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Detour downplayed on 'Oz' park plan

The procedural sojourn to the "Wizard of Oz" theme park went off course earlier this week almost as soon as it began, but town officials promised that the public hearing would be back on track next month.

About 10 minutes into Monday night's discussion regarding proposed zoning changes to make way for the projected $750 million theme park and entertainment, hotel and retail development, a question came up about whether the current landowner supported the zoning change.

Sandra K. Smith, local office administrator for Forest City Land Group, the present owners of most of the land targeted for the proposed 527-acre park, told the Town Board that her company had not consented for the land to be rezoned. She said she received word from the corporate office before the hearing.

The developer, Oz Central, a limited liability corporation, needs a large part of the property rezoned for manufacturing use to allow for the park. The board also would have to approve a resolution to permit amusement parks in manufacturing zones.

Town Attorney Robert J. O'Toole said that because of the denial by Smith, there was "an issue with the proceedings." Both he and Town Supervisor Timothy E. Demler said they were told differently by Forest City.

The hearing is scheduled to continue Oct. 17.

"We had a verbal commitment, but now we want it in writing," Demler said after the hearing. "We'll advise [Forest City] immediately."

Despite the consent issue, Demler and O'Toole said, the hearing could continue and allowed comments and questions for another hour.

The lack of a site plan map did not help the confusion some residents had regarding traffic, access roads and proximity to a former Niagara County dump.

According to Timothy G. Walck of Wendel Duchscherer Architects & Engineers, the site would be in the vicinity of Williams and River roads, east of the Conrail property, but there would be "a considerable distance between River Road and the project."

Demler said that the only access would be from Williams Road but that there would be a service entrance to Witmer Road. He promised Jagow Road residents that even though the land stretched to their area, no access to Jagow or any residential neighborhood would ever be approved.

The supervisor said he wanted to remind residents that the project did not need the rezoning but that officials wanted it so there would be "a big buffer zone" between the project and the neighborhoods.

More than 80 percent of the traffic would come from Niagara Falls Boulevard and the LaSalle Expressway, which could be extended toward North Tonawanda to allow an exit to the park, it was noted. Demler said the state Department of Transportation is overseeing that option.

Funding for the project was not addressed, but Demler said the financing is coming into place. Although the property would be tax-exempt, enough sales tax would be generated that county taxes could be cut in half, he said.

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