LOCKPORT – Growth – where to allow it and how to control it – is the main concern of the Town of Lockport’s proposed new comprehensive plan.
The second draft of the document was posted on the town’s website last week, in advance of the second public meeting on the topic, set for 7 p.m. Thursday in Town Hall, 6560 Dysinger Road. Doors will open at 6:30.
Highlights include a tentative endorsement of the expansion of the Lafarge North America stone quarry, the demise of the proposal to build traffic medians along South Transit Road and the notion of constructing a new road west of South Transit Road to try to relieve some of the traffic on that major route.
Also featured is the suggestion that the southeastern part of the town may become the primary focus for new subdivisions, if the town spends the money to install sewers.
Andrew C. Reilly of the Wendel engineering firm, the town’s planner, said he hopes the plan will be adopted by the Town Board before the end of the year.
He said the changes in the second draft originated primarily from statements made at a public meeting May 14.
Smith said all public suggestions would be included in the final document, at least in an appendix. If the Town Board doesn’t see fit to include a suggestion in the final version of the plan, at least it will be on the record, and such “toolbox items,” as Reilly called them, might be considered later as circumstances change.
Supervisor Marc R. Smith said a third draft, taking into account the public reaction to version two, will be posted before the Town Board holds a public hearing later this year.
Reilly said the plan is important because under state law, all zoning changes are supposed to be made in accordance with an official comprehensive plan.
For a steadily growing town such as Lockport with developers interested in both commercial and residential projects, that means the comprehensive plan is crucial, both for short-term issues such as whether the Lafarge stone quarry will be allowed to expand, and long-term topics such as the best location for residential growth.
Reilly said he was leaning toward inserting a provision in the new draft endorsing expansion of the Lafarge quarry onto the south side of Hinman Road, just to see what the public response would be. Smith said no decision has been made.
The current comprehensive plan does not allow mining in locations where it doesn’t already exist, Reilly said. Therefore, for Lafarge to carry out its expansion plans, the comprehensive plan must be changed, unless Lafarge wants to try to expand through a zoning variance.
“A use variance is very hard to get,” Reilly said.
“Our biggest concern is making sure the residents are protected,” Smith said. He and the Town Board came under heavy fire for allowing Lafarge in December 2012 to begin mining a strip of land on the rim of its current quarry.
A group of residents sued the town over that but ended up dropping the case last year.
Smith said the town is considering the company’s suggestion of some baseline inspections of nearby homes, so if damage claims are ever filed as a result of blasting or truck traffic, the company can be sure the damage wasn’t already there.
Reilly said the comprehensive plan may include a concept he called “incentive zoning,” which requires the applicant, in this case Lafarge, to make a monetary offer or other “mitigations or benefits” to the town in exchange for permission for its project.
“New York State law has allowed people to get very creative with incentive zoning,” Reilly said.
In a letter to the town and residents in December, Lafarge said it would be willing to discuss a host community agreement, making payments to the town in exchange for expansion of the quarry.
Meanwhile, the plan will emphasize the success and expansion of the industrial area around the town industrial park, which features the Yahoo complex. The town is planning to expand the industrial park by seizing land from General Motors, a tactic approved in court.
In another part of town, Smith said the state Department of Transportation, which in the past had been dead set against the idea of extending any existing roads to intersect with the Lockport Bypass, seems to be relaxing its stance. The draft plan envisions extending roads to the west to make such connections.
Four existing roads could be used: Ruhlman and Strauss roads and Shimer and Reger drives.
“I would think the one that would make the most sense would be Shimer,” Smith said. That’s because there would be fewer private property issues to resolve in routing an extension.
Reilly’s draft suggests a new road between the bypass and South Transit Road, something analogous to Snyder Drive, which is located on the eastern edge of the commercial strip.
That would be a long-term project, since a route would have to be chosen and land acquired. “If it’s not completely solved, the comprehensive plan will just point out what needs to be done,” Reilly said. “It would provide another route into that retail area without having to come down Robinson and up Transit.”
But he also noted, “There’s residential development there. I’m sure those people don’t want more cars coming by their houses.”
In the meantime, the town has given up the idea of building medians along South Transit. It had an elaborate plan for several medians between Robinson Road and the city line, with spacing to allow for left turns.
However, the town’s application for a $384,000 state grant was turned down last fall. The town would have had to pay $96,000 toward the project, which involved 880 feet of medians in a 1.3-mile stretch of road.
“For now it’s not going to be something we invest in,” Smith said.
“The public, I guess, spoke against the median idea,” Reilly said. “Whether I agree or disagree, it’s been pulled from consideration.”
Smith acknowledged that the plan was a casualty of last year’s election campaign. Paul R. Black, who ran unsuccessfully for the Town Board, gathered petition signatures against the median idea.
Potential for growth
Smith said the town intends to beautify the commercial strip by planting flowers and trees along the curbs.
The Robinson-Dysinger Road corridor has shown some commercial growth in recent years, but Reilly’s draft envisions not allowing that to extend much farther to the east. Smith said some property owners along Dysinger Road have shown interest in business growth, but the supervisor said commercial projects wouldn’t be permitted farther east than Bowmiller Road.
Reilly said the town’s online survey, available through the Survey Monkey website, has garnered about 100 responses so far, and 83 percent of the respondents said sidewalks, bicycle trails and connectivity were very important to them.
“I was happy to see that was high on the list,” Reilly said.
The southeastern part of the town, which now is lightly populated, presents an opportunity for residential growth because of its proximity to Clarence and Amherst and to South Transit Road.
“The town would have to invest in infrastructure or work with developers for infrastructure,” Reilly said. Without sewers, large subdivisions are almost impossible to build, although there is municipal water service.
“There are restrictions down there. It’s not the easiest part of the town. If you go to the environmental map, there are wetlands and other problems,” Reilly said. Sewer expansions would have to be targeted to the best potential building sites.
“We’re going to pick those areas that aren’t low and wet,” Reilly said. “It’s not just willy-nilly; this area should be developed.”
Smith said in April that more southerly parts of the town are viewed as better spots for residential development, in part because they are in the Starpoint School District, which is viewed as desirable.
“We’ve had the most development pressure in that area,” Reilly said.
A DOT study rejected the notion of constructing new roads in southeastern Lockport, but Reilly said the town needs to keep an eye on that while improving the existing road system.
Smith said he expects that Robinson Road will reach its maximum capacity soon,which could lead to construction of a center turning lane, at least east of South Transit Road.
Elsewhere, the draft plan envisions protecting the agricultural districts in the northern part of the town, while considering a small cluster of businesses in the Chestnut Ridge Road area, where a Tops Market already stands.