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Attorneys go head-to-head about proposed Sherwood Meadows Apartment complex

HAMBURG — Another full room of local residents were on hand to listen to debate about the proposed Sherwood Meadows Apartments on Aug. 21, but not before Hamburg Planning Board Chairman Peter Reszka excused himself from the proceedings.

“He denies a conflict of interest, but is recusing himself, to avoid the appearance of impropriety,” said Attorney Cheryl McFadden-Zak.

Taking over as chairperson of the discussion, which was moved to the end of the meeting, in a stated effort of allowing everyone present to be heard, was Member Sasha Yerkovich.

Sean Hopkins of Hopkins & Sorgi, PLLC spoke to the audience on behalf of the applicant. He reminded those present that the board was not determining of the site is properly zoned or whether there is a need for this complex. “This does not allow you to regulate demand,” he said, to the board. “That is not an issue for you to consider.”

In 2007, the project’s 56 proposed townhouse units were approved, because the builder believed, “at the time, that it was the best use,” the attorney said. Since then, the proposal has been changed, and now includes 128 units, in eight eight-unit buildings and four 16-unit structures, as well as a total of 256 parking spaces.

“It is properly zoned,” Hopkins said, about the land. “It has been, since at least 1986. Previous comments that the applicant asked for rezoning are simply not true.”

The attorney said that the zoning would allow 31 percent more units than are being proposed, as well as three-story buildings. The applicant is currently proposing two-story structures.

According to Hopkins, the site is consistent with town’s adopted comprehensive plan and was, with the surrounding area, designated as being appropriate for high-density/mixed use.

“The town law states that planning boards and zoning boards shall consider the comprehensive plan, not dictate that boards reach specific conclusions, based on that plan,” he said. “The comprehensive plan does not supersede zoning.”

The attorney said that the project, which will be on land zoned R-3, is “consistent with site planning criteria set forth by the town of Hamburg.”

Hopkins said that State Environmental Quality Review mandates that the board identify relevant areas of environmental concern, thoroughly evaluate those impacts and issue a SEQR determination. A negative declaration would indicate that the board saw no adverse environmental impacts, with the plan. A positive declaration would force the completion of an environmental impact statement.

The Army Corps of Engineers has toured the location and will be presenting a report, soon, according to the attorney. The applicant is also waiting to hear back from Erie County about the utility capabilities.

“We are asking that you consider all evidence that you have received,” Hopkins told the board, adding that his firm will respond in writing to all public comments about the matter.

Rob Pidanick of Nussbaumer & Clarke gave the results of a traffic impact study that was done on roads surrounding the proposed project. He said that he was asked to evaluate the area as it would be at full occupancy. “The study looked at future traffic patterns,” he said.

The intersections of Camp and Howard roads, Southwestern Boulevard and Howard Road and Howard and Roundtree were studied. Pidanick said he looked at the routes residents would take, during peak hours, and determined that 56 additional vehicular trips would be taken in the mornings and 79 in the evenings. He said that he took into account that, despite being surrounded by commercial locations, the apartments would have residential neighborhoods close by.

He said that it was determined that the project would not significantly adversely impact local traffic patterns. He added that his firm will also respond to written queries about this report.

Planning Consultant Drew Reilly said that Town Supervisor Steven Walters had asked the planning board to speak about the process involved with the proposed plan, the fact that the location’s R-3 zoning was recorded in 1986 and the supervisor’s reminder that the planning board need only consider the comprehensive plan, not follow it to the letter.

Attorney Richard Berger, who was retained by individuals living in a residential neighborhood near the proposed project, said that he has met with 30 residents, to discuss the legal requirements for this site plan.

“The residents are not saying they have objects to the [original 56-unit] proposal,” he said. “There is no obligation to change that site plan. But this is a new application to drastically change what was already approved. It is an extreme and major change to the character of this site plan. We urge that it be carefully reviewed and ultimately rejected.”

He said that the proposed apartment complex is not consistent with the surrounding land uses. In addition, “it is not connected to major boulevards except via small residential streets,” he said. “A lot of traffic ... is a hazard to children. They won’t be able to use those streets for play, anymore.”

He also discussed the plan’s environmental impact and urged the board to ask for a full EIS. “Human beings are part of the environment and must also be considered,” he said. “This [plan] will result in significant changes. There is no question. That should trigger additional discussion.”

The attorney said that he is willing to speak to the board further about the issue, “to come to a better understanding and to put criticism and constructive comments to good use. We are not just coming to the meeting to bark and then ‘See you in court.’

“There is no reason to approve this,” he concluded. “This developer will do very well in continuing with the original plan.”

Breckenridge Road resident Charles Cox asked the board to keep this project from “allowing our neighborhood to become a driveway” for residents of the proposed apartment complex.

A Heatherwood Drive homeowner said that he was opposed to the plan, because it will “significantly impact the character of the neighborhood in a negative manner,” and challenged the board that “to ignore the impact will be nothing short of a dereliction of your duty.”

Terri Shelter said that she has enjoyed raising her children in the local neighborhood and seeing her neighbors walk the streets without fear. “To increase the traffic ... is very unsafe,” she said. “Please reject this new site plan.”

Another resident voiced concerns about excessive water runoff that may be caused by additional parking spaces and a Breckenridge homeowner said he is worried that the sewer system cannot support the number of proposed units. “If we don’t look at this, maybe we will all end up paying for this,” he said.

A former police officer living on Roundtree Road said that “to put more cars on that roadway would just be asking for trouble. The roads are in terrible shape. This will only exacerbate the situation.”

Albeit a Hamburg Town councilman, Joseph Collins spoke as an individual local resident, to voice his opposition to Reilly’s giving information on Walters’ behalf. “I feel this was improper,” he said, “for a presentation to be made on behalf of a town board member.”

Catherine Sullivan of Pineview Drive said that, while she has been “nothing but pleased to live here,” it “terrifies me to think what would happen if people would be brought in who have not contributed to the character of this area. The investments and pride people have put into their homes need to be accounted for.”

Robert Thomas said that the scale of the proposed complex will be “monumental, compared to the existing area.” Breckenridge Road resident Michael Edwards said that his teenagers ride their bikes on the local roads and that he is concerned that the new project will compromise their safety.

“I know all my neighbors and the cars that drive down my street,” he said. “We don’t know who these people are. These aren’t going to be our neighbors.”

He described the current residents as “passionate” and added, “We love our neighborhood. I don’t need apartment complexes in my backyard. That is not why I moved here. If you care about us, show it.”

The board tabled the proposal, for the time being.

After some discussion, the board also tabled the issue of a proposed two-lot subdivision on Burke Road, requested by Brian Bates, until a few changes to the title can be made.

As requested by the board, during an earlier meeting, changes were made to plans for a five-lot subdivision proposed at the northwest corner of Bayview Road and Big Tree Road by Dan Howard. The board had already established itself as lead agency on this project.

Since the driveway on one of the lot plans was moved as far away from the intersection as possible, per the board’s request, a negative declaration was issued.

Per Yerkovich, “The planning board determined that there is no significant impact on the environment,” and approved the preliminary plan. This project still requires final plan approval.

Regarding the Willow Woods subdivision, Reilly announced that the houses are located a minimum of 800 feet away from the nearby landfill, except one, “which will include a note for buyers, because it is closer to the landfill.” While the applicant is legally required to keep homes 50 feet from the landfill, the board had asked for additional space.

Reszka asked that the board be given a chance to read the final plan, so the project and final environmental impact statement were tabled until the next meeting.

The town of Hamburg Planning Board will next meet at 7 p.m. on Sept. 4.

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