Where is the balance best struck between a modern plaza and a traditionally residential neighborhood of modestly priced homes?
A proposed rezoning in the Town of Tonawanda offers a look into the conflict.
Benchmark Development would like to purchase a parcel of land at Niagara Falls Boulevard and Koenig Road, demolish three commercial properties on the boulevard and five homes on Koenig, and build a 45,000 square-foot commercial building.
The proposal is the topic of a meeting slated for 7 tonight at Zion United Church of Christ on Koenig Road.
Residents are prepared to fight, and they have some real estate professionals on their side, including Louis Vinci of Stovroff and Herman.
He sees no way to justify changing a residential neighborhood into a commercial one, "If it was next to my house I would be fighting it night and day. I think most of my associates at Stovroff feel the same way."
Referring to the reported $12,000 per year increase in tax revenue that the proposed project might generate, Vinci said, "Come on. $12,000? That's peanuts. There are other sites available. I would say to Benchmark, 'Go ruin another neighborhood.' "
Rick Recckio, of Pyramid Brokerage, is the commercial broker who master-minded the project. He presented the property to Benchmark and coordinated the acquisition of the several parcels of land that, combined, makeup the proposed site.
His firm originally listed commercially zoned frontage on the boulevard, owned by Diane Bersani, for $1.5 million. The site from the Youngmann Memorial Highway to Koenig Road houses a now vacant bridal shop, the Colonial Court Motel, and Ray's Bike Shop.
According to Recckio, Benchmark has had the commercial property under contract for about a year. It has options to purchase the first five homes on Koenig Road.
Recckio said there will be a 25-foot buffer along the boundary of the development to protect the privacy of the neighbors.
"Big business usually gets what it wants and if they get this, won't they try elsewhere?" Gary Lyford, who lives on Koenig, asked.
Benchmark plans to build the 45,000 square foot building 50 feet from Lyford's home.
Town resident Michael Sandone lives nearby on Braxmar Road. He sees a problem for all town residents who live near the boulevard.
"I called (Town Supervisor) Carl Calabrese's office and spoke of my distaste for this whole project. It's appalling. I live on a corner, a block away from Niagara Falls Boulevard. If they allow it to be done on one street, they will allow it to encompass a broad spectrum of neighborhoods."
Lyford added, "They've got lawyers who will say to the town 'you let Benchmark knock down homes on Koenig and change a residential street to a commercial (one), why can't we do it all along the Tonawanda side, on Glenalby, Greenacres etc.?' Where would it stop?"
Ultimately, the Town Board will decide the issue.
Calabrese said, "Since Benchmark has not presented any formal plans to the town, I have to remain neutral.
If I were to give an opinion now, without having the facts, it might be prejudicial to the final outcome and be grounds for litigation against this town."
When and if a public hearing is scheduled on rezoning, Calabrese said property owners on Koenig and Sweet Briar roads will be notified by mail.
Benchmark is a general partner in the Boulevard Mall, with offices at 4053 Maple Road in Amherst.
In a letter to Koenig Road residents, Kim Fielder, vice president of retail marketing for Benchmark, wrote, "the alternative development of the existing commercially zoned Ray's Bike Shop/Colonial Court Motel piece would likely involve a much higher
density type development."
Sandone is unimpressed.
"Look at the pressure to develop all along the Boulevard which the town of Amherst is accommodating," he said "On the Tonawanda side, if we open up Pandora's box, won't that be playing right into developers hands?"
Loud 'No' to Koenig proposal
County legislators, residents oppose spot rezoning in Town
By Frank Parlato Jr
January 12, 1995
Over 200 Town of Tonawanda residents packed the Zion United
Church Of Christ, Wednesday night, to hear Kim Feidler, spokesman for The Benchmark Group, discuss his plan to develop a 45,000 square foot retail store on Koenig road and Niagara Falls Boulevard.
Since Koenig is a residential street, the developer needs town approval to re-zone approximately 250 feet of the site before demolishing five homes and building.
Feidler, a vice president of Benchmark, in attempting to explain merits of his plan to a mostly hostile audience, said the "intended user" of the building would be The Best Buy Co. of Eden Prairie, a suburb of Minneapolis, Minn.
He showed the audience a site plan and an artist's rendering of the proposed store, Joyce Hamner of Koenig Road, stood up and, facing the audience, asked if any in the audience were in favor of the project.
No one raised a hand.
"The bottom line Mr. Feidler," she said, "is that we are going to do everything that we can possibly to do so that this does not get rezoned.
Green Acres is residential, we want to keep it that way."
The audience applauded.
During the two-hour meeting, one town resident after another questioned Feidler. They expressed dismay at how the Amherst developer could seek to convert a residential neighborhood into a busy commercial area.
Gary Lyford, the neighbor closest to where the proposed Bench-
mark building, said it would cause both the street and the entire town a hardship.
Feidler introduced Sixto Beltrandy an architect for Best Buy,
who said they operate around 200 retail appliance stores in 27 states.
This would be the first in Western New York.
According to Beltrandy, the store sells music-entertainment software, audio-video equipment, computers and home appliances and installs car stereo systems, repairs equipment and offers introductory courses for computers sold in the store.
The store would be 25 feet from the property line, 60 feet from the road and about 50 feet from the nearest home. It would be 28 feet high, higher than any of the existing homes on Koenig. It's 45,000 square feet would make it approximately 40 times larger than neighboring residential buildings.
Describing benefits, Beltrandy said the store could generate $28-35 million in gross sales annually, spending about $850,000 per year on advertising and employing 120-150.
Connie Aquino, of Avon road, asked what the wage scale would
be? Beltrandy said there would be a "wide cross Section" ofwages.
"I can't answer what percentage will be minimum wage or how many will be part time," he said.
Feidler said constructiom will also create job opportunities. "It pumps money into the economy." he said.
Three Erie County Legislators, who represent the Town, attended and went on record as unanimously opposed.
William Pauly (R-Amherst), who represents the district where the
Benchmark project would be located, said, "I'm totally opposed." "Take a look at the Amherst side of Niagara Falls Boulevard and ask yourself, 'do you want that on the Tonawanda side?'"
Legislator Charles Swanick (D-Kenmore) spoke about the precedent such a proposal would set in town.
"Are we prepared to see this re-zoning begin on a regular basis? This kind of spot zoning will destroy the residential image of Tonawanda. It's wrong, it's unacceptable.
Swanick's comments drew loud and sustained applause.
Legislature Chairman, Len Lenihan (D-Town of Tonawanda)
informed the audience that he, Pauly and Swanick were going to send a letter to the Town Board officially recording their opposition to the Benchmark plan.
The Town Board makes the final decision on rezoning.
Town Supervisor Carl Calabrese told the audience that anyone has a legal right to petition the town.
"Once an application for rezoning is filed, the Town Board has a
legal obligation to have a public hearing and then make a determination,"
he said. "However, if we, as a Town Board, make any kind of pre-determination, then our subsequent ruling can be challenged in court and be overturned."
After the meeting, when asked if the opposition of neighbors and
county legislators might cause Benchmark to reconsider, John
Giordano, an attorney for Benchmark said, "Benchmark is going to have to decide if they want to denote time and resources to developing this area knowing the community's sentiment.
I'm sure were going to sit down and discuss our options."
Developer officially drops plans for Koenig road site
By Frank Parlato Jr.
April 29, 1995
The Benchmark Group of Amherst has officially withdrawn plans
to construct a Best Buy Appliance store on Koenig road, at Niagara
Falls Boulevard near the Youngmann Highway.
The developer's plan was vigorously opposed by neighbors, since it involved the tearing down of five homes on what is now an exclusively residential and tree- lined area.
In a letter to town supervisor Carl Calabrese dated April 26, Kim
Fiedler, vice president of Benchmark's retail division, wrote that it was not "in the best interest of the community or our company to
engage in this course of action."
Gary Burr, one of the leaders of the ad-hoc group of neighbors, who helped organized mass meetings at the Zion Church on Koenig Circle, was elated at the surprise reversal of
"This issue is over. I'm thrilled.
We undid the 'done-deal,' " he said.
More than 230 people attended the meeting orchestrated by Burr and neighbors in January to meet with Fiedler and representatives of the Best Buy Appliance chain which has
its corporate headquarters in Minneapolis Minn.
At that meeting, residents expressed dissatisfaction with the
Benchmark proposal for a 45,000-square foot facility.
Perhaps just as significantly, at that meeting, three Erie county legislators, William Pauly (R-Amherst), Chuck Swanick (D-Kenmore) and majority leader Len Lenihan (D-Tonawanda) appeared and surprised both the developer and the large
crowd by announcing their clamant opposition to the Benchmark proposal.
It was considered by some observers as an unusually bold move
on the part of the county legislators, since the proposal is technically not a county, but a town, issue.
However, all three legislators defended their decision to get involved.
"This particular situation was a classic example of the commercial sector attempting to ncroach on the residential in a predatory fashion,"
Pauly said. "If it had succeeded it would have put in jeopardy other
"Chuck (Swanick) Len (Lenihan) and I agreed. We just did not feel comfortable standing by on this."
Fiedler, however, in a phone interview with the NEWS in February, expressed his displeasure at the legislators' involvement in what was, according to him, a town issue.
However, Swanick rebutted, "The people spoke loud and clear. The zoning rules and guidelines for the town were established to protect the neighbors and should not be tampered with....just to accommodate an appliance store. Once the door of spot re-zoning is opened, it can't be closed. It would have set a precedent
that could impact Sheridan, Eggert, Delaware and Colvin."
Town Supervisor Carl Calabrese, who, to protect the town from potential litigation, had remained neutral prior to receiving any official request by Benchmark for re-zoning, closely monitored the situation.
Calabrese attended all the meetings with neighbors and representatives of Benchmark and personally fielded calls from more than 100 concerned town residents.
While indicating that he was glad that the matter is "resolved" to the satisfaction of neighbors, he also said the Benchmark Group, handled themselves in a "very professional" manner in their meetings with the neighbors and town officials.
"They looked at feasibility and ultimately deferred to the neighbors concerns," Calabrese said. "I commend them for it."
However, Calabrese at one point prodded the developer into making some kind of decision.
On March 8, after a lapse of about two months, while neighbors were on pins and needles wondering what would be the fate of their neighborhood and during which time Benchmark had Indicated it was working on feasibility studies, Calabrese fired off a letter to the group urging them to make haste about announcing their
plans one way or the other.
Benchmark, in defending its original plans, pointed to the increase in revenue that the huge edifice would add to the town tax base, the increase in new jobs the store would create, and the advantage that a new appliance store would be for the area.
Neighbors alarmed at having a mega-store 40 times bigger than their residences, pointed out that most of the jobs created would be low paying and that there was already a glut of appliance stores nearby.
John Dengler, secretary ot the powerful Kenmore Merchants Association, noted the widespread opposition felt by members of. his group. In a letter to Calabrese, the merchants' group indicated that they feared that spot re-zoning could destroy the character of the town and village.
Mike Sandone, who lives on Braxmar, in Green Acres, about, a
third of a mile away, would not have been impacted directly by
Benchmark's proposal, yet he signed petitions and Kept closely abreast of the issue, "I'm really elated about it, really excited (about Benchmark's decision to withdraw)" Sandone said. "This
will help keep our neighborhood residential."
While residents wrested a victory on this neighborhood threat they have another issue looming.
The Sun Oil company is proposing to cut down many of the stately trees on the block to clear a path over an underground pipeline. The residents have opposed this adamantly and even threatened to organize a boycott of Sun Oil products.
"The local residents are already involved in a struggle with Sun Oil.
pipeline and may not be able to objectively evaluate the pros and cons ' of (our) commercial development," Fiedler wrote to Calabrese.
Benchmark group is general partner of the Boulevard Mall and developed the Wall Mart and Home Depot on the boulevard in Amherst: '
'Showdown' with Sun Oil over trees
Town and residents will fight to keep a tree lined Koenig Road
By Frank Parlato Jr.
May 31, 1995
The ongoing battle, over whether the Sun Oil Co., the nation's largest distributor and marketer of finished petroleum, has the right to clear trees over an underground pipeline in the Town of Tonawanda appears to be heading closer to court.
Sun Oil is the parent company of Sunoco, one of Western New York's largest gas retailers.
The controversy centers on Koenig Road, a street of big trees
and small homes between Niagara Falls Boulevard, near the Youngmann Highway.
Sun officials contend that they "must" cut trees near their 58-year' old pipeline, along a right of way that has never been cleared. Sun asserts it needs to facilitate easier access and inspection.
Many in town, including Koenig Road residents and Town Supervisor, Carl Calabrese, oppose Sun's plan, which would practically clear the south side of the road and many of its stately and majestic trees.
Thus far, this opposition has put a halt to Sun's plans.
Invoking section 197-3a of the town code, which prohibits removing roadside trees without a permit, and which, if granted, could only come after an environmental review, Calabrese has forbidden Sun to carry out their tree- cutting project.
"If they send anybody with a chain saw, then they better be prepared to bail them out," he said. "As fast as you can say 'Sun,' I will instruct the town police to arrest them."
Sun has refused to comply with the town's permit granting process.
Their Philadelphia-based attorneys, Hancock and Estabrook, citing legal precedent, in a 17-page memorandum, wrote in it that "tree removal ordinances... are not enforceable with respect to Sun Oil's right of way...."
The attorneys also suggested a court of law would overrule
Calabrese responded, "If it has to go to court, then so be it. (But) unless a judge order it. Sun Oil is not going to take down one publicly owned tree," he said. "And, if we lose in court, we're going to appeal it."
Calabrese discounted Sun's oft repeated claim that their tree removal project is a "safety" issue, added, "if there really was a problem, I could dispatch a highway crew to take down a tree immediately.
"What they really want to do is to cut the trees for their own convenience to facilitate (cheaper) aerial: inspections," he said.
Operators of underground, petroleum pipelines are required by Federal Dot regulation 195.412(a) to walk; drive or fly over pipelines, "at least, 26 tildes a year" to check for evidence of leakage.
Only aerial inspections require a clear cut right of way.
To clarify, officially, the federal government's position, D.K. Sharma, a senior DOT official, in Washington D.C., wrote to Congressman John J. LaFalce, at the Congressmen's re-
quest, on May 2, 1995.
While acknowledging that "flying may be the most practical sur-
veillance technique," Sharma wrote that if Sun did not succeed with their plan to clear cut the trees, then they "must (continue to) walk or drive the right of way."
More significantly, Sharma confirmed that "emergency and spill response plans can be carried out without a clear right of way."
Sun spokesmen. Bud Davis, giving a clue as to the severity of the problem from Sun's perspective, indicated that the company already has cleared 228 of 252 miles of this pipeline for aerial inspection and if they were to be stopped here it would set
The corporation which employs 14,000 people, and grossed $9.8 billion in 1994, owns or operates 7000 miles of pipeline.
County Legislator Charles Swanick, (D-Kenmore), has been
closely monitoring the dispute.
He sides with the residents, and is prepared to take the issue countywide, if necessary, through a legislative action in the county legislature which would memorialize its opposition to Sun's tree- cutting project.
"If I were Sun Oil, I would look at this closely. You can't have neighbors maintain an area, beautify it for 58 years and then come along and suddenly turn the land to dust...
"They (Sun) are part of the Western New York family. I would consider, carefully, if I were them, that there are a lot of places where Wesern New Yorkers can buy gasoline" he said.
Sun Oil is the parent company of Sunoco, one of the leading retailers of Finished petroleum in WNY.
Town eclipses Sun
METRO COMMUNITY NEWS
By Frank Parlato Jr.
June 04 , 1995
The ongoing battle over whether the leviathan Sun Oil Co., the nation's largest distributor and marketer of finished petroleum,
has the right to clear out trees over an underground pipeline on town-owned land appears to be heading closer to court.
The controversy centers on Koenig Road, a street of behemoth-sized trees and small but picturesque homes off Niagara Falls
Boulevard, near the Youngmann Highway in the Town of Tonawanda.
Sun officials contend that they "must" fell those trees that are near their 58-year-old pipeline, along a right of way that has never
been cleared, to facilitate easier access and inspection. Many in town, including Koenig residents and Town Supervisor Carl J. Calabrese, oppose Sun's plan which, if effected, would practically denude the south side of Koenig of many of its stately and
most strikingly majestic and towering trees.
Thus far, Calabrese has put a halt to Sun's plans. Invoking section 197-3a of the town code, which prohibits removing road-side trees without a permit, and which, if granted, could come only after an environmental review, Calabrese has forbidden Sun to carry out their tree-cutting project.
"If they send anybody with a chain saw, then they better be prepared to bail them out," he said. "As fast as you can say
'Sun,' I will instruct the town police to arrest them."
However, Sun, in turn, has refused to comply with the town's permit-granting process to date. Their Philadelphia-based attorneys, Hancock and Estabrook wrote in a 17 page memorandum that "tree removal ordinances ... are not enforceable with respect
to Sun Oil's right of way," further suggesting that a court of law would overrule Calabrese's fiat.
"If it has to go to court then so be it," Calabrese responded. "(But) unless a judge orders it, Sun Oil is not going to take down
one publicly-owned tree, and if we lose in court, we're going to appeal it.
"If there really was a problem, I could dispatch a highway crew to take down a tree immediately," Calabrese added, discounting Sun's oft-repeated claim that their tree removal project is a "safety" issue.
"What they really want to do is cut..the trees for their own convenience to facilitate aerial inspections."
Operators of underground petroleum pipelines are required by federal regulations to walk by, drive by, or fly over pipelines at least 26 times a year to check tor evidence of leakage. Only aerial inspections require a clear-cut right of way:
Sun spokesman Bud Davis, giving a clue as to the severity of the problem from Sun's perspective, indicated that the company has already cleared 228 of 252 miles of the pipeline for aerial inspection and if they were to be stopped at Koenig, it would "set
The corporation, which employs 14,000 people and grossed $9.8 billion in 1994, owns or operates 7,000 miles of pipeline.
Erie County legislator Charles M. Swanick (D-Kenmore), at the behest of Koenig residents, has been closely monitoring the dispute.
He sides with the residents, and is prepared to take the issue countywide, if necessary, through a legislative action in the
county legislature which would memorialize their opposition to Sun's tree-cutting project.
"If I were Sun Oil, I would look at this closely. You cannot have the neighbors maintain an area and beautify an area for 58 years and then come along and suddenly turn the land to dust," Swanick said. "They (Sun) are part of the Western New York family. I would consider, carefully, if I were them, that there are a lot of places where Western New Yorkers can buy gasoline."
Sun Oil is the parent company of Sunoco, one of the leading retailers of finished petroleum In Western New York.