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Elma residents debate impact of project for 54 patio homes

A developer’s proposal to build 54 patio homes off Bowen and Bullis roads in the Town of Elma attracted a packed house for a public hearing last week.

More than 150 people – dozens standing along three walls – turned out at Town Hall on Wednesday to discuss Bryan A. Young’s proposal for Brookside Estates, which would be built on about 15 of the 50 acres he owns.

Most in attendance were clearly against constructing a cluster of homes in a section of the town that is already densely populated, and others expressed concern that Elma would lose its rural appeal.

“We don’t want Elma to turn into another Amherst or Lancaster,” said Bill Skinner, a town resident for 60 years. “Let’s keep Elma clean and green.”

Another resident said the town risks becoming overdeveloped. To make his point, he shared a recent experience driving south on Bowen and trying to make a left turn onto Bullis at 5:30 p.m. on a weekday.

“Three people came through that light after it turned red,” he said. “Whatever development goes on, Lancaster, Amherst and now Clarence are great examples of overdevelopment.”

Despite the detractors, more than one dozen people spoke in favor of the development.

Richard Marshall, who lives in the nearby Pond Brook Estates patio homes, said the location is ideal.

“It’s close to Elma Center, and if these patio homes are built there, it makes Elma Center more of a town center,” Marshall reasoned.

Sean W. Hopkins, an attorney representing Young, said the Brookside project adheres to goals set forth by the town’s unofficial goals pertaining to development.

Hopkins said the project promotes development “at a size and scale compatible to the surrounding community” and was planned with respect to the environment, with nearly 75 percent of the land being preserved.

However, Bullis resident Mike Ternullo questioned whether the development represents low density, compatibility and smart growth.

Ternullo noted that Brookside’s average number of homes per acre would be higher than a similar project in Elma and pointed out that most homes “farther down the road” sit on a minimum of three-quarters of an acre.

“The only compatibility I see is to the adjoining property, Pond Brook Estates,” Ternullo said.

“Over the last several years, we’ve had nice, steady, reasonable and intelligent growth. Where this fits in, I’m not sure.”

Hopkins said Western New York’s population is underserved by patio homes, which are attractive to senior citizens seeking to downsize, affluent empty-nesters and young professionals.

Many Elma residents supporting the project appeared consistent with this observation.

Among those who spoke were senior citizens and middle-aged lifelong residents.

“My wife and I are both in our late 60s, and we’re starting to struggle with maintaining our home,” John Connor said. “We have no desire to leave. I love the town and its people, but we need some options for folks our age.”

Hopkins said Young purchased the property for $1.3 million three years ago with an intention to construct a mix of 74 patio home and single-family homes on the site, but that plan didn’t garner support from town officials.

In January, he returned with the current plan, which, after several appearances before the Town Board and the Zoning and Planning boards, led to Wednesday’s public hearing.