This is what the parcels at 2382, 2396, 2410 and 2424 Niagara Falls Blvd. in the Town of Tonawanda currently look like. There are three vacant homes and an old single-story motel, vacant for at least 25 years, surrounded by a chain-link fence.
Neighbors say this wooded land between Forbes and Thistle avenues is a "Noah's Ark" of rodents, deer and other critters.
No one — nearby residents, town officials and a developer who wants to build a hotel on the property — likes what they see now. When Chan Patel purchased the 208-feet deep parcels more than two years ago and announced plans for a four-story, 84-room Holiday Inn Express, neighbors were initially delighted, though they had concerns from the start.
Their main concern is the building's height, which has fluctuated during the planning stage but is now at 50 feet, according to revised site plans submitted to the town's Planning Board. Neighbors on Dexter Terrace, which runs parallel to the boulevard, have privacy concerns. Mainly, they feel that hotel guests on the top floors will have an unobstructed view into their homes and backyards.
They also object to an entrance/exit to the hotel on Forbes, saying it will bring more traffic into their residential neighborhood. Neighbors say the state Department of Transportation, which controls Niagara Falls Boulevard, has rejected their proposal to have two entrances to the hotel on the boulevard.
The neighbors' arguments against the height come down to this: the lot is too shallow and the building will loom over their backyards and homes, which average 23-feet tall; there are no other four-story buildings in their area of town, they say, so why should this one be allowed? Also, they feel the developer has room to expand the footprint of the building south and use a parcel that is not currently part of the hotel project, but has chosen not to.
Nadine Ocasio, a spokeswoman for the Parkview neighbors group, said they would be satisfied with a hotel that was 35-feet high. She said efforts by the developer to include 10-foot trees, greenery and a 10-foot fence as a buffer are not enough. A suggestion that the an opaque film be placed on the upper floors' windows was rejected, she said.
Ocasio and other neighbors say they have been attending Planning Board and Zoning Board meetings for the last two years but have not had their concerns satisfied.
They attended Monday's Town Board meeting and spoke passionately about the issue — even presenting the board with 200 signed petitions — and asked for at least a one month moratorium on approval for buildings over 35 feet tall.
"The Parkview Community, unless we can take this fight to another level, will soon be called Hotel View," said one resident.
But that decision for a moratorium was not the board's to make, council members said. Because Patel's plans were submitted under current zoning law, only current zoning law can be applied. A moratorium can't be applied retroactively, town officials said.
This controversy comes after residents in Snyder unsuccessfully fought a Hyatt hotel on Main Street, near the I-290. The Amherst Planning Board approved that project in March 2013, then it was faced with several legal challenges.
But, as The News reported Sunday, the 137-room Hyatt is scheduled to open next month, or early July, after nearly four years in the making.
As the Tonawanda residents like to point out, Amherst formed a committee after their hotel controversy and, after the yearlong study, approved changes to their zoning laws that restrict commercial development near residential areas.
The Tonawanda Planning Board will review the Holiday Inn revised site plans when it meets tonight at 7 p.m. in the second-floor conference room of the Municipal Building, 2919 Delaware Ave., according to the agenda.
Neighbors say their next argument is that the Planning Board should not issue a "negative declaration" on the environmental review for the project because it will negatively impact their neighborhood.
They say they understand they purchased homes near a busy commercial strip, but never expected a project of this size in such close proximity. They also know that the plans conform to town code and "no laws are being broken." However, they're holding out hope that some kind of compromise can be made.