The Abbey hears concern over residential component
From controversial tax breaks to being used as an example of overdevelopment in Clarence, Russell Salvatore Jr.’s two-story, mixed-use Transit Road project dubbed “The Abbey” has received its share of criticism.
A familiar pattern of apprehension from neighbors continued at the Planning Board’s June 6 meeting as Salvatore continues to request review of a proposed phase two expansion to the mixed-use complex at 6449 Transit Road, which is set to include eight residential units within two buildings.
Should the project’s developers continue on their quest for eight units, they will first need a variance from the Zoning Board, which can only approve six units on the property under existing law. The eight luxury apartments would complement four retail units at the complex that includes Rebel Ride, Taco Community Beer and Village Designs.
“We’re taking an opportunity with phase two of the project to add or enhance the parking situation to phase one,” said Dave Sutton of Sutton Architecture, speaking on behalf of the project. “We have 42 existing parking spaces with the property, and we are adding 30 additional parking spaces that would be available for the commercial use, as well as 16 additional parking spaces for the introduction of eight townhouse style apartments.”
Before it was even standing, The Abbey has been beset with trials related to tax breaks and financial assistance granted by the Clarence Industrial Development Agency, which in 2016 approved mortgage recording and sales tax breaks under the agency’s adaptive reuse policy. The IDA is now considering granting the project a 10-year property tax break.
Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz has consistently conveyed opposition to the tax breaks, stating that the previous building onsite was torn down, which he says should have negated the potential for financial incentives.
At last week’s Planning Board meeting, residents had their turn to express trepidation.
Fred Cook, a resident of Woodbury Court, asked for elaboration as to how Salvatore could potentially receive approval for eight residential units rather than the six allowed under town law.
“It’s the latest update to the multifamily housing code. We want to encourage commercial development, and in order to do that, we offer incentives so that if you do commercial, you get those incentives to do residential,” said Jim Callahan, the director of community development for the Town of Clarence. “It’s a complicated formula we came up with to identify how much residential is limited on a commercial project.
“Phase two could incorporate six units,” he continued. “They’re proposing eight, which would be a violation of the code, and that’s going to be something that will have to be addressed if they continue with this amount.”
Allen Mann, a resident of Clarherst Drive, told the board that he and his neighbors were under the impression that residential units were never part of the plans for the site when The Abbey was first approved by the town.
“I was here a few years ago when phase one was being discussed, and at that time, we were told there would be no further development. I remember that very clearly,” he said. “I’m really disappointed that this has even gotten this far. You’re talking about intruding on our property with rental units, and I cannot help but expect that that is going to decrease the value of our properties.”
Sutton, however, refuted Mann’s recollection, stating that when the project was first presented to the town, the townhouse portion was a part of the submittal, though because of the newly implemented multifamily housing code, developers were asked to remove the residential aspects of the project and return to them at a later time.
“We have always intended to do townhouse-style apartments at the back part of this property,” Sutton said. “The only reason we separated this project is that so we could move forward with phase one without delaying the whole project.”
Residents cited a host of concerns with the proposed residential component of the project. Paul Runfola, a resident of Old Post Road West, questioned whether Salvatore would approve of such a proposal if he were still living within the neighborhood.
“Our development has been around since 1979, and one of the cherished assets of our community is the woods and the privacy,” said Runfola. “Ironically, Russell Salvatore grew up down the street from this area, and the question I would have for him is whether he and his family would have been happy about something like this.”