LEWISTON – For visitors, Lewiston has become a quaint village known for its specialty shops and quality restaurants. Those who live there say they don’t want that to change.
But developers see a demand for more housing, more shops and more restaurants.
Construction could start this year on two multimillion-dollar projects on the east end of the village. Both projects still need final approvals from the village Planning Board, Zoning Board and then the Village Board.
• A $14 million, three-building multiuse plaza proposed by Ellicott Development Co. of Buffalo for a 4.1 acre site bordered by Center, North Eighth and Onondaga streets.
• Fairchild Place, a three-story, 28-unit, one-, two- and three-bedroom apartment complex at 765 Fairchild Place, the site of the former Fairchild Manor Nursing Home. The street runs between North Eighth and North Seventh streets, a few blocks away from Center Street.
William Paladino, Ellicott’s chief executive officer, said the company has been working on the project since 2013 and had “no idea” how tough it would be to get it completed.
“We don’t have any tenants now. We had tenants when we first started the project, but given the time delays, the process of trying to make this project work, we no longer have any tenants,” he said. “It’s a very challenging site. Some of the plans proposed by others (who owned the lot prior to Ellicott) look very nice, but have been unrealistic from a financial sense and a practical sense.”
In addition to working on designs that will suit residents and the village planning and zoning boards, the property itself has presented challenges due to the extreme slope of the site. The two-story design is taking advantage of the site with entry to the second floor at ground level for two of the buildings. All three are two-story buildings.
The site on Center Street is proposed to become a shopping plaza, with a restaurant and patio, a coffee shop, a drug store, a drive-thru, five to six boutique-style shops, and a total of 13 apartments.
“There’s a demand for (housing), especially within walking distance of Center Street,” said R. Christopher Wood, engineering partner with Carmina, Wood and Morris, which is handling engineering for both projects.
Fairchild Manor owner James Jerge originally planned to “adaptively reuse” the nursing home, which closed in 2011. But the latest plans call for demolition and construction.
The project will have market-rate apartments in a building which is designed to fit into the character of the neighborhood, according to Jerge’s proposal.
Wood said both projects should take about one year to complete once they get approval and are expected to break ground at the same time.
Both properties abut Onondaga Street, which runs parallel to both Center Street and Fairchild Place.
Colleen Giordano, of Onondaga Street, who also owns property on Fairchild Place, said she was not happy with plans for a three-story building proposed for the Fairchild Place complex. She called it a “can of worms.” But according to the Planning Board Chairman Norman Machelor, there are restrictions along the Center Street strip, but not in the rest of the village. He said there are other three-story buildings in the village.
Giordano said, “Fairchild obviously needs to be developed, but as for Paladino, there’s too much for the property there. There’s a lack of parking and I don’t like how the truck traffic is going to exit onto a residential street with semis coming down side streets where children are playing.”
Several residents have already called the Planning Board to task on its requirement to force all traffic to enter the Ellicott Development site via Center Street and then exit onto the residential streets.
But Planning Board members have defended their call, saying they want to make it safer than the CVS and Rite Aid plazas across the street, which have an uphill entry onto Center Street.
“We feel it’s unsafe to come to the top of that hill and make a left turn. It’s also a place where the road begins to narrow from the highway,” Machelor said. “The alternative is exiting onto residential streets.”
He said the people who live on North Eighth Street and Onondaga will see truck traffic just like people who live on the other side of the street.
Giordano said the Ellicott Development project would “ruin the quaintness” of the village.
“There seems to be a lot of apartments in the village already,” she said.
Michael Broderick, the owner of Orange Cat Coffee Co., at 703 Center St., is just one block away from the proposed plaza.
He said he doesn’t really have an objection to business or another coffee shop, but he does have a problem with changing the “historic feel” of the village.
“I grew up in Williamsville and I moved here because I like the feel of Lewiston,” Broderick said. “If you grant too many variances, then you destroy the purpose of the rules. People are drawn here because it is a little different.”
Paula Banko, who lives on Smith Street, a block away from the two projects, said she lived in Amherst for 20 years.
“I took a class here after work. The place is so charming and quaint. It reminds me of Niagara-on-the-Lake. I moved here six years ago,” she said. “I think the Paladino idea is really horrendous. It’s really, really large. He is going to have fast food and apartment buildings and stores. It will be a little plaza.”
She said she felt the Planning Board had taken the side of Paladino, rather than the residents.
“I don’t think they have taken into consideration the charm of the village,” Banko, referring to the Paladino plan. “We don’t want a McDonald’s. We don’t want a Taco Bell. You have to have the foresight to keep this charming.”
Members of the Planning Board say they are doing their job.
Machelor said currently there are three buildings on the Ellicott Development property that were shops.
“There’s going to be three buildings when we finish,” said Machelor. “It doesn’t say in the code what kind of stores you can have there.”
He said the board has approved a concept as a first submission, but still has not accepted a final plan.
“All that stuff that went on for two years was to get to this place,” he said.
He said he understands that people object to the project, but he said the board’s role is to make sure a developer does what is permitted under the law.
“The woman who looks out her dining room window and sees woods there and doesn’t want to see a drug store – well, I’m sorry, you don’t have that option,” Machelor said.
He said the village Planning Board also is charged with architectural review. A second submission will look more closely at how the design fits into the historical character of the village, the design of the buildings, and issues such as landscape design in the proposed green spaces.
“We do have a lot to say on things, like what the street lights will look like and when they will go off and on,” said Machelor. “None of those things have been approved.”
He said the Planning Board has recommended parking variances for both projects.
In the case of the Ellicott Development project, there are 70 fewer parking spaces than the code allows, but Machelor said the Planning Board encouraged the developer to put in more green space at the expense of parking. The developer also has agreed to put in a sidewalk and grass barrier on Eighth Street, on the west of property.
Both developers are attempting to make projects that attract tenants.
Wood addressed concerns specifically over the density of the Ellicott Development project and said by code the firm is allowed to develop 50 percent of the property, but is only developing 17 percent of the 4.1-acre site.
“We could build one massive building, but here we are trying to make it more of a village setting with different tenants and different buildings,” Wood said. “A lot of projects we do we have people in opposition, but when they are built and done, the people that are opposed to it are sometimes the biggest fans. It’s hard to visualize sometimes.”
Paladino said most of the retailers who had committed to the plaza three years ago have walked away.
He said they should be able to get tenants for the apartments, but their group will have to go back out and market the site to get tenants for the retail areas.
“We’ll go out and do that once this project finally gets approved,” said Paladino. “We have some potential people that will consider it, but they don’t want to consider it until they know we have a definitive plan.”
Wood said they would like to get their approvals and begin construction by the end of May.