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West Seneca charts future in update to comprehensive plan

What comes to mind when you think of West Seneca? Maybe just a bedroom community that’s easier to pass through than visit.

Officials agree the town has a bit of an identity problem. The town was settled before villages and town centers were the norm, said Councilman Eugene P. Hart. Areas such as Ebenezer and Gardenville were founded as agricultural centers.

“When I was a kid growing up in West Seneca, I was from Ebenezer, other people were from Gardenville and that was your identity,” he said. “The town for years, even coming up forward to now, did not have an identity as Lancaster does, or Depew does or even Cheektowaga, Amherst and Williamsville because of its history.”

The Town Board this week took the first step toward improving that by unanimously approving an update to the town’s comprehensive plan after a public hearing.

“We feel that will help develop West Seneca as more than just a bedroom community,” said Hart, chairman of the update’s steering committee. “We want to attract small business and develop our industrial parks.”

First on the list of ideas is improving the aesthetics of West Seneca’s major north-south corridors and establishing the hamlet of Ebenezer as a stronger “Town Center.”

The wide-ranging update suggests a streetscape plan that includes landscaping, facade and right-of-way improvements along Union, Transit, Harlem and Orchard Park roads.

Ebenezer, centered at Union and Main Street, would be highlighted as the “heart” of the town by slowing traffic, instituting architectural guidelines and attracting investment. Officials also suggest changing zoning to allow mixed-use development, adding on-street parking and making the whole corridor more pedestrian friendly.

The update also identifies seven historic neighborhood commercial corridors in the town: Winchester, Gardenville, Bellwood, East Seneca, Reserve and the areas of Seneca Street east and west of Union Road, which are “essential to the town’s overall vitality,” according to the update.

“They’re not going to rise to the level of Ebenezer in terms of its size and importance,” said John E. Steinmetz, founder of the Steinmetz Planning Group, the town’s consultant on the project. “But each one of those historic neighborhoods is very important.”

The Town Board’s approval Monday of the update to the 2006 plan culminates a nearly two-year process to redefine the town’s vision for its future.

“Comparing the two plans, this plan is far and away superior to the original plan,” said Evelyn A. Hicks, one of 21 members of the steering committee for the update.

The update makes it easier for the town to apply for grants, and will have to be considered if the state Department of Transportation proposes changes to Union Road, a state road.

Other priorities in the update’s Community Development Strategy are:

• A mixed-use approach to future redevelopment in the area bordered by the Thruway, Ridge Road and Cazenovia Creek. This could include a “lifestyle center,” which combines retail, office and residential uses along walkable blocks. Redevelopment of the former Seneca Mall site could serve as a “catalytic project” towards redefinition of this area as a walkable lifestyle center.

• Reuse of the former West Seneca Developmental Center as part of a 500-acre “residential activity center,” which could include diverse types of residential and limited commercial uses.

• Higher-intensity business and industrial uses at North America Drive Industrial Park and other nearby areas zoned for manufacturing uses east and west of Union Road north of Route 400.

Officials want the state to build a ramp off Route 400 into the park to get truck traffic off Union Road.

• Greenways, creeks and preservation areas along the town’s many waterways. “These blueways and greenways provide opportunities for off-road east-west connections that could accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, and even kayakers across West Seneca.”

• Gateways that serve to welcome residents and visitors into the community and the Town Center.

But implementation will be the hard part, Steinmetz said.

“I sincerely hope people will say, ‘I’m interested in that. What can I do to help implement it?’ ” he said. “The hard work is what’s coming. So if they see anything of interest to them at all in the plan, contact the town.”

The 79-page document is available to view on the town website, westseneca.net.

email: jpopiolkowski@buffnews.com