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Pros, cons of Aquest plan debated in separate sessions

Tue, Mar 23rd 2021 01:20 pm

By Karen Carr Keefe

Editor

Acquest Development CEO Michael Huntress on Monday, March 15, restated to the Town Board his company’s proposal for building a single 1.1 million-square-foot warehouse and distribution facility on its 145-acre site at 2780 Long Road.

At the workshop meeting, Huntress and associates said that they shouldn’t have to jump through a new set of hoops to get the OK for the company to build on undeveloped land that last year had been targeted for Amazon until the giant retailer pulled out of the deal in August.

Two hours later on Monday, opponents of the Acquest proposal restated their case at the regular Town Board session that the company shouldn’t get a pass on environmental review on the premise that Amazon’s and previous proposals prequalified them.

First up, Jeff Palumbo of the law firm Barclay Damon gave the board an update on the petition filed by the Grand Island Commerce Joint Venture in November 2020. He said a March 9 letter to Town Supervisor John Whitney detailed some of the issues Acquest wanted the board to recognize.

•He said a State Environment Quality Review had been done and a site plan had been approved for the same land, but a different project, back in 1991. That project didn’t go forward, but the same land and another different project was proposed in 2012. Both previous projects divided the land into different industrial lots under the premise that was the most efficient way to develop the land.

Fast forward to 2020, and the national development trend is for the large warehouses, rather than separate lots . Palumbo said Acquest’s proposal has far lower impact than those considered in the 1991 environmental impact statement. By one measure, the building proposed back in 1991 was to have 1,650,000 square feet, whereas the current proposal is just over 1 million, a 35% reduction.

•Palumbo also said the traffic trips per day would be significantly lower – to 7,000 trips per day down from 9,000, with the Acquest proposal compared to the 1991 proposal, a 23% reduction.

•The limit of disturbance for the previous project was 145 acres, whereas the current project would take up 138 acres.

•The original construction time in 1991 was 10 years, but the Acquest warehouse would take 18 months, due to the fact that it’s one building.

Summarizing, Palumbo said, “The town zoned this property some time ago for industrial use. We’re bringing an industrial use to the town. It meets the intent and the objectives of the town ordinance, it meets the intent and objectives of the comprehensive plan, and we are asking the board to move it forward for site plan. He invited the board to comment and to ask questions of him, as well as a traffic consultant and the engineer for the project. Palumbo said, “The impacts are less than what was originally reviewed and approved in 1991, therefore, there’s no requirement for a supplemental impact statement, and we’d like to move forward as quickly as possible.”

For example, Councilman Michael Madigan was concerned that the amount of fill required for the project which, he said, from the drawings, could raise the height at the north end of the building by 65 feet above existing grade. The specifics of the adjustments were addressed by engineer Eric Kingsbury with Langan Engineering, who cited the need to adjust the grade to enable discharge from 15- to 30-inch pipes at a minimum slope of 0.3% back to a creek at the north end of the project to handle storm events.

The discussion of site parameters and requirements, site access and the possibility of a conservation area got into details that had arisen before, when Town Board members discussed the Amazon warehouse and distribution center proposal.

But Huntress chimed in with one caveat that the rest of his team supported, “I guess what I would offer the board too, to that end is that this isn’t the Amazon project anymore.” He said attempts to reduce the grade didn’t lower the cost enough to justify changes and digging ponds for fill and stormwater retention would create less impact than trucking in fill from off-site for 12 months, as the Amazon project may have required.

Palumbo said the team wants to comply with all the reasonable request from the town – and that’s why they were in attendance at the workshop meeting. He said the team will go back and consider the comments from the Town Board and see which accommodations could be made and which could not – and why not.

Public comments at the Town Board meeting

Cathy Rayhill, Michael Rayhill and Robert Hirsch were the speakers when the point was reached for public comment on agenda items. Although the Acquest proposal wasn’t on the agenda, it was mentioned in the Planning Board minutes of a Dec. 14 meeting within the board’s consent agenda, so the comments were permitted to go forward.

Cathy Rayhill urged the Town Board to immediately approve the Planning Board’s recommendation to make a type 1, positive declaration on the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) for the project. She said, according to the Planning Board, “There are over 20 areas on the environmental assessment form indicating a moderate to large impact. There are significant differences in this project from any previous proposals on this property, which should necessitate a new, full SEQR review be initiated.”

One of the issues she focused on – as did Madigan in the earlier meeting – was the height of the building due to the need for significant grading to the site, adding 10 to 20 feet in height to the basic building height of 45 to 47 feet. She said that would violate the town’s zoning laws, yet no variance has been requested.

“Lastly, the main purpose of an M-1 zoning designation is to attract non-polluting industry. Our comprehensive plan goes further and defines this as multiple buildings in a park-like setting. Even though warehousing is called out specifically as a valid business type within an M-1 zone, the sheer size of this monolithic facility and its corresponding traffic, noise and air pollution simply cannot be considered non-polluting or conforming to our comprehensive plan.”

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