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Clarence frets Main may become traffic nightmare Development causes worry

Main Street, already the scourge of Williamsville pedestrians, to say nothing of e rush-hour commuters, is making a whole new set of enemies.

You'll find them in Clarence, trapped in their SUVs amid all the Amherstlike traffic as more pharmacies, doughnut shops, office buildings and the like pop up.

"We want it to remain Hometown America as much as we can," Clarence Councilman Joseph Weiss said of Main Street. But it's difficult.

"People have the right to build on their property," he said.

A recent flap over a proposed Dollar General Store on Main shows the difficulty the town faces now in maintaining its image as an upscale enclave that people and businesses flock to.

Homeowners near the proposed Dollar General are ready to do battle against it, saying the store -- part of a proposed 15,000-square-foot plaza -- will bring more traffic and doesn't fit in with the ambience of Clarence.

And the store isn't needed anyway, some say.

"Why not a Spot Coffee?" said Marie Janzow, a homeowner in Clarence's Pineledge neighborhood, which is across from the Dollar General site and not far from historic Clarence Hollow.

"We don't need another Dollar Store," she said. "We still have a chance to keep this a beautiful and charming place. We need to be smart about what we bring in here."

For now, the Dollar General project is on hold while the builder, Steven Development, prepares more information for the Planning Board.

At any rate, talk has started about imposing a building moratorium along Main Street in hopes of figuring out what, if anything, can be done about the look of the road and the increasing traffic on it.

Those discussions are in the earliest stages, said Town Supervisor Kathleen Hallock. The Town Board has ordered the Planning Board to study both issues first.

That task hasn't started yet, but it will soon, said Planning Board Chairwoman Pat Powers. "It is long overdue," she said.

Part of the problem is that, in terms of how Main Street looks, there is little that can be done. It is already a crazy quilt of styles.

Down-on-their-luck motels dot the route, as do worn-looking plazas, for instance.

Planning Director James Callahan says developing an "architectural overlay," like those used to protect the historic hamlet of Clarence Hollow, might help.

Such an overlay could mandate, for instance, that new construction be done in Colonial or Federalist styles, as opposed to the "big-box" look that dominates Transit Road.

Main Street traffic is also a tricky issue. It certainly is on a lot of minds these days, now that the Walgreens/office building complex has started construction -- and worsened traffic backups.

Critics note the project is at the hectic intersection of Main Street, Sheridan Drive and Thompson Road.

Once completed, the complex will send roughly 64 cars in and 74 out onto Main Street during the evening rush hour -- a time that already sees 778 vehicles an hour traveling in the area.

For a community unaccustomed to traffic, that is plenty frustrating. Yet, that section of Main Street's capacity is actually 1,240 vehicles an hour, according to the state Department of Transportation.

Bylewski, however, said some relatively simple steps can be taken to draw cars off the street. For instance, the town can make sure new developments share driveways and parking lots so drivers don't dart in and out of Main Street just to reach the shop next-door.

But it seems unlikely such measures can significantly offset the impact of more traffic. "I'm not sure it is the total answer for everybody," said Hallock.
Not everyone, however, thinks Main Street Clarence is destined to become the next Main Street Williamsville -- one of Erie County's most congested and detested commuter corridors.

Clarence just doesn't have the potential to grow that much, said Victor Martucci, vice president of land development for Marrano/Marc Equity and a Pineledge homeowner.

The University at Buffalo North Campus was a catalyst for growth in Amherst, he said.

"There's nothing like that in Clarence," he added.

Moreover, about 70 percent of the town doesn't have sewers. That, he said, is another development roadblock.

"Clarence," he said, "will never be Amherst."

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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