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JUNE 10 - JUNE 18, 2014

Lewiston Bridgewater Project Set for Town Zoning Showdown

By Mike Hudson and Frank Parlato

June 10, 2014

Former town Supervisor forgot to mention he had a dual role in the Bridgewater deal: He was a silent partner!

A proposal to build a high density, high rise apartment complex in the bucolic Town of Lewiston will most likely be tabled at Thursday night’s meeting of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals, sources tell the Niagara Falls Reporter.

Zoning Board members reached by the Reporter refused to rule out the probability that two variances requested for what has come to be known as the Bridgewater project will be tabled, and the entire matter kicked back to the town board for review.

“The Zoning Board has three options,” Board Chairman Paul Hutchins said. “We can approve the requested variances, reject them or table any action and start the whole process from the beginning again.”

Hutchins said the process needs to be re-evaluated.

“I think that it looks like things were improperly done here, there was no traffic study, for example, and I think the Town Board needs to look at this again.”

Newly appointed board member Anita Muzzi said she won’t be voting on the proposal because of a prior family commitment, but was under the impression that the request for variances by developers of the Bridgewater project would be tabled.

And board member Dominic Balassone said that significant new information has come to light concerning the project since the board’s last meeting.

“There are a lot of things we have to go over, we got some additional paperwork since the last meeting that we’ve got to go through, and I just don’t feel comfortable saying anything about it at this point,” he said.

Developers have touted the project, which would house some 250 residents into 138 units contained in five-story apartment buildings built on 3.5 acres adjacent to the Modern Disposal landfill on Route 104 near Model City Road.

The proposal sped through the approval process with the help of former Supervisor Steve Reiter – who neglected to tell any of the officials involved that he was a silent partner in the project.
That fact came to light after Modern Disposal owner Sonja Washuta commenced a lawsuit against the developers of Bridgewater and the town, claiming a violation of process and a conflict of interest, on Reiter’s part.

The developers seek two variances, or exemptions from town zoning law. They want to build their apartments 50 feet high, which is taller than town law allows, taller than any structure within the vicinity if not the entire town. Furthermore, they want to build their apartments within 30 feet of the neighbor's property, which is a 150 percent variance.

According to the developers, the project will house upscale senior citizen tenants. But what upscale senior citizen is going to want to be packed like a sardine in an apartment far removed from any amenities and boasting a view of a landfill and a yard used to store portable construction site toilets?

And Lewiston residents need only look to their nearest neighbor to the south – Niagara Falls -- to see plenty of evidence that apartment complexes originally intended for seniors often become squalid “welfare hotels,” where unwed mothers and those with chemical dependency problems live side by side with unfortunate seniors who believed the hype.

Bridgewater can develop without the variances by going with smaller and fewer buildings which would eliminate the need for variances and protect surrounding properties. The company then would face no obstacle in developing its multi-family senior housing project, if that was their true intention.

In the end, the Bridgewater project was planned to be a 138-unit complex, costing $12.3 million to build. The developers' plan, according to their IDA application, is to refinance the project for $16.3 million, pulling out $4 million up front as a developer fee. And that’s the reason they want a high density project - in order to justify the large pull out of cash up front.

Last week, Washuta sent out fliers to thousands of town residents urging them to attend the zoning board hearing. Attendance may be large since it is widely believed the project will wind up being not the promised "luxury senior housing" project, but a Section 8, low-income project.

And concerned residents should attend, since nothing less than the future of Lewiston is at stake.





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