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Howard Road project in Town of Hamburg re-zoning request draws opposition

BY: Steve Dlugosz | November 30, 2012

A large number of residents living around the area of Howard Road who were in attendance at Monday’s (Nov. 26) Hamburg Town Board meeting voiced opinions that stood against the proposed re-zoning of a local site that would accommodate developers’ efforts to move forward in a project to install what is described as a 66-unit, multi-family development.

The public hearing regarding site re-zoning, which took place before the town board’s regular meeting, featured statements made by town officials, residents and representatives of the project applicant.

The project site is said to be 10 acres in size, on a vacant property on the south side of Howard Road and in the direction west of Heatherwood Drive and east of Camp Road. Sean Hopkins, speaking on behalf of the firm representing the developers, said project parameters include a re-zoning request that asks for 8.1 acres to be re-zoned from the current R-2 designation, or “single family residence attached district,” to R-3, or residential/mixed use. The proposed re-zoning would allow existing R-2 guidelines; including single-family detached dwellings, cluster housing, schools, public libraries, two-family dwellings, attached single-family dwellings up to a maximum of two units, and professional residence/offices, as well as hypothetical, new parameters such as multi-family dwellings or condominiums, dwelling groups, hospitals, nursing homes, colleges and dormitories.

Hopkins further stated that the proposed project includes 11 buildings to comprise the 66 units, with the housing description being “luxury townhouses for rent,” to attract tenants ranging from working professionals to the elderly. Expected housing details would include the units being 700 to 1,000 square feet in size, coming at a rental cost of roughly $1.20 per square foot, and likely featuring modern kitchen amenities and attached garages. Such project site additions were said to include a 50-foot conservation area to join the existing 100-foot conservation easement that backs up to a nearby creek. The proposal was also stated as increasing the allowable density of development from about 4.7 units per acre to 8.1 units per acre.

“We’re confident in the need (existing) for upper-scale (townhouse living facilities),” said Hopkins.

Additionally, Hopkins said, the town’s planning board had reviewed the proposal during a five-month process and in October issued a positive recommendation regarding the project by a 6-1 vote, having detailed nearly a dozen related findings. Hopkins noted the proactive approach of the project developers, stating that nearby homeowners were presented notices in as early as April of related site plans. He added that the hypothetical R-3 zoning designation would create a smoothly crafted transition from R-2 zoned areas to the east and C-2 (commercial) areas to the west, the latter including the McKinley Mall.

Residents in general stated appreciation for the developers’ steady communication and project outlines. However, local homeowners speaking Monday expressed several concerns about quality of life issues associated with the project, especially listing traffic safety as an item that could be adversely affected. It was stated that 137 resident signatures had been generated primarily from surrounding streets as part of a project petition, with numerous other related correspondences directed to the Hamburg Town Clerk’s office.

Heatherwood Drive resident John Percy, speaking on behalf of many residents living in the Heatherwood-Pineview Drive area, said that main points of contention include residents not desiring housing that differentiates from the current duplex or single-family dwellings; as well as the town not needing a saturation of housing developments, noting several nearby similar, senior-heavy complexes on Camp Road and other local areas. Percy added that two separate surveys conducted of local residents in 2010 revealed findings that ranked apartments last among seven choices on a wish list of desired accommodations.

Fellow Heatherwood Drive homeowners Lynn Olson and Cheryl Mcbride each stated their reservations regarding the project and re-zoning proposal. Olson described the addition of townhouses as a waste of money, stating, “I (would rather) invest my money, not rent…I’d (rather) buy a condo or smaller home.” Mcbride noted the multitude of speeding drivers already traveling through the stated 30-mile-per-hour area, adding that implementing a project of this magnitude would not help the traffic situation.

“I regularly see drivers traveling in excess of 60 miles per hour, and it’s an area with a dense population of children and pets,” said Mcbride. “I’m desperate to get something done on the traffic issue. Installing a 66-unit development won’t help this issue…(Findings) by the planning board listed an undue hardship placed on the developer. I think this is backward. An undue hardship is imposing a project with non-R-2 (zoned parameters) onto what is an R-2 area.”

Bryan Wittmeyer, who resides on Howard Road, echoed the sentiment of traffic being adversely affected by such a proposed project. He stated that drivers already use Howard Road as a frequent back route to get to and from Lowe’s department store and West Herr Auto on Southwestern Boulevard, adding that speeding occurs many times.

“I applaud the developers for being proactive with neighbors, but the town needs to take a serious look at what’s going at Howard Road,” said Wittmeyer.

Howard Road homeowner Heidi Hodgson said it is her desire that town officials back local residents in regards to the project concerns.

“I hope the Town Board stands behind the taxpayers of Hamburg and sides with us,” said Hodgson. “This (Howard Road) is the road that we live on.”

Another local resident, Chris Gorman, stated that specific differentiation between “luxury townhouses” and “apartments” had not really been given by project developers, adding that existing units at Maplewood Apartments on Southwestern currently range from about $750 to $900 per month and are not considered under luxury status.

Other project-related concerns Monday covered the areas of possible school tax increases, neighborhood devaluation and lighting sprawling into existing homeowner yards, to go along with the concept of other areas of Howard Road that are simultaneously not being developed.

Town Planning Consultant Andrew Reilly said the town board has three possible options regarding the project, including either approving or denying the project outright, or approving the project with accompanying provisions and conditions. Hamburg Town Supervisor Steven Walters stated that the earliest possible board decision regarding the project could be at the Jan. 14 meeting. Walters added that a coordinated project State Environmental Quality Review must still be conducted, with the involvement of interested agencies. The supervisor also said that town officials are still taking into account submitted concerns and correspondence over the next 10 days, with the items encouraged to be directed to the town clerk’s office. The listed e-mail contact is townclerk@townofhamburgny.com.

“The board appreciates the courteous manner of resident questions (and statements, directed Monday to town officials and project developers),” said Walters. “It’s a testament to our community…We’ve been doing our homework (on related project work and research).”

The project site had first been approved in 2004 for a 23-unit cluster development subdivision, which was not constructed. The site is currently located in what is described as “residential (high density/mixed) area of the Comprehensive Plan,” with the location defined as an area that is “more flexible in land usage and exemplifies diverse residential housing types which include single family homes, duplexes and multi-family housing, and mobile home parks.” The plan ultimately details that enough support is provided “to entertain the re-zoning request, but not does not provide definite support of the re-zoning.”

It was additionally stated that an aforementioned mobile home park exists within the site area.

Hopkins said the current site plan allows for approximately 38 development units, with the increase as part of the hypothetical re-zoned project area presenting a layout that is comparable to the existing housing capability.

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