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QUEST FOR 2ND GRANT BRIGHTENS HOPE FOR NATURE TRAIL

A nature trail hugging one of Orchard Park's upscale subdivisions is one step closer to being created after the Town Board decided Wednesday night to pursue a second grant for the project.

The town already had received a $60,000 state grant for construction of the Eagle Heights nature trail, and board members voted 4-1 to apply for an additional $78,900 grant from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The town has set aside $150,000 of in-kind services, labor, material and property to match the grants.

A number of Eagle Heights residents were skeptical of the proposal as Town Engineer Michael Merritt explained the particulars Wednesday. It would cost about $233,000 to complete the trail, he said.

"We bought there because it was very private," one resident said.

"A lot of people moved here so they don't have to deal with people right in their back yards. I think you should consider that," said another.

Neighbors also said they were concerned that the trail would attract vandals and bring crime to their community. They said teenage drinking parties already are a problem in that area.

The nature trail will run from Jewett Holmwood Road along Smokes Creek up to Knob Hill, Merritt said.

Orchard Park started banking the land in the 1960s when Eagle Heights was being built, he said. The town already owns about 46 of the acres needed for the trail, and the developer of the next phase of Eagle Heights is to donate eight additional acres. Seven wooden bridges would be built across the creek. The trail will be about 20 feet wide with a 5-foot-wide path, he said.

"It would be open to recreational uses all year round. It's not going to be well-suited for jogging or power walking," he said. "We think this can be designed to minimize any impact on neighbors."

"I'm very much concerned about the maintenance cost of the trail," Mills said, adding that he did not want to compromise the quality of life for residents. "At this point in time, maybe it's too aggressive."

"I think . . . one of the most fiscally responsible things we can do is offer a recreation trail to residents," Supervisor Toni Cudney said. "This is low-cost and low-maintenance. It is one of the most beautiful areas of the town."

"These lands were set aside for a particular reason, and I think this is it," Councilman Stanley Jemiolo said.

Also on Wednesday night, the board reluctantly repealed the ordinance banning political signs.

"I don't believe there will be a big increase in the number of signs," said Chris Sasiadek, the Orchard Park High School senior who challenged the ordinance after the town said last fall that his Ralph Nader sign was illegal. "We can't ban everything we think is tacky."

"I admire the young man," said Ed Martindale of Lawrence Place, but he said he supports the sign ordinance.

"It's clear this kind of an ordinance cannot stand the constitutional challenge," Town Attorney Leonard Berkowitz said.

"The constitutional law seems to be colliding with common sense," said Councilman David Buyer.

The leaders of the town Republican, Democratic, Conservative and Independence parties pledged Wednesday night not to use political signs.

"We believe that this agreement will allow Orchard Park to maintain its character and beauty, especially during the beautiful autumn season," said Thomas Glenn, chairman of the town Democratic Party.

Also Wednesday, the board decided that the proposed Tops Market on Southwestern Boulevard could have a significant adverse environmental impact. It directed the developer, Benderson Development Corp., to prepare a draft environmental-impact statement. Issues to be considered include the impact on traffic, community services, noise and odor, and how the community would be affected if the airport adjacent to the property is closed.

Benderson wants to build a 158,244-square-foot retail plaza for the supermarket adjacent to Kmart near Routes 24 0/2 77.

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