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JUNE 10 - JUNE 18, 2014

New Benderson Plaza in Niagara will Forever Change Character of Surrounding Neighborhood

By Frank Parlato

June 10, 2014

Before Benderson: Effie St.
After: The woods are cleared. Houses in background.

Picture living in a $200,000 home on a quiet street with tall, stately trees and behind you a forest as far as the eye can see.

That is what the people on Ziblut Court and Effie Drive in the Town of Niagara had for decades.

In their backyard there were acres of mature forest and a minute away was Military Road and the business district and one of the area's largest attractions: the Fashion Outlet Mall.

The problem was that the forest behind their homes did not belong to the people on Ziblut or Effie.

It belonged to Benderson Development.

And overnight the trees have come down and in place of forest there will be the back of a mall and a parking lot and dumpsters, the sounds of cars and for the most part the end of tranquil privacy.

No one can honestly blame Benderson for trying to profit on land bought with development in mind. All the trees they cut down were their own.

If anybody is to blame - if blame there be- for aiding development in the Town of Niagara - then it must go to the Town Board seated in 2009: Steve Richards, Rob Clark, Marc Carpenter, Chuck Teixeira and Robert Herman. (Clark, Carpenter, and Teixeira are still on the board.)

It was that board that approved a zoning change that allowed Benderson's 22-acre property to change from 200 feet deep (starting from Military Rd) commercial zoning to rezoning to commercial all the way back into the woods.

But for that change Benderson would have been allowed to only develop in the front, away from the neighbors.

When Benderson bought the land, by the way, they knew that any commercial project they wanted to build was zoned to go back only 200 feet- unless they got it changed for which there was no guarantee.

The board was under no obligation to rezone it.

There was no legal argument Benderson could make to force the board or claim hardship.

They bought the land with that condition: only 200 feet deep of commercial.

The original zoning would have saved the woods or limited development to residential back there where the woods once stood. This original zoning was done undoubtedly to protect the privacy of the residential neighborhood behind Military Road.

The 2009 Town Board chose to ignore that, in the name of development.

Benderson sought-- and the 2009 Town Board approved-- a zoning change making the entire parcel commercial and bringing the zoning back hundreds of feet into the woods and to the backyards of neighbors on Ziblut and Effie.

Since the land was rezoned in 2009, the current board had little choice last month but to approve Benderson's plan to build a 146,000-square-foot retail and restaurant space - all the way back into the woods since it conformed with the (changed) zoning.

Only Councilman Danny Sklarski - who was not on the board in 2009 when it was rezoned - voted against the Benderson plan, knowing his vote was futile.

Sure, Benderson will bring new business to town. But back in May, 2009, there was little consideration for a couple dozen homeowners and the drastic effect this development, now coming to fruition in June 2014, will have on two streets in the town of Niagara.

"What Benderson did was 100 percent legal," said Sklarski. "This is the first time I ever voted against a project that is completely legal and the reason I did that is that the residents have rights and unfortunately their quality of life will be changed forever. They will no longer be looking out of the backyard and be seeing trees."

While Benderson agreed to create a 100-foot, no-build zone between the commercial property and neighboring homes and 8-foot high fencing 10 feet inside the commercial property line to create more distance between the plaza and its neighbors, after cutting all the trees, the houses have very little buffer zone.. It seems the plaza will be in their backyard.

After Benderson builds his development, what effect it will have on property values for homes once worth over $200,000 remains to seen.

"You'd be hard pressed to pay $200,000 and look at a concrete wall," Sklarski said.

Is the loss the neighbors experience offset by the new shopping complex, the new jobs, the added sales tax, more Canadian shoppers coming to Niagara spending money with local people?

Did Benderson have the right to develop its land the way they wanted?

It's hard to argue against that and yet hard not to feel sorry for the neighbors.

Somebody wins and somebody loses.

Maybe all so-called progress is like that.





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Contact Info

©2014 The Niagara Falls Reporter Inc.
POB 3083, Niagara Falls, N.Y. 14304
Phone: (716) 284-5595

Publisher and Editor in Chief: Frank Parlato
Managing Editor: Dr. Chitra Selvaraj
Senior Editor: Tony Farina