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BUILDING FREEZE IS APPROVED FOR 180 DAYS

A construction freeze in Williamsville was approved Monday night after a public hearing drew impassioned pleas from residents to save the integrity of their postage-stamp-sized village.

The 180-day moratorium -- targeting demolition and new commercial construction on Main Street -- was greeted with applause by the crowd that packed the Village Hall auditorium.

The resolution also directs village officials to update the master plan -- drafted in 1982 but never adopted -- that will govern growth in the historic municipality.

"The master plan must be adopted to enter the year 2000," said Village Trustee John Frese, who sponsored the resolution. "Without a master plan in place, there is no way we can preserve the integrity of the village."

The moratorium comes on the heels of an agreement signed by Benchmark Development Corp. and the owner of the Williamsville Inn outlining an option to purchase the Main Street landmark for an estimated $2 million. Earlier this month, during another Village Board session, residents expressed concern over the possibility of a Walgreen drugstore moving into the valuable corner parcel at Main and Los Robles Street.

William Regan, Benchmark attorney, urged trustees to reject the moratorium. He said Benchmark is interested in "good and positive development for the Village of Williamsville."

"No deal has been struck with Walgreens or anyone else," he said, adding that plans for the site include two freestanding buildings that would house a bank and a retail establishment.

"There would be significantly less commercial activity than there is today," he said. A moratorium would only handcuff development in the village, he added.

Fifteen of the 50 residents who attended addressed the board, raising concerns over increased traffic volume, the resulting gridlock and the commercialization of a village that is nearly 150 years old.

Charles Ciotta, who operates the Village Barber at 5411 Main St., said he spent $20,000 to renovate his building and warned officials against making any "haphazard decisions" in striking a balance between business and aesthetics.

"We don't want to turn back new development on Main Street," Ciotta said. "I am not totally against Benchmark."

Ann Brown of Long Street, who backed the moratorium, said the village doesn't need another drugstore.

"We want a beautiful inn, not a drugstore," she said. "A drugstore would only gobble things up."

Benchmark is not advocating a pharmacy, Regan responded. A moratorium, he added, may close the doors to the type of tenant the village would welcome.

The freeze, which is effective immediately, also applies to internal and external renovations costing more than $30,000.

Work on the master plan will begin with the formation of a committee including merchants, residents, developers and other interested parties, Frese said.

"This has nothing to do with Walgreens," he said. "It has to do with a lot of purchasing of a lot of property in this community. That scares me."

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