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Bringing the City to the Country: The Problem is Density with Bri Estates

It should hardly be called “Estates” when the postage stamp-sized lots are only 7,500 square feet, or around 1/5 of an acre each.

Opposition to a proposed new housing development in the Town of Niagara is gaining momentum, as more information becomes available to residents of the Colonial Drive and Miller Road neighborhoods which will adjoin the subdivision, should it be built.

The local office of Yonkers, NY-based Double C Realty Inc. has been navigating the labyrinth of local and state zoning regulations for several months, as well as seeking approvals from regulatory agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers and the state DEC, towards commencing construction of the 119 unit “Bri Estates” subdivision on an empty lot in the town.

Actually, not entirely empty, since the 40.4 acre site is presently half meadow and half forest bordering homeowners’ backyards, providing them with peaceful, pristine, pastoral views out of their rear-facing windows. And according to local residents who attended an August 30 information session at Town Hall, the lush space teems with wildlife.

Not a problem, Double C Realty attorney Sean Hopkins reassured the crowd, since the wildlife can simply be “relocated.”

Butterflies, owls, hawks, songbirds, mature hardwood trees, acres of wildflowers – will all have to be “relocated,” according to the lawyer for Double C Realty.

The site is zoned R-1 (Residential, single family), and so far, the developer hasn’t needed to obtain any variances, even as major modifications have been made to the original plan. For example, the number of dwellings has been reduced twice since the project’s inception, from over 160 packed into the 40 acres, to 137, and finally, 119, as revealed at the question and answer parley. That resulted in several changes to the specs for individual lots, such as an expanded (but still minimal) 60′ frontage per lot, from an initial (and shockingly small) 40′.

We viewed the most recent, updated site plans last week, which were available for inspection at the Town of Niagara Hall.

A table labeled “Site Data,” at the top of one page, lists “Proposed” vs. “Required” parameters for the new Bri Estates housing complex. It’s clear that the bare minimum standards are being adhered to.

For example, Lot Size (7500′), Lot Frontage (60′), Front Yard Setback (40′), Side Yard Setback (7′) and Rear Yard Setback (10′) all meet the minimum requirements for new developments at the designated location.

The future location of one of two new access roads that will have to slice through houses and yards on Colonial Drive to connect to Bri Estates within. This one happens to be right next to a blind curve, making for a dangerous traffic situation.

The owner of the property is identified as Double C Realty. According to NYS business records, the CEO of Double C Realty of NY, Inc. is listed as one George Churakos, and the address given is 2368 Maryland Ave in Niagara Falls. General construction contractor and well-known local firm Mark Cerrone Inc. is headquartered at the same address in the same building, and also has Mr. Churakos listed as CEO.

Two other companies whose logos appear on the plans are Wendel Companies, whose workers were observed surveying at the site as recently as three weeks ago, and Metzger Civil Engineering of Williamsville. The latter’s president, Michael Metzger, presented at the Aug. 30 meeting along with Mr. Hopkins.

Mr. Metzger’s a busy guy, the other night finding himself at another town meeting in Lewiston trying to justify a similar proposal – this one, 177 houses crammed into 80.2 acres – along Upper Mountain Road and Bronson Drive. Concerns about increased vehicular traffic in these presently quiet bedroom communities as a result of the additional housing, as echoed at both meetings, were practically identical.

“Many residents… openly laughed at Metzger’s claim that traffic ‘was not a problem.’ While the (builder’s) representative claimed that a traffic study had been completed and found that the added load to the traffic dynamic was not substantially dangerous, residents still brought forward safety concerns, especially those who faced access roads directly across from their homes,” reported the Gazette.

At the Town of Niagara meeting, the two (Messrs. Metzger and Hopkins) attempted to rationalize for the approximately eighty or so deeply concerned local property owners the grossly inflated asking price of $250,000 for each house shoehorned into the cramped development. Many present questioned whether the $250,000 price was realistic, especially given that two different houses on Miller Road, relatively new houses on larger lots and with more frontage than those slated for Bri Estates, recently sold for around half that.

Before (above) and after (below): There goes the neighborhood!

An online real estate ad for one of the two houses noted that “The brick and vinyl home has no neighbors in the back.”

Of course, a selling price of $250,000 would go a long ways towards convincing the gullible that an appreciable boost to the tax base is to be realized should the project go forward. However, numerous studies over the past couple of decades have convincingly argued that the increase in services such as police, fire, garbage collection, snow plowing and the additional kids from these starter homes attending the local school, more than offsets any additional property tax revenue.

Plus, many long-time town residents simply scoff at the contention that these tiny houses practically sitting on top of each other would fetch a quarter of a million dollars per “estate,” regardless of real estate market trends.

Clearly, while Double C Realty has a right to build on property they own, this is the worst form of suburban sprawl, pure and simple. They are aiming for the smallest possible lots, at the highest possible prices, utilizing the cheapest possible construction, resulting in the worst possible views.

Legend has it, Daniel Boone moved further out into the wilderness because one morning he saw smoke from another man’s chimney on the horizon. How Americans have changed, or maybe are just running out of room.

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