The proposal to rezone four areas along McKinley Parkway between McKinley Mall and Seven Corners didn't win any popularity contest Monday night.
At a 90-minute public hearing, criticism greeted the Town of Hamburg's effort to rezone a residential section from East Highland Parkway south to Seven Corners to a new category called "Hamburg commercial."
"You're spot-zoning everything all over this town, and I'm tired of it," said Victor Liberatore, the McKinley Park Inn owner, who with his brothers, owns large but narrow, section of land on the east side of McKinley across from his business. "I don't care to be a guinea pig."
Liberatore often raised his voice and dominated the hearing, which drew at least 50 people. But the Town Board is not expected to act on the rezoning plan at least until late October.
"Hamburg Commercial doesn't give us anything -- I've never seen that type of zoning in my whole life," Liberatore said.
"Benderson bought everything around us and got it rezoned," he said, referring to a developer active in the area. "We've been here 27 years."
"We're trying to be a bit progressive and visionary here, . . . and you're telling us to take a hike," Councilwoman Kathleen Courtney Hochul shot back. Liberatore disputed her remarks.
The proposed commercial district would be more restrictive than what is known as general commercial, or C2. Town officials say the switch would help provide a transition to neighborhoods that abut the properties.
The proposed changes, involving various levels of commercial zoning and some single-family residential, would eliminate office district zoning, known as C-3. The areas covered by the proposal lie on both sides of McKinley and include property owned by Mitchell Matusick, a lawyer who has renewed his request to rezone the land for less-restrictive commercial uses.
Many residents of the Dorchester, Allendale, Highland and Burke parkways neighborhoods questioned the rezoning recommendation and pleaded with the board to consider traffic congestion and ongoing drainage problems, which they said would worsen with additional development.
"This is a mistake of the worst order," said Charles Dawson, Matusick's consultant, who helped craft the town's 1962 master plan.
The town, under significant pressure for rezonings to accommodate more commercial development along McKinley south of the mall, is considering the changes to dovetail with its newly updated master plan.
The new zoning category would be a move away from heavy commercial to "a more palatable" form of commercial development, Councilman D. Mark Cavalcoli said. "It would be a better approach to protect residents and provide some commercial development," he said.
The Hamburg commercial designation would discourage typical strip development that pops up along major highways as well as discount and department stores. It also would limit buildings to less than 6,000 square feet in size and prohibit outdoor sales.
"We're trying to preclude restaurants, but would allow for speciality food shops," said Andrew Reilly of Wendel Engineering, town planning consultant.
Town officials have tried to find a solution for development and neighborhoods, Reilly said.
"What can we do to be a win-win? We proposed the Hamburg commercial," he said. "There is not easy answer here, we had to create a new zoning."
Matusick remained unimpressed with the recommended changes. "Like it or not, the McKinley Mall is a reality and is the only economic activity in this area in the last 20 years," he said. "Hamburg commercial is a nice concept, but when you get into the question of reality, it just doesn't sell. . . . It's a lot of language couched in prohibition."