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JULY 01 - JULY 09, 2014

Town Board Cancels Bridgewater SEQRA Approvals, Developers Must Start From Scratch!

By Frank Parlato

July 01, 2014

The Bridgewater site was a gas station up until 1974. No environmental study has been done to date.

At the town of Lewiston's June 23 town board meeting, the board voted unanimously 5-0 to rescind Bridgewater Estate's New York State Environmental Quality Review Act or SEQRA approvals.

This all but spells the death knell for the project, a proposed senior luxury 138-unit complex on land owned by the family of former Supervisor Steven L. Reiter.

Councilman William Conrad told the Reporter, "Yes we canceled the SEQRA. With all the new information that has come to light recently, the approval has to be rescinded and they have to start over."

Conrad expressed concern about the lack of a traffic study required in the former SEQRA approval despite a planned driveway for some 200 seniors which had as its outlet on RT 104 which would pit seniors against barreling truck traffic often in excess of the listed 55 mph speed limit.

"I also have concerns now that it has come to light that the site was once used as a gas station. A full environmental study is required," Conrad said.

The proposed site of the Bridgewater Estates us at the corner of Model City Road and 104 which is in the lower left of this picture. Behind the proposed project is the sprawling Modern Disposal landfill and property.

Dennis Brochey, who succeeded Reiter as supervisor, said the way it was "rushed through" under Reiter gave him concerns, suggesting that Reiter may have had a conflict of interest.

"I believe it should be done, we should do the whole thing all over again," Brochey said.

Rescinding the SEQRA approval means the developers, if they choose to proceed, will have to again apply for and get approved by the town board based on SEQRA standards which "require all state and local government agencies to consider environmental impacts equally with social and economic factors during discretionary decision-making.... This means these agencies must assess the environmental significance of all actions they have discretion to approve, fund or directly undertake," according to New York State law.

Complicating the matter for Bridgewater's developers is a lawsuit-now on hold pending what happens in the town - by the owner of Modern Disposal, Sonja Washuta. The site sits in front of the Modern Disposal landfill.

The lawsuit, before Justice Mark Montour, questioned the process, arguing that Reiter signed off on a short form SEQRA, which basically short cut the process and that he failed to assess the potential harm the project might do if developed where it was to be located.

The lawsuit also claims Reiter had a conflict of interest.

Reiter was listed as a 19 percent owner of the Bridgewater Project on an IDA application, although he failed to disclose that interest at the time he signed off on the abbreviated SEQRA approval process as town supervisor.

In the last few weeks, the Zoning Board of Appeals tabled the developer's request for variances on height and setback and the planning board tabled approvals.

Rendering of proposed Bridgewater Estates.


A steady procession of trucks come barreling down 104, prompting some to believe a traffic study is required.

When contacted by the Reporter, Reiter said he would not comment on the future of the project until after he spoke with the partners in Bridgewater.

The planned project has no provision in it - if it is built - to be what it has been promised to be: a luxury senior housing project.

It could become- and there is nothing in writing to stop it - an affordable housing project.

The Reiter property was marketed in the past year, prior to Bridgewater buying it, for $350,000. Bridgewater contracted to buy the property from Reiter's mother for $1.4 million.

The Niagara County IDA approved the project for tax free status after longtime chairman of the IDA board, Henry Sloma, resigned from the board to take a consulting position with Bridgewater. He returned to the board as its chairman after Bridgewater got $1.8 million in tax incentives for creating three jobs.

The IDA tax breaks expired last month and the IDA board refused to renew them.

Bridgewater, if they wish to continue in their plan to develop the project, will have to reapply and pay all fees again to the town.

The town board, as lead agency, will have to decide what environmental studies they will require.

Ahead is a long process.

Several board members said that a traffic study will be needed.

Because there was a gas station once at the site, the board will, following the advice of their town engineer, likely require intrusive testing, drilling, test pits, soil testing, groundwater sampling and some air sampling in the test pits, which are always required for sites that once had a gas station on it.

This was waived the first time around and no mention was made that it was a gas station. But old gas stations have kerosene, diesel and gasoline.

If some was left behind, it could cost anywhere from $10,000 to $200,000 or more to clean it up.

Truck exhaust and air quality studies may also be needed to determine the health effects of the hundreds of trucks on senior citizen's health.

The developers will need to prove their project is compatible with the town's master plan.

In April 2103, Reiter signed off on a short form SEQRA. As supervisor, he declared there was nothing to consider when it came to environmental issues for the site.

Now, instead of the two-page short form SEQRA, the town will do a full environmental, long form SEQRA, required whenever there is doubt as to environmental issues for a property.

How long will it take? It will certainly go beyond the first of next year.

Everything starts from the beginning.

The zoning and planning boards cannot take any action without a SEQRA approval.

The loss of the SEQRA means they are going back as if they never appeared.

Now, officially, there is no Bridgewater.

Whatever they do next is as if they just walked in the door.

Will the developers see success at the end of a pile of money?

Time will tell.


Steve Reiter was supervisor when the project was approved.





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