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PLAN TO WIDEN BOULEVARD IS DECRIED RESIDENTIAL SECTION NEIGHBORS FEAR LOSS OF LAWNS, TREES

It's a busy 1.2-mile stretch of road that can take traffic from Main Street in Buffalo to retail outlets in the suburbs in just a few minutes.

And although Niagara Falls Boulevard between Kenmore Avenue and Eggert Road may be just a connecting route for some, it is also a neighborhood -- the only residential section along the boulevard's commercial corridor linking Erie and Niagara counties.

The 1.2-mile section of the boulevard splits the towns of Tonawanda and Amherst. It has quaint homes with neat lawns, mixed with a few long-time businesses. It is not always a quiet area, but it is home for about 75 residential property owners.

That is why some residents along that strip of Niagara Falls Boulevard are upset about a state Department of Transportation preliminary proposal to widen their road over the next three years.

"This is a neighborhood," said Denise Horbowicz, who lives on the corner of Niagara Falls Boulevard and Lincoln Park Drive. "It's a busy street, we all know that, but don't turn it into the Boulevard Mall."

The $5.3 million plan proposes to add a center lane for left turns along the four-lane stretch of road, since rear-end accidents along that section have become a safety concern, DOT officials said. Work would be done in 1997 and 1998.

Residents are worried about losing trees and part of their front lawns to the project. A major concern, as was the case with neighborhoods that have faced similar proposals, is an increase in traffic speed and the road's new close proximity to houses.

Not all the homes would lose frontage, but those that do could lose from eight to 13 feet, according to Ms. Horbowicz, who has become an unofficial residents' spokeswoman, along with neighbor Annette DiDomizio.

Arlene Powell's house is on the corner of the boulevard and Highland Drive. She has lived there for 15 years and on nice days, her two young grandsons play on the front lawn.

"I worked a long time to buy this house, and now they're going to push me to the back of it," Ms. Powell said.

The residents say repave the road. Re-stripe it, work on the drainage, even lower the speed limit on the road, but don't widen it.

Hector's Hardware & Paint Co. has been in business on the boulevard for more than 40 years. Store owner Carlos Chameli said he would lose about 10 feet of the store's small parking lot due to the widening. Store access on to the boulevard probably would be cut from 45 feet to 30 feet, with grass and a sidewalk filling in a portion of the lot, Chameli said.

"I need this," he said pointing to his parking lot. "I don't need grass and a sidewalk."

Kevin Farry, assistant regional design engineer with DOT, said there are a lot of misconceptions about the proposal, and concern about the road being closer to people's homes is "really not the case" for some people.

Farry said if DOT officials spend a little time with the homeowners, they can come up with a design that would suit both parties. The neighborhood is doing a good job of letting officials know what they want, he added.

Neighborhood opposition is expressed by large signs on the lawns: "Save the Boulevard & Tax Dollars" and "I Don't Want a Wider Boulevard." They are similar to strategies used by residents on Harlem Road, between Main Street and Sheridan Drive, in Amherst, who faced a similar widening proposal last year.

"I said to my brother, 'Give me some wood I'm putting up a sign,' " Ms. Horbowicz said. "It worked for Harlem Road."

The state recently worked out a proposal that seemed to be agreeable to the Harlem Road residents.

If anything good has come out of the Niagara Falls Boulevard proposal it is that neighbors are starting to know one another, whether it is the store owner across the street or the elderly couple seven houses away.

"That's one good thing that's come out of it," said Susan Bookhagen. "Now I know almost all my neighbors."

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