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Town of Tonawanda seeking input on waterfront plans

A parcel at a time, property along the Town of Tonawanda waterfront has been targeted for rehabilitation and reuse by developers and municipal officials.

With both efforts continuing along mostly separate but related tracks, residents are invited to a public meeting Thursday to discuss the future of the roughly 6-mile-long waterfront area. The session begins at 7 p.m. in the Noco Pavilion in Sheridan Park, 450 Ensminger Road.

One focus of the meeting will be the proposed Tonawanda Brownfield Opportunity Area, which represents more than 100 parcels stretching from the Cherry Farm, a remediated former landfill south of the South Grand Island bridges, to the former Spaulding Fibre site in the City of Tonawanda.

Last year, the town was awarded a $60,000 grant from the Department of State toward a three-phase process to rehabilitate the area. The grant funded the first phase, creating an areawide revitalization and cleanup strategy for brownfield, vacant, abandoned and underutilized properties. Thursday night, the draft report developed by LaBella Associates -- the town's consultant -- will be presented.

Next in the process, sites will be further analyzed and prioritized according to their potential as a catalyst for revitalization. "The Step 2 funding opportunities are much larger up to fivefold," said James B. Jones, the town's engineer.

The third step would involve the actual cleanup of sites, Jones said.

"You can really start to pick up the curtain on some of these properties," he said last week.

It's a daunting prospect, given the industrial background of many waterfront properties and the continuing environmental challenges posed by remaining industries, as well as traffic on the heavily traveled Grand Island bridges.

"It's a big elephant; you've got to start eating him somewhere," Jones said. "You just can't continue to ignore it."

A developer already has an ambitious plan for construction on an almost-3 1/2 -acre waterfront site, at 4630 River Road, within the brownfield opportunity area. A portion of the site previously was a storm water retention pond by the former Ashland petroleum refinery and was contaminated by an oil spill on adjacent property.

Earlier this year, Mark W. Tiedemann presented plans to build 16 upscale townhouses and 19 boat docks on the site, almost half of which is in the Niagara River. The project would cost between $8 million and $12 million, Tiedemann previously said.

Tiedemann, president of MWT Architecture, couldn't be reached to comment about the status of his plans. But he has filed an application, on behalf of Giuseppe Holdings LLC, to seek cleanup money from the state Department of Environmental Conservation's Brownfield Cleanup Program.

The site had been remediated to meet commercial-level cleanup standards; further cleanup is intended to meet residential standards.

The DEC is accepting comments on the application through Sept. 30 at Line is overdrawn or sent to the attention of Glenn May, project manager at the DEC's Region 9 office, at 270 Michigan Ave., Buffalo, NY 14203.

The Brownfield Cleanup Program, funded by the state, provides tax credits based on a percentage of cleanup, site preparation and capital costs, according to Megan Gollwitzer, a DEC spokeswoman.

"At this early stage in the BCP application process, it is too preliminary for us to speculate on potential project costs," she said last week.

The DEC also has to issue a protection of waters permit, which is pending, for the waterside construction.

Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is moving forward with a permit application for work affecting navigable waters. Bruce Sanders, a spokesman, said that an unvalidated permit is ready for Tiedemann.

"If he agrees with the terms and conditions, he signs it, sends it back to us and then we sign it," Sanders said. "At that point, it becomes a valid permit."

Added Joseph Rowley, the corps' project manager: "Our jurisdiction for this particular project was just docks and the associated marina structure -- the bulkhead going around it."