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Confusion reigns during public hearing Monday at Hamburg Town Board

Monday’s (July 15) meeting of the Hamburg Town Board brought plenty of reaction from residents regarding the adjustment of a code that spells out accepted and prohibited natures of businesses within the town’s C-2 – or “General Commercial District.” A public hearing before the meeting even featured a statement from Buffalo Sabres forward and Angola native Patrick Kaleta, who spoke about the possibility of his foundation purchasing the former Walmart site to be utilized as a sports complex and educational center for underprivileged youths.

The Town Board voted 2-1 to amend Hamburg’s code to label for C-2 zoned areas “light assembly” parameters in regards to businesses functioning. Town Board Member Joseph Collins voted against the measure, voicing his disagreement with various wording as part of the code specifications. The code’s amendment also specifies that assembling at hypothetical businesses must take place in an enclosed building, with the consideration of nearby residents and the surrounding environment.

Constraints on noise, odors and smoke/pollutants are said to be incorporated as part of the amendment, according to Town Planning Consultant Drew Reilly.

“We have a lot of large commercial structures that people want to do retail in,” said Reilly, who added that C-2 zoning had previously allowed many hopeful businesses of moving forward locally with their plan, although Monday’s action clears up loose ends as part of the code. “From an environmental standpoint, (the C-2 zoning amendment) is more restrictive than other uses. We’ve missed (the code adjustment) in the past. We’re codifying something that we should’ve done previously.

“I explain in the (recommendation of code review) that it’s a positive impact,” Reilly said in regards to the code adjustment. “We’ll have the ability to fill larger, empty buildings in town. It’s not going to change the character of the neighborhood. We see no negative impact.”

One possible beneficiary of Monday’s code adjustment approval is Worldwide Protective Products, owned by Matt Stucke and two others. Stucke was present at Monday’s meeting and described his manufacturing and sewing company as a productive local business that would serve as a benefit to the Hamburg community. Both Worldwide Protective and Kaleta’s group had previously bid on the former Walmart site, with Reilly describing the situation involving Kaleta’s group as one that involved a handling error on his part, apologizing for the resulting confusion of the site’s availability. The town planning consultant stated that Town Code Enforcement Officer Kurt Allen had originally outlined the Kaleta group’s proposal as allowable per code, but that Reilly had suggested at that time a code adjustment to further specify parameters. It was added that resolutions regarding the Kaleta proposal had mistakenly not been pre-filed.

The resulting confusing scenario left Kaleta’s group unable to obtain the property. An attorney speaking on behalf of Kaleta’s group Monday stated that a substantial bid of $1.2 million had been offered to start the bidding process, with Kaleta’s group allegedly being the only bidder at that time that passed code qualifications as being a viable buyer. Upon denial, a protesting petition was generated, and Kaleta said he went door-to-door in Hamburg to obtain residents’ signatures on behalf of his group’s hopeful project.

“We want to give kids and the surrounding area the same chance I had growing up,” said Kaleta, who described his planned purchase to include installing a field house, two regulation-sized ice rinks and an education center for children having hardships financially, developmentally or otherwise. “It’s a chance to maybe play some day for the Buffalo Bills or Buffalo Sabres. “I went door to door, and no one said ‘No’ (to the project). It’s great knowing that I have support of people in the area, as well as my (Sabres) teammates, who would love to see it.”

The attorney representing Kaleta’s group added that mistakes made on the part of Hamburg’s officials are behind the project not moving forward. Additionally, some confusion seemed to result from a simple majority (2-1) vote approving the code adjustment, not what the super majority (unanimous) vote that Collins said needed to occur for approval, following a petition that was issued. Town Attorney Kenneth Farrell stated that a town-wide petition filed in regards to a zoning code amendment does not meet the threshold of a super majority vote on the matter. The amendment was made done via officially repealing a Local Law No. 2, while adding specific wording and a Local Law titled No. 7 that addresses “Coding.”

Although it was stated that Walmart had subsequently accepted the bid submitted from Worldwide, various residents spoke in favor of the premise behind Kaleta’s proposal. Gary McAndrews, who serves as president of the Southtowns Hockey League, said the opportunity to have two rinks available in Hamburg is one that local residents would appreciate.

“It would help not only Hamburg residents but also those in West Seneca and Orchard Park,” said McAndrews. “The learning center would help a lot too. Recreation and ice time may not be available (locally) now. It’s very detrimental to the area if this (proposal) doesn’t go in.”

Other parents and hockey advocates in the audience spoke repeatedly about the lack of ice time available locally, stating the current need to drive as far as Wheatfield and other further locations for practice time. It was also stated that Hamburg and Frontier hockey programs regularly practice as late at 10 p.m. because of limited ice time locally.

Hamburg Town Supervisor Steven Walters said the concept behind Kaleta’s project is positive.

“I don’t think anyone here is saying (the Kaleta group’s proposal to install a sports complex and education center) is not a good idea,” said Walters. “I think it’s a great project. I talked to Pat’s dad and said we’d help any way we could.”

The supervisor added that residents’ comments should be directed exclusively to the board regarding the code adjustment, not about what project should or shouldn’t be taking place. Town resident Laura Podkulski stated that she hopes any code adjustments will not allow for noisy or cumbersome manufacturing companies to invade the privacy of nearby residents.

“I’m concerned what could go there,” said Podkulski. “We already live on top of a Tops. Please, do not allow this to happen. We’re begging. It’s not the right area.”

Reilly stated during the meeting that the aesthetics and character of neighborhoods in Hamburg would not be adversely affected following the code amendment. Rather, he says, the adjustment simply puts on the books what had already been in place.

Tim Wood, who is the co-owner of Bounce Magic, reminded residents during public comment session that the only change under the C-2 zoning amendment is simply implementing a better understanding of the parameters allowed in the zoning area.

Stucke also stated to residents that similar sewing and design businesses currently operate on McKinley Parkway and Camp Road, among several local sites for such occupation.
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