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VILLAGE RESIDENTS AIR CONCERNS OVER SPECIAL-EXCEPTION ZONING

Officials in the village of Orchard Park met with residents of several neighborhoods Monday night to hear concerns about the future of special-exception use permits in the village, with some residents suggesting the exceptions be eliminated.

The village is holding a series of neighborhood meetings to decide the future of zoning in the village and has imposed a six-month moratorium on special-exception use permits while it studies the issue.

Some of the questions raised at the two Monday meetings included encroaching businesses in residential neighborhoods and whether in-home businesses, medical offices, in-law apartments, two-family homes and multiple dwellings should be allowed in residential neighborhoods.

Dorothy Moran of Orchard Park said the solution goes beyond what should be allowed.

"The real solution is to eliminate special exceptions," she said. Many residents agreed, complaining that enforcement by the village of existing regulations is inadequate.

"What you're saying is, 'If we can't enforce it, we shouldn't allow the exception,'" Trustee Andrew Hilton III said. "If we can't enforce the loophole, then don't have the loophole."

Another issue raised by the residents was the lack of accountability for the zoning decisions.

"What concerns me is the people we vote for are not the ones making the decisions that affect our lives," Robert J. Lane Sr. said, suggesting the board reverse the process used now and authorize elected officials to make the final decision in zoning exceptions, instead of the Planning Board.

Mayor Patricia Dickman defended the Planning Board, saying the existing system "facilitates and expedites a time frame, instead of making people wait."

Lane said he moved to Orchard Park from Williamsville about 18 years ago.

"Williamsville used to be a village like Orchard Park is now," he said. Putting in special-exception uses for doctors offices and the like "could destroy residential neighborhoods in this community," he said.

John Mills, an Orchard Park Town Board Member and village resident, cautioned that the village should be careful to balance the tax base. "You've got to be careful," he said. "Make sure you've got a balance."

Village Attorney John Bailey said residents should keep in mind special-exception uses are not variances but permitted uses that need approval if they affect a neighborhood.

"We are a very small and very fragile neighborhood," June Kreutzer said. "You have to stop nibbling away at our area. How many ways can you come at us and still leave a neighborhood?"

"We need to draw a line," Jim Snyder said. "This is a residential area."

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