An Orchard Park councilman has proposed a new zoning code that would make it possible to have a multiple-story hotel, as well as retail and office space, in the area around the planned Buffalo Bills new stadium.
Conor Flynn is proposing a new stadium district that would “provide regulating flexibility to encourage economic development.”
The proposal is one of a number of ideas that have been floated by Orchard Park Town Board members. It focuses on high-density development within the special district for the stadium and surrounding area.
The same strict height limitations in the town code that for years have prevented hotels and motels larger than a few stories from being built in Orchard Park would not apply to buildings or structures in the stadium overlay district, Flynn said.
There’s not a single hotel in the village and only three one-floor motels in the town – all on Southwestern Boulevard – and most efforts over the years to build a large hotel in Orchard Park have been thwarted. Officials have wanted the area to stay quaint and avoid the type of traffic and commerce that a larger hotel could bring.
People are also reading…
“When you’re going to have a stadium that’s going to be of significant height, it doesn’t make sense to have these restrictions,” Flynn said. “The stadium is already changing the character of that surrounding area.”
Orchard Park Supervisor Gene Majchrzak and Councilman Joseph Liberti have also proposed changing the zoning around the stadium to promote development and allow for multiple-story hotels. There’s been little trickle-down development around the stadium in the 50 years since it was first built.
Majchrzak, who floated the idea of creating a hospitality zone around the stadium, believes that zoning changes around the stadium will become a reality. But, right now, it’s more about fine tuning and combining the ideas into something the entire board can agree on, he added.
“I really think that’s going to happen,” he said. “It’s just a question of when and putting the finishing touches on it, like how high do we want the buildings to be? Whatever it is called, it’s going to be a zone around the stadium that allows for that type of growth.”
Flynn’s proposal also includes regulating all residential parking lots around the stadium by having them face the same scrutiny put on larger private lots considered commercial lots.
As much as we say these projects are going to be nice and clean and neat, they never are,” Jay Knavel said. “I don’t want to be dealing with that, and I don’t think any other resident would.”
“Most lot operators have been responsible, but we need a mechanism to ensure that first responders can access all lots safely, and that fan conduct on all lots is safe,” Flynn said.
How tall is too tall?
The height of buildings and structures around the stadium is still a big consideration for board members.
Flynn is proposing that the Planning Board be able to grant a special permit to authorize a structure in the stadium zone to be constructed to a height of between 70 and 150 feet.
He compared the potential height of a hotel to the six-floor Staybridge Suites in West Seneca.
“I don’t think hotels at those heights, given what the stadium is going to look like and what types of businesses and residences are in that area, would be out of character with the surrounding community at all,” Flynn said.
Flynn said both his and Liberti’s proposal recognize that the stadium area is a fundamentally different part of the town. He said variations of the two councilmen’s proposals have been out there for a while, but holding up the process has been the question of whether the team would ultimately stay in Orchard Park. That’s been determined by the new 30-year lease that will come with the building of a new Abbott Road stadium, set to be completed in 2026.
“There’s a huge stadium there, and I think trying to treat that specific area with a zoning code that was designed for and applicable to the rest of the town – which is a quant, rural bedroom community – is not the way to go,” Flynn said.
The Erie County Stadium Corp. plays a vital role in implementing the deal, as it has with other stadium-related projects since it was first established in 1998.
Flynn’s proposal would also create the town’s first specific mixed-use zone and a “more inviting community” that would include a residential aspect.
“Businesses would not want to locate somewhere where there’s significant foot traffic only 10 to 15 times a year,” he said.
Majchrzak would like to see the spot where the current stadium will be demolished turned into an area with eateries and shops where families can spend time away from some of the alcohol-driven, rowdy tailgating. It can also be a place to go where people can wait for the traffic to die down after games, he said. Majchrzak added that a pedestrian bridge connecting Abbott Road should also be considered.
He doesn’t see developers being interested until the town officially changes the zoning and once it is determined just how many events will be at the new stadium.
“Developers need to see more than 10 football games being there, it’s that simple,” Majchrzak said.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz said there is a lot of land around the stadium that can be purchased by private developers, especially on Southwestern Boulevard in both Orchard Park and neighboring Hamburg, but to this point, it doesn’t appear there’s much interest.
The stages of the offseason for Buffalo Bills fans: grief, anger, sadness and the wait for 'next year'
It’s tough enough for the average Bills fan when the season abruptly ends. It’s that much harder for season ticket holders who plan their weekends around soaking up the full game day experience.
“If Orchard Park and Hamburg don’t change those zoning rules, then that area will never see an eight-story hotel or a giant ‘Bills World’ that you sometimes hear about around other stadiums,” he said.
More rules for private parking lots?
Also in Flynn’s proposal, all properties that park vehicles during stadium events must have a permit to operate, subjecting what are now considered private lots to a different level of scrutiny and regulation.
The change stems from safety concerns expressed by law enforcement and first responders and is an attempt to bring all these entities under the regulatory umbrella of a commercial lot.
The proposal would provide the town’s Planning Board the authority to review applications for permits and issue permits, and then revoke them when code, law or health enforcement determines that the property creates a public safety hazard.
At some residential private lots, there have been problems, Flynn said. For example, one lot owner was found to have parked cars too close together so if a medical event occurred, it would have been difficult for EMS to access the person in need.
“We still have to police those lots, but we don’t have any teeth to say to a residential homeowner parking cars that if you don’t meet certain safety requirements, we’re going to revoke your permit,” Flynn said.