A sprawling suburban property in Lancaster that had once been destined to become an industrial and business park may now become a new housing development instead.
Uniland Development Co., after 16 years of trying unsuccessfully to attract commercial tenants to the Eastport Commerce Center, is now seeking to turn nearly half of the land into a residential community.
The development company proposes subdividing and rezoning 62 acres of the land at the corner of Walden Avenue and Pavement Road, where it would build 98 patio homes and 73 single-family homes.
The plan calls for the residential area to be located on the northern portion, with the area along Walden still zoned as light industrial and a buffer zone separating the two. The project also would include an inner community green space and a main private road.
The plan received an initial hearing by the town Planning Board on Feb. 1, with members criticizing or questioning some elements, according to minutes of that meeting.
Uniland's proposal marks a major turnaround for the vast grassy site, whose location was even considered at one point by the federal government for a National Veterans Cemetery.
The developer acquired the land in 2000, viewing it as another potential commercial or industrial park akin to the success it has had with CrossPoint Business Park and others. The site is certified as "shovel-ready" for economic development purposes, with infrastructure like roads and utility connections in place since Uniland installed them in 2002.
The developer even received a $490,339 grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2003 to spur growth at the park, although it was required to create 25 low- to moderate-income jobs within three years.
But the developer has had no real luck at the site, despite help from Buffalo Niagara Enterprise - now Invest Buffalo Niagara - and others in trying to market it. Used-car giant CarQuest had considered opening a 120,000-square-foot distribution center there, valued at $5 million to $10 million, but it never got built. The developer itself considered building a 110,000-square-foot "spec" building, but never got any commitments for the space. And Yahoo! considered Eastport as one of the options for its data center before eventually settling on Lockport. Smaller potential tenants also looked at it, but never came.
HUD granted Uniland several extensions on its job-creation requirement, but eventually took back the grant in summer 2012 and reallocated it to other community-development projects in Erie County. Meanwhile, Uniland has previously estimated it spent nearly $8 million on the failed project, including more than $1.3 million in property taxes, plus the purchase price and the cost of the infrastructure.