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Niagara County planners reject proposal for 102 units of housing in North Tonawanda

WHEATFIELD – Members of the Niagara County Planning Board found plenty not to like about a 102-unit apartment and townhouse project in North Tonawanda, voting it down by a 6-3 margin Monday.

Chairman Joseph C. Kibler said the vote against the Rock One Development plan at 600 River Road doesn’t kill the project, but it forces the developer to win a supermajority instead of a simple majority on the North Tonawanda boards that review it: four votes on a five-member board or five votes on a seven-member board.

Tom Celik, project manager for Rock One, said the site plan is scheduled to go before the city Planning Board on Monday, while the city Zoning Board of Appeals is to consider an area variance next Tuesday.

The project, on a former brownfield next to a medical office, includes two four-story apartment buildings of 32 units each, plus 26 townhouses and four apartments over small retail stores that are part of the layout.

There would be a “public promenade” along the Niagara River, Celik said, along with a gazebo and picnic areas.

“It’s a very centralized location that is very underutilized,” Celik said, adding that he envisions North Tonawanda as “a more Amherst or Williamsville kind of place.”

County Senior Planner Amy E. Fisk said the city likes the project. “I think it’s definitely a positive reuse of the property,” Fisk said.

But the county board took a dim view of the site plan, objecting to the fact that there’s only one driveway into the 5.9-acre lot and saying the street layout seems as if it doesn’t allow room for fire trucks or school buses to turn around.

Celik said that there is one entrance because the state Department of Transportation dislikes multiple driveways. Board member Norman R. Machelor, of Lewiston, said, “We don’t like one entrance, whether the DOT likes it or not.”

Walter D. Garrow, a board member from Wheatfield, disliked the four-story, wood-frame buildings designed without sprinkler systems. Celik said that the buildings will have firewalls and that sprinklers aren’t required for a building that size. But Garrow said, “I see a lot of red flags.”

Board member Richard W. Muscatello, of Wheatfield, said he liked the design. “It’s admirable, but safety comes first,” he said.

Celik said that revising the plan may delay the start of the project. “It may stop us from starting this year, which may scrap our financing,” he said.

Board member William R. Angus, of Lewiston, shot back, “I think killing time is less important than killing people.”

Several members said the root of the issue is that the project layout is simply too crowded.“We are barely able to make this job feasible,” Celik said. “We wouldn’t like to scrap the project because of multiple delays.”