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Zoning changes considered on South 25th and 26th streets

Aldermen moved legislation out of the City Operations Committee Tuesday that could preserve some single-family housing and permanently convert other structures to commercial uses in a West Olean neighborhood.

Several proposed laws discussed by the committee members aim to eliminate R-3 zoning on South 25th and 26th streets, where residences could be occupied by more than one family, with certain restrictions. If the measure is eventually approved by the Common Council, homeowners will be limited to the R-2, or single-family zoning designation.

The amendment is proposed by Mayor William Quinlan in response to a petition from residents of the neighborhood and will be the subject of a public hearing at 6 p.m. Oct. 11.

Six homes on the north end of two blocks face West State Street and already have been converted to medical offices for business use through variances or grandfathered uses. This amendment, also supported by a petition from the property owners, would change the R-3 designation for 49-53 West State St. to general-commercial.

The committee members sent this amendment to the Olean Planning Board for recommendations, with a public hearing to be scheduled at a later time. Aldermen and the mayor agreed it would be desirable to join the measure to the R-2 zoning amendment if it does not cause a delay.

Barry Gan, a resident who helped draft the city's new comprehensive plan and a candidate for alderman in Ward 4, spoke during a public comment portion of the agenda to urge other amendments soon to preserve the city's residential land use designations.

"This legislation [to amend the zone on 25th and 26th streets] was done in response to a crisis over several months," said Gan, pointing to another residential section on West State Street around the intersection of 15th Street. "It would be wise for the council to anticipate future crises and try to preserve neighborhoods."

The committee then tabled Quinlan's proposed amendment to the city code, which would make property owners liable for injuries caused by lack of maintenance or removal of garbage from sidewalks, driveways and frontage.

Several of the aldermen asked whether the amendment would affect homeowners' liability for trees and if it might lead to a dismantling of the city's practice of maintaining the trees along the streets.

Quinlan said this could be the first step in that process and pointed out the costs of removing all the problematic trees would cost taxpayers more than $500,000. He also offered to request the city attorney provide aldermen with some legal advice on the topic.

City Auditor Steve Pachla told the aldermen the amendment was suggested by insurance carriers and the city's Safety Committee as a way to lessen the city's liability.

"We're trying to shore up the language to protect the city against lawsuits," Pachla said.

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