By Thad Komorowski
TOWN OF NIAGARA – The stage was set at Thursday’s Town Board work session for approval of the state environmental quality review of the proposed expansion of the Fashion Outlets of Niagara, but the actual vote won’t come until Tuesday at the earliest.
If the project is approved, mall developers are ready to begin soil remediation almost immediately, with the first stages of construction earmarked for this fall, according to Douglas Morrow, vice president of development for Macerich, the Santa Monica, Calif., firm that owns the mall.
During a 90-minute discussion regarding various aspects of the project’s environmental impact, Morrow told the board that developers had been in full compliance with the requests of the town and all agencies. He urged the board to move the project forward.
The expansions of competing malls in Canada would mean the mall owners would be at a competitive disadvantage without the additional space, he said.
The planned $71 million expansion would add 170,000 square feet and an estimated 50 stores to the Military Road shopping mecca, which attracts thousands of shoppers – primarily from Canada – every week.
Although no formal count was taken, the board appeared ready to vote on the matter at Tuesday’s meeting.
As lead agent in the environmental impact review, the board is charged with determining if the project would have any significant adverse environmental impact, according to town engineer Norman Gardner, principal associate with Clark Patterson Lee. By making a negative declaration, the board would be saying it is convinced that the project would not have an adverse impact on the environment.
Gardner discussed about a dozen areas the expansion could affect, such as altering existing land, water and wetlands, drainage, air, plants and animals, aesthetic resources, traffic and transportation, noise, public health, and whether the project would create a public controversy.
“I did not identify any significant adverse environmental impact,” he said in conclusion. However, he told the councilmen they needed a “break before approval” of the document to ensure that they took a “reasonable hard look” at the project.
Town Attorney Michael Risman assured Gardner that the board has given the project a “hard-look deliberation” after discussing the issues for months.
“The record should reflect that this is not the first time the expansion has been reviewed,” he said.
One issue that raised some concern during the review was the construction of three large water-retention ponds at the site. One pond would cover several acres behind the Super Walmart store next door, Gardner said. The ponds, which will hold drainage water from the site, would hold water that would normally outflow to the sewer system, it was noted.
Councilman Charles Teixeira said he did not like the concept of open retention ponds on the property and wondered why they could not be underground as at other sites. He said they would be surrounded by vegetation and cattails that would catch debris blowing through the site and questioned who would maintain and clean them. In addition, even if fenced in, the ponds could result in drownings.
Gardner said the ponds were the “preferred alternative” by the state stormwater management division of the Department of Environmental Conservation.
“It may be their preferred alternative but not mine,” Teixeira said.
Another issue of concern was the recent disclosure by DEC of soil contamination at the site of the former Sabre Park mobile home development, which was condemned this year and purchased for the expansion. As a DEC brownfield, the land will have to be remediated before any expansion takes place.
Supervisor Steve Richards said the contamination information was never released to the town by the DEC.
“But the real question is who allowed a trailer park to be built on a former Union Carbide dump?” Richards asked.
Building Inspector Charles Haseley said the remedial work done over the years at the Sabre Park site probably was “the best managed environmental practice” of the time. He said some soil was removed while some was capped.