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A plan to rezone five West State Street homes to commercial land will not require an environmental impact study, a Common Council committee decided Tuesday.

In a 5-1 vote, the committee found no significant environmental impact, sending the matter up to the full Council for the rezoning decision Dec. 8.

Ward Six Alderman Gary "Casey" Jones, who represents the residents in the affected neighborhood, cast the lone opposing vote.

The petition for rezoning came from four property owners, some of whom operate businesses in houses on the 1.8 acres affected. Those uses have continued as a result of variances or grandfathering, but one couple, Adel and Jehen Al-Humadi, want to convert another residence into a diet center.

A past application for a variance was denied by the city's Zoning Board of Appeals and in a preliminary action Oct. 19, the Olean Planning Board recommended the Common Council approve the rezoning petition.

The properties are located on the edge of a residential pocket between 25th and 26th Streets. The property fronts are in an area along West State Street which has seen a high rate of commercial development in recent years.

According to background information prepared by the city's attorney and reviewed for aldermen by Community Development Director Richard Sauer, the area contains no significant environmental issues and the change in use is consistent with the neighborhood.

But Jones argued the Planning Board's October recommendations were based on erroneous information, insisting the area contains deer habitat. The Planning Board Environmental Assessment form was not dated and that technicality makes the document illegal, he added.

"I'm telling you these people (in the neighborhood) are being taken advantage of," Jones said.

He later asked the public to speak against the proposal during an upcoming review to be scheduled by the Cattaraugus County Planning Board. That board's recommendation is not binding. Later Tuesday, during a formal session of the Common Council, Mayor James P. Griffin reported more than $19,000 have been spent defending the city in a lawsuit filed by the Chamber of Commerce of Olean and Vicinity.

In action Tuesday night, the Council authorized a $4,289.20 payment to the law firm of Hodgson Russ and Andrews for advice on environmental issues surrounding the city's approval for Benderson Development Companies proposal for an Eckerd drugstore. That payment is part of the $19,000 expenditure in the lawsuit which resulted in dismissal in the city's favor in early September.

In other action, the Council:

Rescheduled its December 22 meeting to 8 p.m. Dec. 15.

Prohibited parking on Laurens and South Streets on Friday between 5 and 10 p.m. to improve safety during the annual Santa Clause Lane Parade taking place on North Union Street from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

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