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GRAND ISLAND TOWN BOARD DRAWS FIRE OVER SOUTHPOINTE PROJECT

On Grand Island, residents have questions about the town's commitment to its master plan: Is the plan strong enough? Enforceable in court? Does the Town Board even care?

Call it Southpointe shell shock.

That's because the group of residents -- including members of a citizens environmental group, Quality Quest -- point to the massive Southpointe planned-unit development as an example of what can happen when the Town Board does not follow its 3-year-old master plan document.

"We're going to make every effort to hold the officials' feet to the fire on this," said James Tomkins, head of Quality Quest, at a special forum on the subject Wednesday at the Nike Base on Whitehaven Road.

Southpointe, a 585-unit senior citizens community planned for construction in the town by an Ontario development firm, was approved by Town Board members in June. The board's approval came just a few months after the Planning Board voted down the project, on the grounds that it didn't fit into the master plan's vision for future growth in the town.

Now some residents, still upset that the development was approved, argue that the Planning Board was right -- the master plan should have been followed.

Many at the forum added the opinion that the Southpointe project was approved by the Town Board simply because the developers, as owners of nearly 400 acres of town land, threatened to sue the town for the way they handled the proposal.

"The little guys always get the door slammed on their noses. But sometime I think the big guys -- the big guys are a little more successful at shoving it down," said William O'Connor.

Supervisor Peter A. McMahon told the crowd of about 30 residents that the Southpointe lawsuit was a reality, not a threat. The developers' suit against the town was only officially dropped this week, he said.

In response to residents' questions, McMahon also said the town occupies a stronger legal stance if it considers proposed projects with an eye toward the town's Zoning Ordinance rather than the master plan, which currently operates as a guideline to development on the island rather than a binding document.

But Planning Board Chairman Thomas Nowak disagreed.

"The kind of pressure Southpointe put on the town was enormous. And a lot of it was political pressure," Nowak said.

Nowak said the Town Board needs to do a better job of paying attention to the master plan when making decisions. "There seems to be this feeling that, if we think it'll be good for the town, to heck with the master plan," he said. "We seem to be saying that yes, we have a wonderful master plan -- but when it suits our purposes to ignore it, we're going to ignore it."

The forum also drew Town Board members Mary S. Cooke, Michael E. Heftka, and Andrea L. Moreau, as well as county planning officials Michael J. Krasner and Chet C. Jandzinski.

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