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Transit North plans pushed for upturn

While the economy slows, now would be a good time for the planners of the Transit North corridor to complete their design standards to be ready when business rebounds, officials agreed Thursday.

The financial downturn has stalled development plans for the corridor, Supervisor Marc R. Smith said at a steering committee meeting.

"As soon as the economy took a dip, the phone calls and mailers we were getting took a dip," Smith said. "Once I hear things are starting to free up again, we'll start our marketing effort again."

He said developers who had shown interest in the Lockport-Pendleton area have told him that any plans are on hold for a year or so, waiting for the economic picture to brighten.

Transit North -- the stretch of South Transit Road, Route 78, from the Erie Canal to Tonawanda Creek -- runs through the City and Town of Lockport and forms the town border between Lockport and Pendleton.

The three municipalities have been devising a unified design concept, compatible planning and zoning rules, and other standards so the gateway to Niagara County from the south shows what the planners envision as a unique character.

Smith said plans for another Transit North public forum need to be shelved for now. "I'd like to talk about exciting development, not a period of stagnation," he said.

The next step on the Transit North front will be an announcement, likely in December, on whether the state will approve the Town of Lockport application for a $1 million grant for a landscaped traffic median in the highway north of Robinson Road.

Town Planner Andrew C. Reilly said the plans call for the town, not the state, to maintain the median. He acknowledged business concern about access to driveways.

City Mayor Michael W. Tucker said the medians the city installed on Main Street drew the same kind of criticism. "Once they're in, everybody likes them. Traffic flows much better downtown. The criticism is gone," he said.

Hal Morse, executive director of the Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council, said that if the application is rejected, "We'll find out how it ranked against the criteria and strengthen it."

So far, only the Town of Lockport has adopted a design ordinance. The City of Lockport has adopted a sign ordinance that includes rules for its portion of South Transit, while Pendleton only has begun discussions, according to Supervisor James A. Riester.

Tucker said the city is willing to host a joint meeting of all three municipalities' councils and planning boards in January or February, once an agenda is established that will move the plans forward. "It'll be all new to them," he said.

Lockport Town Attorney Daniel E. Seaman said the two towns ought to follow the city in adopting sign ordinances, while Smith called on Pendleton and the city to pass design ordinances.

Since the Town of Lockport adopted its ordinance this summer, three projects have undergone design and architectural review. "It didn't add a great workload to the Planning Board," said Richard Forsey, its chairman.

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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