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Green projects aired for ex-developmental center site

A cluster housing development. Green infrastructure. Reusing existing roadways.

Those were just a few of the ideas bantered about Wednesday night at the third of four public sessions designed to generate input into how West Seneca can best put to use the 439-acre site that formerly housed the state-run West Seneca Developmental Center.

Dean W. Gowen, a local landscape architect who developed a green project on a two-acre site at Chautauqua Institution and is leading a team developing a park on Buffalo's outer harbor, made his pitch for similar measures but on an even grander scale in West Seneca.

"It's a no brainer," Gowen said. "It just makes good sense to consolidate things nowadays -- treat things holistically."

"If you do it naturally then it's sustainable for seven generations down the road."

Gowen outlined what could become a framework for a future town master plan of the parcel.

Chief among his ideas was just being smart about development.

"Think outside the box," Gowen advised, explaining that rather than spreading out homes on large lots, make lot sizes smaller, consolidating a future neighborhood on the site. That could allow for greater surrounding natural space and even increase property values. "The value of the homes goes much higher because they have an open environmental space adjacent to the development in perpetuity," he said.

How the town zones the property will mean a lot in how it intends to control growth or guide development, he said.

Gowen also detailed plans for "green infrastructure," which would provide "sustainable development opportunities" on the site. Rain gardens or bio-swales could help alleviate stormwater runoff.

Using "permeable pavements" on roads, native plantings as well as solar and wind power were other ideas to consider, he said.

"We need to get creative, especially with a property like this," Gowen said.

Many of the 30 or so residents in attendance Wednesday overwhelmingly seemed to favor natural uses for the land.

Evelyn Hicks, chairwoman of the West Seneca Environmental Commission, reiterated that it's essential for town residents to get involved in the process.

Hicks encouraged residents to urge state officials to move forward with a request from the Department of Environmental Conservation to acquire more than 100 acres of the property -- much of it with scenic views overlooking the gorge and Cazenovia Creek -- from the State Dormitory Authority, which currently owns the land.

The final meeting of this series of workshops will be held at 7 p.m. March 14 in the West Seneca Senior Citizens Center, 4620 Seneca St.