West Seneca Special Town Board Minutes 08/02/2006
Supervisor Paul T. Clark called the meeting to order at 7:30 P.M. with 30 seconds of silent prayer followed by the Pledge of Allegiance led by Sarah & Matt Boehringer.
ROLL CALL: Present -
Absent - Christopher F. Osmanski Councilman
Supervisor Clark read the Fire Prevention Code instructing the public where to exit in case of a fire or an emergency.
The meeting was dedicated to the memory of Roger J. Peck Sr., Honorable Ronald D. Kmiotek, and Patrick M. McCarthy.
WENDEL DUCHSCHERER ENGAGED AS PLANNING CONSULTANT
Motion by Supervisor Clark, seconded by Councilman Bove, to engage the firm of Wendel, Duchscherer, Architects & Engineers, P.C. and enter into an agreement for planning services with approval from the Town Attorney’s Office on the final form of the contract.
On the question, Supervisor Clark stated that there has been more and more complexity over the years with respect to environmental law and planning for some larger projects. They also had the ability under a new town ordinance to enact some site plan review where fees will be charged and will cover some of the cost involved in engaging this firm. Supervisor Clark commented that Wendel Duchscherer did a great job providing services in developing the town’s Master Plan and Drew Reilly was well respected and very communicative with regard to planning assignments and advice. As Planning Consultant, some of the services they will provide include submission and organization of plans for building permits and other plans for larger subdivisions and projects. On occasion, they will be asked to attend Town Board meetings and offer advice and technical assistance on projects.
1. Motion by Supervisor Clark, seconded by Councilman Hicks, that proofs of publication and posting of legal notice: “OF A PUBLIC HEARING TO CONSIDER A REQUEST FOR A REZONING FOR PROPERTY LOCATED AT 675 POTTERS ROAD, BEING PART OF LOT NO. 291, CHANGING ITS CLASSIFICATION FROM R-65 TO C-1, FOR AN OFFICE/RETAIL BUILDING AND A HOTEL” in the Town of West Seneca, be received and filed. (Ellicott Development Company)
Motion by Supervisor Clark, seconded by Councilman Hicks, to open the public hearing.
Deputy Town Attorney Paul Notaro read the recommendation of the Planning Board: “At its July 19, 2006 meeting, the Planning Board heard the request for a rezoning for property located at 675 Potters Road, being part of Lot No. 291, changing its classification from R-65 to C-1, for an office/retail building and a hotel. No recommendation was given at the conclusion of the hearing.” Mr. Notaro also read a letter from Drew Reilly of Wendel Duchscherer as follows: “We have been asked to assess the proposed rezoning of 675 Potters Road in the Town of West Seneca. The site is currently zoned R-65. The proposed zoning of the site is C-1 adjacent to the east and fronting on Slade Avenue, which is currently zoned C-1. The applicant is proposing to build a four-story hotel approximately 60,000 square feet and an office and one-story retail building approximately 29,000 square feet. The total area of land
to be rezoned is 6.8 acres. In looking at the application, the Town of West Seneca Comprehensive Plan identifies this area, Ridge Road, Potters Road, Seneca Street, the areas east of the NYS Thruway, as the regional retail center focused on automobile oriented businesses. The site has easy access to the NYS Thruway and has historically had a number of large retail uses including the Shops at West Seneca, with K-Mart, Wegman’s and Home Depot in the area. It was envisioned that this general area would be redeveloped for commercial uses. The plan recommends a Ridge Road/Potter Road overlay district to control commercial development in this area with heightened design standards and landscaping. The plan also recommends the rezoning of lands east of this site from the current zoning of M-1 to a commercial zoning category to encourage the proper commercial development in this area. Current land use in the immediate area includes two school buildings to the north and a mixed area of residential and commercial uses to the east. While there are a number of residential homes on Slade Avenue, the frontage is zoned for commercial use and the east side of Slade Avenue is essentially commercial in nature. The NYS Thruway forms a barrier on the west side of this particular parcel. The R-65 zoning district for the site originally connected to a much larger district to the west; however, construction of the NYS Thruway essentially severed this from the site and from adjacent residential uses. With the NYS Thruway to the west and the commercial areas of Slade Avenue, the site is essentially an island of residentially zoned land. Based on the above analysis, we would recommend in favor of a rezoning.”
Joseph Paladino of Ellicott Development Company stated their request to rezone a 7-acre parcel of land they were purchasing from the West Seneca School District. The property had an address of 675 Potters Road only because it was part of an 18-acre parcel that fronted on Potters Road. Mr. Paladino pointed out another parcel at 162 Slade Avenue that they were purchasing for access to the parcel. He noted that 162 Slade Avenue and everything else that fronted on Slade Avenue was zoned for commercial use.
Cheryl Lindstrom, 666 Potters Road, stated that her house is directly across from the school maintenance building, and when she bought her home she was not aware that the building would be constructed. Ms. Lindstrom commented that her property is residential and the maintenance building has hindered her life in this neighborhood. The proposed project will also have a negative effect because she will be able to see it from her front lawn. Ms. Lindstrom stated that this site is the only green space in the area where all the children play together. She commented on a number of vacant retail stores in the area and the eyesore they have become for the town. Ms. Lindstrom suggested that the Town Board push Pyramid into selling part of their property to Ellicott Development for their project. She did not believe it was proper for a 4-story hotel to be located in front of a school and also commented on the negative effect the project will have on residential property values.
Henrietta Lubkowski, 144 Slade Avenue, stated that 15 years ago the town rezoned Slade Avenue properties to commercial and her property will be directly affected by the proposed project. The town installed a swale from Mrs. Lubkowski’s property to the NYS Thruway because she gets flooded every spring. She commented that there were enough freestanding shops that were vacant and Mr. Paladino was not exactly sure what they were going to build on the property. Mrs. Lubkowski further noted that the Planning Board did not recommend approval because there was no definitive plan.
Janet Harris, 400 East & West Road, stated that she is the owner of 158 Slade Avenue and was concerned about elimination of green space in the neighborhood. Everyone talked about green space, but no one seemed to work toward preserving it. She noted that there were deer and other wildlife that wandered onto this property and questioned why development could not occur at the Seneca Mall instead of this site. Mrs. Harris questioned why the Town Board could not take legal action against Pyramid or take the property by eminent domain.
Supervisor Clark responded that the town was presently in the process of going after Pyramid on various property maintenance actions and problems. Other than that, there was nothing the town could do to make them develop the property. Supervisor Clark stated that the town was reviewing all their options with regard to Pyramid and the Seneca Mall site.
Mrs. Harris commented on the poor condition of the Seneca Mall site and did not want to see that happen to the property behind her home. She further referred to a statement made at the Planning Board meeting that a fence did not have to be constructed between the proposed project and the homes on Slade Avenue because the properties were zoned commercial. Mrs. Harris stated that a fence was necessary to screen the project from the residential homes.
Michael & Marilyn Tuberdyck, owners of New Visions Photography, stated that they have been located on Slade Avenue for the last 26 years. Mr. Tuberdyck presented pictures of how he uses his property to take portraits and the view that he will have if the proposed project is developed. He was also concerned about the affect this project will have on the water table and that it would cause flooding for the residential homes. Mr. Tuberdyck stated that his business thrived when the Seneca Mall was open and he wished that site could be redeveloped, but he did not believe that the proposed project should be located next to the school with only one entrance on Slade Avenue.
Michele Summers, 140 Slade Avenue, was concerned for the safety of the children attending the elementary school and commented on the possibility of sexual offenders frequenting the hotel. She did not believe that even a four-foot fence would be sufficient. Mrs. Summers stated that the baseball diamond was used seven days a week, and although the school claimed they would relocate it, there was no other place to put it. She commented on the traffic on Slade Avenue when BOCES is letting out and the additional traffic problem this project will create. She also thought the project was a hazard for the fire company. Mrs. Summers did not want to see the rezoning approved without knowing specifically what will be located there. She was concerned about drainage problems and also wanted a fence for screening and to keep garbage out of her yard. She stated that although the residents’ properties were zoned commercial, they were residential and all maintained their homes.
Thomas Summers, 140 Slade Avenue, questioned where the snow would be piled in the winter and did not want to see it pushed onto his property.
Tom Cox, 66 Slade Avenue, stated that the entire street was already zoned commercial, so he did not think rezoning this parcel would make much difference to him. However, he questioned what the problem was with the Seneca Mall site.
Supervisor Clark stated that the problem with the Seneca Mall site was that Pyramid did not seem to have any incentive to build anything beyond what was already built there. He had not had any contact with anyone from Pyramid in quite some time, but understood that they were in violation of certain Property Maintenance Ordinances. The property was zoned for manufacturing, which was a different level of maintenance than that of a residential or commercial zoning, but the town thought that there might be some areas they could pursue and they were in the process of pursuing them.
Mr. Cox commented that the Seneca Mall site was a prime piece of property and he thought the Town Board and everyone involved had fallen short on this for several years.
Councilman Hicks stated that the town had Pyramid in court a number of times in the last two years with regard to cleaning up the site, and they paid the fines but did not do anything. He thought that Pyramid had their own agenda and as long as there was no development at the Seneca Mall site the Galleria Mall would be protected. The Town Board could not force Pyramid to develop the Seneca Mall site, but he thought the proposed project might help.
Mr. Cox suggested using eminent domain and putting a park at the Seneca Mall site.
Councilman Hicks stated that they could not use eminent domain with regard to the Seneca Mall site. He further noted that the site has been a problem for the Town Board for the last six to ten years and they all cared about it, but Pyramid had property rights.
Councilman Graber noted that Pyramid was not paying full taxes on the property because most of it was undeveloped land. He also agreed that they were intentionally not developing the property.
Councilman Bove commented that Pyramid has not been a good neighbor to the residents of West Seneca, and they were looking for public money and tax abatements in other parts of New York State. The Town Board was looking at other options and there may be a time when they will ask residents to join them and speak in front of other towns that are looking to do business with Pyramid to show them with signs what a bad neighbor they have been to the Town of West Seneca.
Councilman Graber stated that Pyramid built a multi-million dollar mall in another state without any approvals from the municipality. They thought they were above the law. The mall stood vacant for over three years and they ended up losing in court. Councilman Graber commented that Pyramid destroyed the Seneca Mall property, and even though the property is extremely valuable, they don’t care. It was more beneficial to them for it to be empty. The principals of Ellicott Development live in the area and want to develop the property and be good neighbors, and they would probably buy the Seneca Mall site if it were available.
Mr. Cox referred to the Planning Board meeting and a comment from a Potters Road resident that if the proposed project were approved she would have to look at a hotel from her front window every day. He stated that people don’t always get a choice and he has been looking at the Hampton Inn since it was built. They have beautiful shrubbery and trees and maintain their property well. The manager of the hotel is also a great person and has been wonderful. Mr. Cox did not see a problem looking at a hotel and noted that the Potter Road resident currently looks at the elementary school and BOCES, a parking lot, and the West Seneca garage with equipment and trucks in it. The hotel will be located behind the school, so she will still be looking at the same things.
Randy Brown, 648 Potters Road, stated that there were enough empty buildings in West Seneca for retail space to locate. He thought that a hotel would mean trouble for the neighborhood because there would be drunks on the weekend with fights in the hallways and noise both day and night.
Councilman Hicks questioned if there would be a bar facility or nightclub in the hotel.
Mr. Paladino responded that it would be a limited service hotel.
Councilman Graber stated that he stayed at the Hampton Inn on Slade Avenue once and he thought it was one of the best run hotels. It was 95 percent occupied day after day and very well run. It was also family oriented.
Brian Smith, 98 Slade Avenue, commented on the baseball diamond that was used four to five nights each week and did not believe that it would fit where the school was proposing to relocate it.
Roy Decibus, 666 Potters Road, stated that the petitioner was proposing an office building and four-story hotel at this meeting, but at the Planning Board it was only a conceptual plan. He questioned if this was now a definite plan and did not believe that this 7-acre parcel should be rezoned if the plan was only conceptual. Mr. Decibus further commented that the Hampton Inn might be a good neighbor, but that did not mean another hotel would be.
Councilman Graber commented that all of Ellicott Development’s properties in the area were very well maintained.
Mr. Paladino stated that his company operated the Hampton Inn and they would also operate the new hotel.
Mr. Decibus further stated that even if the address of the property were changed to Slade Avenue, it would still affect Potters Road properties. The parking lot for BOCES will be right next to the property, so high school students will have easy access to the hotel, and there is only a small area between the elementary school and this property. He understood that a 4’ to 6’ fence would be constructed between the properties, but did not believe that was sufficient. Mr. Decibus further commented on the reduction in green space in this neighborhood if this project is developed.
Mr. Paladino stated that he was not proposing this rezoning to raise angst in the neighborhood, he was here to do something right and hopefully bring the residents a better future for their properties. He had talked to a few of the Slade Avenue residents over the years about the value of their properties, and he understood the value to each of the property owners, but there was a value he had to attain in order to develop land. Mr. Paladino stated that he could not do this in buying individual parcels and combining them for any purpose, a hotel, office building, or restaurant. He had all three purposes in his plan, but Ellicott Development could not afford the assemblage cost. Mr. Paladino stated that he started development in this neighborhood with the gas station on the corner of Slade Avenue and Orchard Park Road and he wanted to buy a 250 square foot piece of landlocked property owned by Pyramid, but they refused to sell him the property. Mr. Paladino commented that West Seneca did not deserve what Pyramid was doing and he appreciated the frustrations that the Town Board members have had. He also offered his help and support to the town in dealing with Pyramid. With regard to his proposed project, Mr. Paladino stated that he would either build a hotel and office building on the site or cancel the contract. He did not intend to build anything that would be detrimental to the neighborhood; he was trying to improve the neighborhood. His goal was to bring something to the neighborhood that would generate more interest in others being there. With two hotels on the street there will be more restaurant activity and interest in the property. Applebee’s had already approached him and expressed an interest. Mr. Paladino stated that he builds and operates limited service hotels. He couldn’t state his plan definitively in front of the Planning Board because a market study had to be done to tell him what kind of hotel to build. He assumed it would be an extended stay hotel in the Hilton chain, probably a Homewood Suites, a higher quality hotel. Mr. Paladino stated that he owned the Hampton Inn in West Seneca and Williamsville and just finished a Windgate in Ellicottville. He also owned the M & T Bank on Slade Avenue and all his properties were immaculate with nice shrubbery and flowers. Mr. Paladino stated that he was not trying to upset the people on Slade Avenue or take advantage of anyone, and the proposed project would add value to their properties. He indicated where the baseball diamond would be relocated to for those residents who were concerned about that and assured the residents that drainage for his development would be handled properly without any adverse effects on the surrounding properties. Mr. Paladino referred to the parking plan and stated that West Seneca’s requirement was one parking space per 100 square feet. This was an unusually high requirement and the highest he had seen was five spaces per 1000 square feet. The proposed plan had enough parking to cover that ratio. He hoped it would be unnecessary and they would get a variance for it. Snow piling areas would be designated on site to handle snow removal. If possible, he will also put in a small playground area for the kids. Lighting will be down lit and shielded from the residences. Mr. Paladino noted that he would return for site plan review after a definite plan was developed.
Councilman Hicks questioned how far this site was from the property line of the school.
Mr. Paladino responded that by law and because of the size of the school, they had to maintain 12 acres and the proposed building would be 250 to 300 feet from the property line. There will be a fence along the property line and along the NYS Thruway.
Councilman Graber questioned the estimated construction value of the proposed project.
Mr. Paladino stated that if the hotel is 100 rooms the project will cost $6.5 to $7 million. The office space will be approximately $3 million. Mr. Paladino stated that he wanted a nice looking building and to be a contributor to the community. Building it right will only enhance his ability to develop more.
Deputy Town Attorney Paul Notaro stated that at this time the town did not have full site plan approval. However, the Town Board could condition the rezoning on the property being used for a hotel and/or office building and Mr. Paladino would have to return if the property was to be used for something other than that.
Councilman Graber referred to screening of the property and questioned if there would be any natural screening.
Mr. Paladino stated that he preferred to screen the property with trees and shrubs and would use as many as possible.
Councilman Bove referred to the privacy issue between the proposed project and the residences and questioned if that would have to be stipulated at this meeting.
Mr. Notaro stated that this could be stipulated with a special use permit, but not with a rezoning. However, the Town Code would address this.
Matthew O’Connell, 140 Slade Avenue, stated that the houses on Slade Avenue were zoned commercial and the Planning Board had stated that screening would not be required because of that.
Mr. Notaro responded that he had been researching the Town Code and there were sections that would address it.
Mr. O’Connell further referred to comments made at the Planning Board meeting by representatives of Seneca Hose Fire Company stating that the width of the driveway did not matter; they needed at least two entrances/exits in case of a fire. He did not see any plans to add another access driveway.
Councilman Hicks questioned if the proposed buildings will have a sprinkler system.
Mr. Paladino responded that the hotel will definitely have a sprinkler system, but he was not sure what the code was for a one-story office building. If this was a concern, he would make arrangements with the school district for a crash gate that a fire engine could go through from the Potters Road School.
Councilman Hicks commented that there were a number of properties around the town with only one entrance.
Mr. O’Connell also questioned if the second building would be office space or retail space.
Mr. Paladino responded that the second building would be office space.
Jim Grasso, 116 Slade Avenue, expressed concern for the safety of school children if a crash gate were to be installed on the school property.
Paul Sulpisio, Fire Commissioner with West Seneca Fire District #5, stated that the fire company’s biggest concern was general safety and seven acres was a big piece of property to develop. He referred to other properties in the district that could be problematic such as Westwood Village and the Hampton Inn. If their parking facilities are full, the fire company cannot get their equipment onto the site. They would require 20 feet with the outriggers out and would like to have access to all sides of the building. They also would like to see the hydrants moved to that side of Slade Avenue. Mr. Sulpisio stated that it was very important to the fire company that they have the proper operating space around the buildings, especially for a hotel. They also needed enough water to do their job and although the size of the watermain was ample, they did not want to see the hydrants dead headed.
Supervisor Clark responded that the Town Engineer would not allow that and they would require a loop. The building plans were always reviewed with firematics in mind by the Building Department.
Mr. Sulpisio noted that on some calls they have responded to at the Hampton Inn and Westwood Village they have had to park their equipment on the street, especially in the winter when snow is piled in the parking lots. He further noted that West Seneca Fire District #5’s tax base was shrinking and he hoped that this project would be taxed in full for their fire tax.
Supervisor Clark stated that there would be no tax abatements, just as there were no abatements on the existing hotel.
Mr. Paladino stated that when the Hampton Inn was built the land was limited. This project was a different situation and they had more land to work with.
Roger Harris, 400 East & West Road, commented that the residents of Slade Avenue had to deal with the Seneca Mall for over ten years and now the 23 homes on Slade Avenue were going to be disrupted by this project. Ellicott Development approached all the property owners on Slade Avenue to buy their property and were finally able to buy one of the properties for $200,000 while everyone else was offered $105,000. Mr. Harris did not believe they were concerned about the residents of Slade Avenue. He was also concerned that the Town Board would approve this project without having a site plan.
Motion by Supervisor Clark, seconded by Councilman Hicks, to close the public hearing.
Motion by Supervisor Clark, seconded by Councilman Hicks, to issue a Negative Declaration with respect to SEQR for the proposed office/retail building and hotel to be located at 675 Potters Road.
Motion by Supervisor Clark, seconded by Councilman Hicks, to approve the request for a rezoning for property located at 675 Potters Road, being part of Lot No. 291, changing its classification from R-65 to C-1, with the stipulation that the property be developed for a combination office/retail building and a hotel.
On the question, Supervisor Clark stated that he heard a lot of valid concerns and he thought it was wonderful how the neighborhood stuck together to work on a project they felt strongly about. Supervisor Clark thought that the project was good for the town in general and the neighborhood. He noted that it fit with the overall Master Plan, but nothing was ever done with it because it was school property. The West Seneca School Board determined that sale of this excess property will greatly benefit the school district financially. The property has not been used to the degree that it could be and along with the proceeds from the sale, there will be a high revenue stream in the future. This project will have a huge economic impact, not only in sales tax revenue, but also, $250,000 to $300,000 in annual tax revenue to the town, school district, fire district and county. The project will not generate any school children or cost the town a lot in services. Supervisor Clark stated that Town Engineer George Montz had reviewed the project and the property will be developed and built in accordance with New York State Building Codes and the Town Ordinance. He hoped that the project would become livable for the neighborhood. Supervisor Clark thought that the project would spark additional economic activity that will eventually spur development across the street at the Seneca Mall site. He assured the residents that the town was way past any tolerance point, and Town Codes will be enforced on Pyramid.
Councilman Hicks stated that the Town Board was called upon to make hard decisions such as this and they had a responsibility to the 23 property owners on Slade Avenue, but they also had a responsibility to the entire community. He considered the economic impact this project could have on the town and thought they were fortunate that it was Mr. Paladino developing the property. Councilman Hicks had seen Mr. Paladino’s facilities and knew how he ran his operation. He also knew that Mr. Paladino was concerned about the neighborhood and would address all the issues. Councilman Hicks hoped that Pyramid would end up selling Mr. Paladino some of their property after they see this project built.
Motion by Supervisor Clark, seconded by Councilman Bove, to adjourn the meeting at 9:10 P.M.
PATRICIA C. DEPASQUALE, RMC/CMC