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Residents form group to block housing development Wheatfield homeowners elect officers, raise funds to fight proposed low-income town home project

About 200 residents were told Thursday night that a proposed low-income housing development would be fought in the courts and in the voting booths.

Organizers of Wheatfield Residents Action Committee told a full house in Adams Volunteer Fire Hall that in order to stop the 64-unit Town Homes at Shawnee Landing, the group needed the crowd's attention, signatures, letters, legwork, voices and cash.

The residents committee was born in early December in response to a published legal notice on the project's funding.

The project mushroomed into a controversy, touching enough nerves to draw a large crowd of residents out of their homes on a weeknight to elect officers and raise more than $1,200.

The proposed housing development between Klemer and Shawnee roads is designed to offer affordable apartments of as many as four bedrooms to low-income tenants. The $9.9 million project, which is currently under construction, is being developed by Belmont Shelter Corp., Buffalo businessman Paul Granville and The Church at Shawnee Landing.

Opponents argue that the new housing would adversely impact drainage, result in congested traffic and crowd Niagara-Wheatfield Central School District classrooms. Ultimately, the project will depreciate property values, opponents believe. Many contend a project designed for low-income families does not fit into a neighborhood of homes valued at $200,000 to $400,000. During public meetings on the project, residents have said they are concerned about the type of tenants who would live in the apartments.

The project also has raised the race issue. Unsigned fliers stuffed into 30 mailboxes in mid-December warned the project would bring people "of all colors." Also, racial remarks were made by some attending a meeting of the Town Board on Dec. 11.

However, committee organizers Thursday night said their commitment is to a diverse community that is open to "any and all groups," according to a written release.

Steve Kishel of Trails End, who was elected president of the group, said previous accounts of residents' remarks were not representative of the committee.

"These are our neighbors. These are our homes," Kishel said. "We don't want to stop development. We want to make sure we hold elected officials accountable. Right now we need to come together."

He and others said the committee would target town officials up for election in November, including the supervisor, councilmen and their appointments on the Planning Board.

Buffalo attorney Richard Lippes, who has represented at least one other neighborhood group opposed to a housing development in Wheatfield, has been hired to represent the committee. And Kishel said the group would be seeking a federal injunction to stop the project.

One persistent question asked by opponents is when and why the project was changed from one designed for senior citizens to one for low-income residents.

Longtime resident John Daniels of Starling Court told organizers he believes town officials were lax in notifying the public of meetings where issues were voted on. He urged residents to both vote and attend town meetings.

"Start voting," he said. "Get off your duffs."

Committee Vice President Chris Carbone said the fight against the project will probably end up costing $12,000 to $15,000, with 10 percent of the price tag covered thus far. If 300 homeowners donate $40 each, he reasoned, the group would be set.

Committee organizers took credit for a number of actions taken by officials since the project became controversial, including: a short-lived moratorium on construction in the town; closing Klemer Road for use by construction vehicles going to the project; and the request by Supervisor Timothy E. Demler that all federal funding be withheld until drainage and traffic concerns are resolved.

James Ward, a representative of State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, said Maziarz would support any request by Demler to pull state funding for Shawnee Landing.

"The process is broken," Kishel said. "We have to fix the process. We put them in office. Our voice in '07 will be heard loud and clear."

e-mail: niagaranews@buffnews.com

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