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Traffic issues, other impacts of Fashion Outlets expansion discussed

TOWN OF NIAGARA – Increased traffic around the Fashion Outlets of Niagara was one of the big concerns discussed Tuesday during a presentation on the proposed expansion of the shopping mall.

Members of the Town Board brought up the issue of traffic congestion and changes to traffic patterns during the hour-long discussion of the $71 million expansion with developers.

The expansion, which would add about 170,000 square feet of retail space and some 1,150 parking spots to the southwest border of the existing property, would dramatically change the appearance of the mall along Factory Outlet Boulevard, now considered to be the back entrance to the property.

“This will take the focus off of Military Road and put it onto Factory Outlet Boulevard,” Supervisor Steven Richards told Tawney M. Farmer, a project engineer with Stantec Consulting. He said later that he was concerned that the change would “turn Military Road into the back door.”

Other related concerns were that Factory Outlet Boulevard, a two-lane road that links Military Road with Niagara Falls Boulevard, is not designed to handle the expected increase in traffic to the mall.

Councilman Marc Carpenter said traffic is now backed up for blocks on Niagara Falls Boulevard from the intersection of the two boulevards. He suggested that Factory Outlet Boulevard should be wider to accommodate the cars.

During the presentation, Farmer said no traffic study has been submitted. Councilman Charles Teixeira said he would like to see the study submitted ahead of time. The board has accepted lead agency status and is expected to approve that designation at its April 30 meeting. With lead agency status for environmental quality review, the board can request information and studies.

Richards also recommended that the developers move the main entrance on Military Road from its present location at the traffic light in front of Applebee’s Restaurant north to the entrance near Marshall’s store.

Douglas Morrow, vice president of development for Macerich Co., the Santa Monica, Calif. company that owns the mall, said the company is trying to negotiate a cross connection with the Benderson Development property next door, that contains a super Walmart, for three entrances. If successful, the connections allow drivers to access either location without going to Military Road, he said.

Teixeira said he wanted the new entrances to be reviewed by town police and fire officials. Morrow said he has not contacted them yet.

As part of the expansion, Farmer noted that Secure Storage, 1755 Factory Outlet Boulevard, would be moved to another location south on the same road closer to Niagara Falls Boulevard and would be expanded from 48,000 square feet to 63,000 square feet of storage space.

She said the entire expansion would increase the mall property size from 41 acres to more than 73 acres and would include three large ponds that would act as drainage detention sites to control outflow.

Most of the board members lauded the project as an opportunity for the area to attract more business and tourists from around the country and Canada.

Morrow said the expansion, expected to be completed in the fall of 2014, aims to compete with major retail projects in Canada that are to be done at the same time.

Without the project, the mall would lose its market share and “become a depressed property in 10 years,” Morrow said.