Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
Members of the public who planned to speak their minds against mega warehouses and for zoning revisions were thrown for a loop at the start of the Oct. 16 Town Board meeting. A vote on proposed zoning revisions was destined to be tabled, not voted upon as expected.
Although the proposed law restricting warehouse size was on the agenda for a vote at the 8 p.m. session, it appeared from the 6 p.m. workshop that vote would be deferred.
Acquest Development’s proposed 1.2 million-square-foot warehouse/distribution center on Long Road is the current focal point for proposed zoning changes.
Cathy Rayhill was first up at the microphone. “I was going to make comments on the vote for Local Law No. 6, but when I viewed the workshop meeting earlier this evening at 6 p.m., am I to understand correctly that there’s an issue that’s come up with that and the vote may not happen tonight?”
Councilmember Tom Digati answered, “Yes, there is an issue. It may be tabled.”
Rayhill said, “OK” and sat down without further comment.
Soon after, Deputy Supervisor Pete Marston told resident Marcia Whittle. “It’s on the agenda, you’re welcome to speak.”
Whittle said, “Grand Island is still a sparkling gem in the Niagara River and it’s not been completely destroyed yet.” She spoke in favor of even more zoning changes to limit development that, by its scope, could further jeopardize open spaces and wildlife habitats. “There is a way to stop overdevelopment. Let’s find it together.”
When it came time to vote on or table the zoning law changes, Councilmember Christian Bahleda moved to table the item, and Councilmember Tom Digati seconded the motion.
Town Attorney Peter Godfrey explained that at about 4:45 p.m. Monday, the Erie County Department of Environment and Planning had requested, through the town’s Engineering Department, additional time to consider the measure. The 30-day window for the county to comment is still open, so tabling the issue would be the way to honor that request.
In discussion of the motion, Digati said, “I was fully planning on voting in support of these changes, until 4:45 today when we got response from the county asking for more time to respond.” He said the law requires the town to send the proposal to the county for review and comment.
The first time it was sent, the county replied that “the proposed action was a matter of local concern.”
The Town Board amended the proposal to further reduce the footprint of buildings in M-1 to 100,000 square feet from the originally proposed 300,000 square feet. The revised law was then sent to the county for a second review, which can generate a second 30-day comment period. Godfrey said he expected a new response from the county by the next Town Board meeting, which will be Monday, Nov. 6. He said he didn’t expect the county to have any objections to the proposed law.
That local law would encourage the siting and development of appropriately sized “light industrial and research uses and associated administrative offices.” Warehouse distribution facilities and other large buildings exceeding 100,000 square feet “are not in harmony with the existing small-scale operations” currently located in M-1, the proposed zoning law amendment says. One of the goals of the town’s comprehensive plan is to maintain the town's “small town living” culture and aesthetic, the amendment states.
“It sounds like there’s a commitment that we’re going to move forward with approving this law,” Madigan said.
Digati agreed. “There was a commitment that we intended to do it tonight, and I’m as frustrated as anybody else that we’re not in a position to do so,” he said. “We’re not going to discuss the potential legal ramifications of our decisions in a public forum. It would be completely inappropriate.” He added, “Doing it right means waiting until we receive the appropriate response.”
Board members voted 3-1 in favor of tabling the issue. Madigan’s was the dissenting vote. Tabling the issue automatically puts it back on the agenda for the next meeting.
In the second public comment period, resident Sherrie Kern asked for an update of planned safety measures for Staley Road. These include widening the shoulders, constructing crossovers and a request for a speed limit reduction. Town Highway Superintendent Richard Crawford said the state Department of Transportation has rejected reducing the speed limit from 45 to 40 mph. He also said installing roundabouts is not an option at this time.
Staley Road residents’ concerns have centered on heavy traffic volume to and from pharmaceutical companies on the road, as well as motorists driving at unsafe speeds on a two-lane road with inadequate shoulders. They have also requested more frequent police enforcement of speed infractions.
Crawford said he has put together a 10-phase plan for the whole reconstruction program for Staley Road. These include the town highway and engineering department designs for the three crossovers. From there, the plan covers shoulder replacement and making it safe for residents to get to their mailboxes safely during road reconstruction. Residents will have to have their mail held at the post office for a few days when their section and side of the road is being worked on.
He said the timetable is to have the engineering done by or before the end of the year. The work will include excavating, paving, sealing and striping. Work would start on the west end and would begin with the crossovers.
Crawford said he’s hoping for a mild winter, a reconstruction start in March and getting the work completed by late spring or early summer.