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Local residents not satisfied with changes to Sherwood Meadows Apartments proposal

HAMBURG — The town hall’s courtroom was filled to capacity on Jan. 22, as the proposed Sherwood Meadows Apartment was once again brought before the Hamburg Planning Board.

Explaining the recent history of the project was Sean Hopkins of Hopkins & Sorgi PLLC, who led the board members and audience through the complex’s growth from 128 proposed apartment sites to 224, plus three single-family homes.

The decision to change the project again was announced at the board’s Dec. 4 meeting, and after the developer had released plans to purchase a portion of the Hopevale School property on which to build a new 1,200-foot public roadway into the project.

“Previously, there would have been only one means of access to the project,” Hopkins explained, indicating the roadways through Roundtree Village. “Despite the fact that studies demonstrated that such an arrangement would not result in negative impacts to the local area, the public and the board expressed concern about it.”

He again explained that the planning board’s role was to determine whether or not the project complies with the zoning code, not if the members like the proposal. “R-3 zoning permits it, and would actually allow for three-story buildings,” he said, “but my client is not interested in that.”

According to Hopkins, the new access to Howard Road “will relieve the pressure off of Heatherwood and the surrounding roadways.”

He said that Erie County has expressed its doubts that the existing sewer system could handle the additional use from the project, but said that, if an upgrade is required, the developer, David Burke of DATO Development, would be solely responsible for the cost.

Despite the recent changes and the fact that Hopkins said that all individuals neighboring the project have been “nothing but respectful,” he commented, “There are a lot of people here. Mr. Burke is not comfortable being at the center of controversy, so he has made a major concession.”

Hopkins announced that Burke has decided to eliminate 96 apartments along the new roadway and replace them with 29 single-family homes, if some requests are met.

“We would like to meet with [the community’s] counsel and reach a consensus,” Hopkins said. “If we can, we will make this concession and eliminate the multi-family structures on the Hopevale property. We realize people would like us to go back to the 56 townhouse plan. That will not happen.”

The attorney said that, if a consensus is not reached, Burke will ask the planning board to approve the existing proposal, with no changes.

“You can negotiate with the neighbors all you want, but it will still be this board’s decision,” warned Planning Consultant Andrew Reilly.

Steven Ricca of Jaeckle Fleischmann & Mugel LLP, the newly retained counsel for the Roundtree Homeowners Association, said that he has never before seen a project with so many potential issues, and reminded the board of its duties under the SEQR process.

“You must determine if the project may result in a significant impact,” he said. “The numbers are inadequate to capture the quality of life.”

While the planning board had agreed to issue a positive declaration about the project, “for some reason, that was never done,” Ricca said. “I am asking you to do so. The next step could be to hold a public scoping session, so the public can agree about what should be in the environmental impact study.”

The attorney stressed that the impact of this project would extend even beyond the local community. “The [traffic study results] defy common sense,” he said. “We cannot predict where vehicles will go. Who will pay for roadway impacts during construction? Discussions about children and school buses need to be had. Where will stop signs be located? There is no data regarding the history of accidents here. What about future development phases?”

He also reminded the board that the proposed project will take until the fall of 2018 to complete. “How would you like to live near that [construction]?” he asked.

After mentioning several other concerns of his, relating to wet ponds and their safety for children, a demand for community services, and sanitary waste generated by the apartments, Ricca said, “There is an ample basis to conclude that the project presents a potential for a significant environmental impact. Please issue a positive declaration.”

The floor was opened to any local residents who wished to express their opinions about the Sherwood Meadows Apartments project.

Ken Radens asked for a show of hands, to see how many in the audience supported the proposal. “Why are we here?” he asked, after receiving a unanimous response against the project. “We win. I don’t see anybody who wants it. Whatever happened to majority rules? Now, it’s the powerful that rules.”

Reilly explained that, “if we turned down this project because of public opposition, we would lose in court. It would be the worst thing we could do for you. This board can’t base its decision on public opinion. We have to have reasons.”

Radens quoted The Buffalo News as recently reporting that the Frontier School District is under “moderate fiscal stress,” and said that he is concerned about the additional number of students that will be generated by the project.

Brian Wittmeyer, who lives near the new roadway location, said that he has replaced three mailboxes in four years. “One day, a car could hit not just my mailbox, but one of my children,” he said. “Adding more traffic will only make it more dangerous. No traffic study will convince me otherwise. It will open the town up to lawsuits. You need to factor in the safety of residents.”

Terri Schelter told the board that a new roadway was never a good solution. “The success of a town comes from everyone working toward common goals, while preserving what is good,” she said. “This project would forever change the character of our development.”

Michael Edwards said that he “did not buy my house 14 years ago, anticipating having to sell it because an apartment complex was casting shadows in my backyard. It is going to change the value of my home. I can’t imagine that putting up a two-story apartment building will make my property value go up.”

Robert Biondi asked the board to consider the “emotional side” of the neighborhood. “I hear that Hamburg is the town friendship built,” he said. “I’m beginning to believe it’s the town money and greed built. Roundtree’s character attracted us in the first place. That could be lost forever.”

Steven Dickey said that the complex could bring unwanted characters such as pedophiles and drug users to the local neighborhood. “It’s a square peg in a round hole,” he said.

After all interested parties had presented their concerns to the board, Reilly updated the audience about future plans for the Hopevale school building, which has been purchased by Randolph Academy.

The planning board tabled the Sherwood Meadows Apartments proposal.

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