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Proposed housing project draws neighbors' opposition

Residents, developers and town officials are to meet Tuesday to discuss a Shawnee Road housing project that some neighbors say would depreciate the value of their homes and adversely impact the area's infrastructure.

Town Homes at Shawnee Landing, a $10 million development geared for lower-income residents, will be the subject of a meeting at 7 p.m. in the community center behind Town Hall.

The project and its effect on the town drew about 28 residents to a Town Board meeting last week to complain that officials never revealed that the proposal was for low-income renters.

When it was initially proposed by Payne Avenue Christian Church of North Tonawanda in 2002, plans called for a 64-unit development at Shawnee and Klemer for the elderly and disabled.

Since the original plans were modified to include lower-income residents, some critics said the project would introduce an undesirable element into their neighborhood that would lower the property values of their $200,000 to $400,000 homes, drain services, pack classrooms and snarl traffic. Most of the complaints were not about the project but about the residents it might attract.

Michael Riegel of Belmont Shelter Corp., one of the three developers, said misconceptions about such a project are typical.

"These are not rowhouses," Riegel explained. "But this is very common when the 'NIMBY' syndrome hits. Do you know what 'NIMBY' stands for? 'Not In My Back Yard.' "

"People get very defensive because they think this is going to affect their taxes and infrastructure," he said.

"You're not going to get 'the lowest of the low'," Riegel said. "But you will get the lower middle class."

Shawnee Landing is a $9.9 million development of 11 buildings on a seven-acre site off Shawnee and Klemer roads. The buildings will include 64 residential units of one to four bedrooms each and a community building. The style will be single-story townhouses, Riegel explained.

A proposed church, a major part of the concept, will be constructed on part of the other 15 acres owned by Church at Shawnee Landing, another one of the developers.

The third developer of Shawnee Landing is Paul Granville, a Buffalo businessman, according to Riegel.

Rent at Shawnee Landing will range from $400 a month for a one-bedroom unit to $600 a month for four bedrooms. Applicants would be screened. To be eligible, an applicant's income would have to be 60 percent of the area's median income or less, he said. Annual income for a one-bedroom unit could not exceed $24,480, while income for a four-bedroom unit could not exceed $34,980.

Most of the units would be occupied by the elderly and disabled who could afford the rent. Wheatfield has a similar project off Witmer Road -- the 24-unit Niagara Village.

Riegel met with Supervisor Timothy E. Demler and Town Attorney Robert O'Toole following the board meeting to clear up what happened when the project changed from a senior citizen and disabled development to a low-income proposal. Town officials said the plans that were approved at the federal level were not the same ones shown to the town.

Riegel maintained the town was notified and everything was done in a timely manner and in compliance with regulations.

"I've been doing this for 25 years. We did submit the changes," he argued.

Demler said when the original proposal couldn't get grant funding, Belmont was brought in. About $600,000 in funding was announced by officials around Election Day.

"The church couldn't get the money for a senior citizens development so it went right to a mixed use," Demler said.

He said ideally, the town would have called a neighborhood meeting at the time to discuss the changes.

"But would it have changed things [and stopped the project]? The answer is no," Demler said.

As the project stands now, the public still has the opportunity to make comments in writing. The comments must be delivered to the town clerk at 2800 Church St. by Dec. 26. Officials said concerns such as traffic in the already congested area could be among the items residents bring up.

Demler and Riegel concurred that the meeting Tuesday would serve to educate the community, review any suggestions and make adjustments.

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