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ECIDA approves grant to develop ex-Dunlop site in Grand Island

Board turns down grant to prepare site in Sardinia

News Business Reporter
Concerns about sprawl stopped the Erie County Industrial Development Agency on Monday from pursuing a grant to help prepare 201 acres in Sardinia for development but failed to thwart similar efforts for the former Dunlop Tire headquarters and surrounding land in Grand Island.

While Erie County Executive Joel A. Giambra opposed both proposals to pursue grants for preliminary site development work, the IDA agreed to pursue funding for the Grand Island project because of its high visibility and location in a developed region. But the board took no action on the proposal to seek similar funding for a proposed retail and commercial development in rural Sardinia because of concerns about encouraging sprawl.

The IDA agreed to seek a grant of up to $100,000 from the state's Build Now-NY program for the proposed Grand Island Gateway Center, which will include 144 acres of land surrounding the former Dunlop headquarters.

The project, proposed by the current owner of the dilapidated Dunlop building, JSJ Holdings, and Acquest Development, which owns the neighboring acreage, would either tear down the deteriorating structure or renovate it as part of an industrial and business park. The developers would provide funds equal to the grant to do preliminary engineering work for traffic, sewer and infrastructure improvements at the site.

"This is a very visible tract," said Jo Nasoff-Finton, the IDA's deputy director. "But for the lack of sewers, it probably would have been developed a long time ago."

In its current state, "it's not only a detriment to Grand Island, it's a detriment to Erie County," she said.

But Giambra objected to the effort, citing his ongoing concerns about subsidizing speculative new developments when the region's economy is stagnant - a process that he says allows local businesses to move from one subsidized project to another without spurring real growth.

Giambra later said his objection to the Grand Island project centered around the possibility that it could lead to further development at the site in a market that is not growing. But he said he supports efforts to tear down or rehab the heavily vandalized Dunlop building.

"I'm definitely in favor of taking care of the eyesore," he said.

While the Dunlop grant application was approved by a 10-2 vote, with Giambra and Amherst Supervisor Satish Mohan opposing, the Sardinia project met with a much cooler reception, mainly because of its rural location.

The IDA voted to take no action on the effort to obtain similar grant funding for the proposed Tri-County Industrial Park at a former gravel pit along Route 16 in Sardinia.

"It's another example where we're going to continue to facilitate development outward," Giambra said. "We're not at the point in this community where we're seeing the demand from the outside to warrant growing at the outer edges."

"The policies that we're doing here are leading to sprawl," he said. "I don't know if putting another 200 acres out there at the furthest end of the county makes sense."

Charles Webb, the IDA's executive director, said the preliminary work would help prepare two new shovel-ready sites in the county, which has a shortage of land that can be developed quickly.

IDA board member James Doherty, who cast the only vote against tabling the Sardinia application, said some companies may be interested in a rural setting, rather than one closer to the county's urban center.

"We need to have various sites ready," he said. "I want to give every businessman who comes into this community the opportunity to go where they want to go."