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The Sun editorial: Kudos to Hamburg Planning Board, the community watchdog

HAMBURG — I have never studied zoning. I never took a college course in environmental law. The closest I have gotten to politics was the one political science class required to complete my degree. I could never pretend to be an expert on the kind of cases that come across the desks of those on local municipalities’ planning and zoning boards.

Which is why I always hesitate to publicly give my two cents about agenda items addressed by local boards. Science is pretty convincing and I leave the long numbers and hard-to-pronounce chemical compounds to the experts.

The town of Hamburg has recently been in an uproar, as hundreds of local residents have taken it upon themselves to protect the communities and neighborhoods they love.

I was not in the area when the original Sherwood Meadows Apartments project was proposed, but I know that the item looked much different back then than it does now. A higher number of units are now being planned, with a potentially greater impact on the surrounding neighborhoods and roadways.

The people who live near the proposed construction site did not merely grumble to each other about the situation they found themselves in; they formed committees, met with attorneys and came, en masse, to Hamburg Planning Board meetings with surprising regularity.

I have to tip my hat to these local residents. They have jobs, kids and responsibilities, but they took time out of their days to hear what the board had to say and to plead their case on behalf of their families and neighborhoods.

I do not think that the Sherwood Meadows Apartments complex is necessarily a bad idea. As a resident of another community who is trying to move into Hamburg, I know that there are limited options available and am glad that the town is growing enough to warrant a new community of this size.

I believe the planning board’s assurances that the construction will take place in a properly-zoned area and also do not think that it is my call to judge whether or not someone else’s planned project is needed.

However, it is hard to argue with those who are scared that their quiet neighborhood streets will be subject to such a high amount of traffic that their kids can no longer play outside and that they will no longer be able to peacefully enjoy walks and runs in their own neighborhood.

Surely something else could be done about the traffic leaving Sherwood Meadows. Again, I have no background in this matter, but it seems to make sense that adding a whole new neighborhood would also warrant the creation of a new street, to handle the generated vehicular traffic. Any time I have witnessed construction like this, I have also seen the creation of new roadways to accommodate the additional residents.

It is good to express these concerns, as individuals who live near proposed sites can shed light on issues that may not have occurred to board members.

I would caution the concerned community members to be careful to keep their passions in check, however. I have learned that taking the appropriate channels to calmly present my opinions and requests goes much farther than do snap reactions and angry judgments.

The kind of hate mail that Peter Reszka received and recently read in a planning board meeting is completely unprofessional and unproductive. Not only does it cast a negative light onto everyone represented by the author, but it also hinders good relationships between the planning board and the grieved community members.

I was sad to hear the applause that rose from the gathering of people who heard Reszka read the letter that he had received. I can understand how upsetting that it must be to feel that your voice is not being heard and that your community will be uprooted, but people are still people and feelings can still be hurt.

Despite the avalanche of information that they have received and what must be stacks and stacks of correspondences that they have had to cipher through, the planning board members have been poised, throughout the entire process, and I commend them for that.

I was encouraged to hear Member Sasha Yerkovich (echoed by all of the other members) express that she wanted to take the community members’ concerns seriously and obtain more information about potential local traffic issues before making a judgment about the apartment complex.

It takes a lot of guts to sit on a local board and face constituents who may not approve of the decisions you are making. I applaud the members of this board for listening to their voting populace and not giving their stamp of approval to a project, simply to make the matter go away.

The board tabled the issue for now, and ordered a positive declaration to be drawn up. This document indicates that the action “may result in one or more significant environmental impacts and so will require the preparation of an [environmental impact statement] before agency decisions may be made,” according to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The board will discuss the complex in further detail at its Sept. 18 meeting. I am sure I will see many community members there and look forward to hearing more productive conversations about this local proposition.

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