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Landowner clarifies stance on zoning for theme park

The owner of land needed for the "Wizard of Oz" theme park says it has no objection to the necessary zoning changes as long as they meet certain specifications.

A representative of Cleveland-based Forest City Land Group told The Buffalo News last week that despite what a company representative said at a recent public hearing, the company does not object to the project but wants to ensure that the zoning would change only if and when the land changes hands.

Forest City owns most of the land needed for the 527-acre theme park and entertainment project that Oz Central, a limited liability corporation, has proposed for an area off River and Williams roads. The $750 million project would include indoor rides and other entertainment features, as well as a hotel and retail stores.

To allow amusements or a theme park, a hearing was held Sept. 12 to garner opinions on changing the zoning classification to manufacturing.

About 10 minutes into hearing, Sandra K. Smith, local office administrator for Forest City, told town officials that her corporate office had not consented to the zoning classification change.

Although Supervisor Timothy E. Demler and Town Attorney Robert O'Toole said their communications with the Cleveland office indicated the company had agreed, they decided to adjourn the hearing until Forest City's position could be clarified. Still, discussion continued for another hour. The hearing is scheduled to resume Oct. 17.

"Forest City is not against this project," said James Martynowski, vice president of the land group. But the company has "questions about how the zoning [change] gets put in place," and when the change takes effect.

The land now is zoned for multiple residential and commercial uses. The reclassification would permit manufacturing uses. As part of the process, the town also needs to include theme parks in the manufacturing classification.

"[Forest City] would prefer it is in effect when the land is sold," Martynowski said. "We don't need [a manufacturing zone]."

The town's zoning and development procedures would guarantee the company's wishes, Demler said. The rezoning would be contingent on the progress of the Oz project.

"The change would only take place once the site plan is submitted. That's the way we do all development plans," the supervisor said. The property transfer is expected to close by February, he said.

The supervisor also noted that the project had to move forward or the zoning could revert to its previous designation, as with all similar developments.

Most of issues raised at the hearing involved traffic and appearance.

Up to 85 percent of the traffic is expected use Niagara Falls Boulevard and the LaSalle Expressway to the Williams Road entrance, town officials said. They said the state could extend the expressway to North Tonawanda, with an exit at the park.

Residents also were told the park would incorporated buffer zones large enough to make it difficult to detect from the surrounding neighborhood. It would have no access through residential areas.

Although supportive of the project, most local officials have been somewhat reserved. Demler has acknowledged that a number of announced projects have wound up disappointing the town.

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