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Unease prompts 3-week building halt

WHEATFIELD Supervisor Timothy E. Demler issued an executive order Tuesday night to halt all building projects in the town for the next three weeks, in response to a barrage of complaints about a proposed low-income housing development.

Although the order was not voted on by the Town Board and has questionable legal merit, Demler said he would direct Building Inspector Jennifer Caldwell to contact all contractors working in the town about the three-week stoppage.

Demler's order came during a contentious meeting that attracted nearly 300 residents to the Community Center to discuss the Town Homes at Shawnee Landing, a 64-unit development for low-income individuals and families.

Construction already has begun at Shawnee and Klemer roads for the $9.9 million development, which is being built by the Church at Shawnee Landing, Belmont Shelter Corp. and Buffalo businessman Paul Granville with the help of at least $600,000 in state and federal funding. The project is under the auspices of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Many residents objected to the proposal because they said that it would depreciate the value of their homes -- many in the range of $200,000 to $400,000. Traffic was the major concern, but drainage and school population also would be adversely affected, they said.

Opponents said they were concerned about the type of renters the development would attract. An unsigned flier was distributed last weekend in the area warning neighbors that the development would bring residents "of all colors."

Dozens of speakers complained about the project from the podium, with nearly as many shouting out complaints from their chairs.

At one point, Vic Baker, moderator of development for the church, was trying to read a message from the church's pastor, Jerry McGlone, that included scriptural quotations. He was heckled and jeered until he was forced to stop.

"We're not in church," several people yelled.

Toward the end of the 3 1/2 -hour meeting, Demler announced that he would issue the order to hold all building permits in the town for three weeks until the board reviewed all the comments from the meeting.

The development, which was given final Planning Board approval May 17, would offer units of one to four bedrooms. Demler said the town was led to believe that the development would be for senior citizens and the disabled only.

Michael Riegel of Belmont described Shawnee Landing as being "like any other rental development except for the income standards."

He said "25 percent of your town would qualify to live there." Residents who hold positions such as janitors, security guards and teacher's aides would be typical of those who might qualify for the apartments, which would rent for $400 to $600 a month, he said. About 95 percent of the residents would come from Wheatfield or adjoining communities, he said.

Riegel said his studies showed that the development, which is "not public housing and not subsidized housing," would have "zero effect on property values."

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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