Once that is completed, we will compile all the data we have and make sure all of the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted. When we feel comfortable with the responses we have received, we can make our decision.”
He would not put a timetable on any of those activities.
TC Buffalo is represented by the law firm of Phillips Lytle of Buffalo, as well as engineering firm Langan Engineering, Environmental, Surveying, Landscape Architecture and Geology of White Plains.