When Hamburg Supervisor James M. Shaw drives around town, he sees plenty of commercial and retail space – and a lot of it is vacant.
"The idea is, business people want to have an attractive community that is occupied with thriving businesses. It doesn't look good for further development to showcase main drags that are littered with outmoded retail plazas that are 30 to 40 to 50 percent vacant," he said.
That's why Shaw wants to call a temporary halt to the approval or expansion of shopping centers in the town. He is asking the Town Board on Monday to schedule a public hearing April 15 on a six-month moratorium.
But Shaw does not want this to be seen as an anti-business move.
"This moratorium is pro-business," he said.
"It's not negative, it's also about helping," said town planning consultant Andrew Reilly. "Is there something the town can do to improve the situation?"
Shaw said businesses want to have an attractive community that is occupied with thriving businesses. The Southtowns Regional Chamber of Commerce no doubt would agree, although it is not taking a position on the proposed moratorium.
"While the Southtowns Regional Chamber of Commerce is a business advocate in our community, we have not currently taken an official stance on this proposal," said Cynthia Matla, executive director of the chamber.
Shaw wants to form a small committee to explore methods the town could use to get the vacant storefronts in plazas filled. Some ideas include not increasing assessments on businesses that make improvements, low interest loans and pursuing state grants for facade improvements.
In some plazas, 50 percent or more of the storefronts are vacant, he said. In others, the vacancy rate is much lower.
"We’ve overbuilt our retail," Shaw said. "In light of the collapse of the smokestack industries in the '70s and '80s, we opened the floodgates."
He said the "old" idea that a developer could come in and build commercial space on speculation that it would be filled "just isn't working out in the digital age," where consumers are buying more goods online.
Exhibit A would be McKinley Mall, where major anchor tenants have left, and the mall is in receivership after falling delinquent on a loan payment. The mall's value has been cut 75 percent to $15 million.
After dealing with shopping plazas, the supervisor would like to change the zoning on the mall from strictly commercial to a hybrid of commercial, residential and possibly light industrial – uses that might appeal to developers.
"I think that immediately enhances the value of the mall," Shaw said of such a zoning change.