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Wheatfield officials present Boulevard rezoning proposal

WHEATFIELD – A proposal to simplify zoning along Niagara Falls Boulevard by banning future housing construction and eliminating the practice of multiple zones for a single lot was presented to property owners Monday in Town Hall.

The plan would require rezoning of numerous parcels, primarily on the north side of the boulevard, from multi-family residential to commercial.

All the changes would be made east of Sy Road, with no alterations west of that road, town planning consultant Andrew C. Reilly said.

Most of the rezoning would come west of Ward Road, although there is a parcel just east of Ward and another on the east side of Shawnee Road at the intersection with the boulevard, which also would be altered.

Supervisor Robert B. Cliffe said the proposed new map would follow property lines, instead of continuing to use what Planning Board Chairman Walter D. Garrow called “the old technique of drawing lines parallel to the road.”

That practice was exacerbated by the adoption of an overlay zoning district for Niagara Falls Boulevard in 2002, which was amended in 2008 and 2009. Its rules were effective 500 feet from the center line of the boulevard. The result, Zoning Board of Appeals co-chairman Michael Schaffer said, was to split the zoning of many deep lots: commercial close to the road, residential in the back.

“Basically, that’s dead land back there,” Schaffer said.

“One parcel has four or five zones, literally feet apart,” Garrow said.

Also, Reilly said, Wheatfield has an unusual “hierarchical” zoning law, under which the zones are ranked, with industrial at the top, followed by commercial, restricted commercial, and residential, most of which are subdivided by uses. The law allows any use permitted in a lower-ranking zone to be built in a higher-ranking zone.

The new proposal would do away with hierarchical zoning in the boulevard area. Commercial would be only commercial, industrial would be only industrial and residential would be only residential.

“The (town’s) comprehensive plan says the boulevard should be focused on commercial,” Reilly said. He said not all residential zones in the overlay district are to be abolished, and existing homes would be protected by a “grandfather clause,” which would make them legal uses regardless of which zone they end up in.

Reilly said that means, for example, a house that burned down could be rebuilt, which wouldn’t be the case if the house were a legal but nonconforming use. He said many of the existing houses on or near the boulevard already are located in commercial zones. But a home addition outside a residential zone would not be allowed without a variance.

Planning Board secretary Melissa Germann said if the house were made a nonconforming use, “Now they can’t sell it because (the buyer) can’t get a residential mortgage.”

Reilly said the amendment would require a 50-foot buffer between any existing home and any commercial development next door. He said the proposal needs to be changed to address the question of mixed-use developments. He said there are parcels on the boulevard that probably never will be developed because they are covered by wetlands, but he said, “I can’t zone a property ‘undevelopable.’ ”

Reilly added that the plan will be posted on the town website. Cliffe said it might be six months or more before the Town Board holds a public hearing and considers a vote on the changes.