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Proposed Lewiston plaza faces more delays over contaminated soil, but mayor supports project

LEWISTON - Plans to move forward on  a $14 million multi-use plaza proposed by Ellicott Development Co. of Buffalo face continued delays after the Department of Environmental Conservation found a soup of chemicals that need to be cleaned up on the  4.1-acre site.

The brownfield site report issued by the DEC prompted the Village Board to cancel a public hearing scheduled for Monday, which is one of the final steps in allowing the "Paladino Plaza" to move forward.

For William Paladino, Ellicott's chief executive officer, this is bad news after delays have held up the project since he purchased the property in 2013. Paladino has called the property at 756-790 Center St. "very challenging" to develop because of its extreme slope.

But another delay is good news for area residents who have fought the project at every step.

It is also good news, for a different reason, according to Mayor Terry Collesano, who said the DEC report will help get the site cleaned up.

According to the DEC, three vacant areas, covered in vegetation, had been an illegal dumping site of automobile tires and parts. Past uses of the site as an automobile service station, a junk yard, a dry cleaners and former rail lines have contaminated the site. The soil was found to be contaminated by petroleum, metals, and elevated volatile and semi-volatile compounds.

Collesano said the rear portion of property has been vacant for 70 years and was  "like an overgrown jungle." He said it was used as a junkyard with old cars in the 1950s. He said oil was just dumped on the ground.

He said this is the last large parcel of undeveloped land in the village, and Ellicott Development would have to pay to clean it up.

"This is a good thing for the village because it's going to be cleaned up. It's going to be taken care of," said Collesano, who voiced support for the proposal. "If they get a grant from the DEC to clean up the property it would be  tax benefits from the federal government, not through the village or the county tax base."

The full DEC report is available at the Lewiston Public Library, 305 South Eighth St. Public comments on the report will be taken by the DEC through Oct. 28.

Collesano said that despite the negative comments at board meetings, he has received a lot of positive comments from people who stop him on the street to say that they  favor the project and want to know why the village has been dragging its feet.

"(Ellicott Development) spent about 10 months with the Planning Board going back and forth with all the concerns they had at the time," said Collesano.

He said he has heard complaints about the village losing its character, but said Lewiston's three existing shopping plazas - the RiteA, CVS and Mini Mall - haven't changed the character of the village.

"We still have our charming village, but we've added more stores. It  keeps people here and stops them from driving all the way to Military Road or the malls in Buffalo. It's a convenience to the local people," said Collesano. "But we don't want something put in there haphazardly. We want it to be done properly and have it blend in with the community."

Collesano called the village "a walking community" and said he wants Ellicott Development's proposed plaza on Center Street to fit that character of the community..

Ellicott Development's plans include a restaurant and patio, a coffee shop, a drug store, a drive-thru, five to six boutique-style shops, and 13 apartments. The two-story design is taking advantage of the site, with entry to the second floor at ground level for two of the buildings.

The  plaza has already received planning and zoning board approvals. After a  public hearing, final approval must come from the Village Board for the project to move forward. Collesano said he told Paladino the Village Board is moving along as fast as it can, but he still wants to address the public's concerns regarding traffic and an exit onto Center Street, and also address concerns from the fire department about getting trucks into the plaza.

But Collesano said the plaza would  benefit the village by adding parking, taking on the costs to update water lines in the area, and by cleaning up a brownfield.

"You cannot stop progress as long as it is written in the code. It is zoned business and has been for years. Our responsibility as elected officials is to see that it is built to the best of their abilities," said Collesano.

He said it was hard to say if the Village Board will approve the project, but he said "it seems to be moving forward."

"I just want to see a vote on this. I just want to see something done," said Collesano.

The next regular meeting of the Village Board is Nov. 21.

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