By Alice E. Gerard
Webb Road resident Paul Salonek had concerns the Rivertown development, proposed to be built on approximately 26 acres of land between Baseline Road and Grand Island Boulevard, would remove what he and his family enjoy in their own backyard.
“I’ve spoken at several meetings about this development. Basically, we have an in-ground pool, and we were worried about four-story buildings on our side and back lots. So, that would be stadium seating, (with people in those buildings) watching us in our backyard,” he said.
Salonek spoke Tuesday at a public hearing about rezoning the land the Rivertown development project would be built on. At Grand Island Town Board meeting, he explained both Councilman Mike Madigan and Roger Trettel, who works for Rivertown developer Legacy Development, both visited his property.
“He talked to my wife and me about our concerns,” Salonek said. “He looked at the property. More recently, it appears that those will be closer to two-story buildings. Mr. Trettel explained that he wants to be a good neighbor. There could be berms and tree plantings to give us a little privacy. So, at this point in time, I think that you listened to my comments.”
The proposed rezoning, which comprises local law No. 6 of 2021, would change the zoning in the area from R-3 (multiple-family residential district), R-1D (medium-density single-family residential district) and CBD (central business district), to a planned development district (PDD) to accommodate Rivertown Center Holdings LLC’s proposed Rivertown development.
“I would support the rezoning to PDD,” Salonek said.
Kim Nason, an attorney with Phillips Lytle, described the proposed development during the public hearing in a presentation that went beyond the usual three-minute speaking limit for public hearings. She described the project as “a very exciting proposed project, a new mixed-use development, called Rivertown Center.”
“It includes a variety of uses: multifamily residential, patio homes, townhouses, commercial, community open space, all featured in a town center-style design with a town center retail corridor,” she added. “It’s meant to create a walkable, active environment that’s blending a mix of uses and also includes publicly accessible green spaces. It is designed to address the town’s goals that are specifically included in the town’s comprehensive plan and has been updated to address input from the town since it was first brought before the town.”
“We’re trying to combine mixed uses, but also have a pedestrian-friendly environment with a lot of community space,” Nason explained. “So, overall here on the concept plan, we are looking at 319 residential units: 252 market-rate apartments, 40 senior apartments, 13 townhouses, and 14 patio homes. The patio homes go across the southern portion of the site and are meant to be a transition from those single-family homes that are existing along Webb Road. In addition, there will be a function space that will be accessible to residents of the project and up to 60,000 square-feet of commercial space.
“The project includes a variety of community amenities, in connection with this PDD application. The road that runs through the site is a multimodal path, not just for vehicles but also for bikes and pedestrians that provides a connection from Baseline to Grand Island Boulevard, that connects with the town’s existing sidewalks and trail system. In addition, you’ll see that treed area to the southeast corner of the site. There are nature trails proposed in there that would be publicly accessible. The existing stormwater pond is going to be improved. A walking path will be around it. There will be additional landscaping so that it’s really more of a focal point, not just a stormwater function. That will be connected, along with the nature trail, to the multimodal path and completely open the public.
“In addition, there will be eight proposed park spaces, six pocket parks, and a playground, and a dog park. All of those will be open to the public. We’re really trying to create that town center. Everybody can come use the green space and go to the retail uses.
“The PDD is what allows us to be more cognizant of the surrounding uses, to put the less-intensive uses nearer to the existing residential homes and the more-intensive uses more toward the commercial district. But, if the PDD is not the preferred route, the applicant can be prepared to pursue a plan that is allowed under the code, which would be more of a gridlike layout of multifamily residential. It really does not have the proposed park space and nature trails; all of those beneficial amenities that we talked about are not included. It meets the letter of the existing code, but it really doesn’t get the spirit of the comprehensive plan. We don’t think that’s what the board or the community would prefer, but we’re happy to receive feedback. So really, the PDD flexibility is what allows us to get to the design being consistent with what the town has indicated that it wants in its comprehensive plan.”
During the public hearing, concerns were raised about the height of some of the buildings.
Michael Rayhill said the developer wanted to “dramatically raise the height of these structures above and beyond what is currently allowed for an R-3 property.”
Dave Reilly said, “The variances that are already being recommended are substantial, and I don’t believe that the town’s people want to move in the direction of four-story buildings.”
Other speakers commented about the density of the proposed project.
Cathy Rayhill said “the obvious goal” of the project was to “achieve the greatest density possible within the available space.”
Mike Rayhill said, “Granting this project a PDD would create a very dense development, which will have a great effect on the Grand Island infrastructure: water, sewer, power, traffic; so, I’d like to see what the developer proposes to do for the Grand Island infrastructure.”
Other speakers spoke about the communication the developer has had with them and their neighbors.
Tim Wellence, who lives near the proposed development, said, “They’ve been friendly. They’ve been courteous. They’ve been willing to share with public meetings, both here after these calls, at the Grand Island Welcome Center. They’ve come to people’s homes to discuss the options and things of that nature. Finally, we get something that looks pretty in our backyards, and it impacts every single homeowner on Webb Road and those on Baseline that are close to this.”
Amy Runick said, “The Riverview project developers have made it a point to include the neighbors like myself and my husband and community members directly impacted on this proposed development. They took the time to answer all of our questions, and they reviewed any preliminary plans with us. In doing so, we feel confident that the new zoning is the only option for this development to work here on Grand Island.”
Although one speaker, Mike Rayhill, criticized the extra time given to Nason to complete her presentation of the project – he noted there was a “hijacking of the public hearing by Phillips Lytle” – members of the Town Board shared a different opinion.
Councilman Tom Digati said, “About Kim speaking longer to give a presentation: We had a public hearing (on an earlier date), and nobody had a clue as to what they were talking about. The reason that I suggested that we give Kim and Roger a chance to talk longer than three minutes is because we want public comments from people who understand what the project is. So, giving the developers the opportunity to present their project before the public comments is something we should be doing habitually. We should do it every time there’s a project proposed, because we want people to be informed before they provide comments.”
Councilman Christian Bahleda said, “It’s exciting to see the Rivertown project get support from the Webb Road residents. Hopefully, we can work toward common goals with that.”
Rezoning is an early step in getting a development approved, Digati said. “If the rezoning part of the PDD gets approved, they can’t put a shovel in the ground. They can’t do anything until we approve a final design. This is the beginning of the process”
The Town Board voted to refer the matter back to itself after the public hearing was closed.