Residents rally to defend 'rural character'

News Northtowns Bureau

Grand Island Town Board members got an earful Tuesday night from a group of Webb Road residents who protested proposed changes to the town's zoning code during the first of two public hearings on the issue.

About a half-dozen residents of the quiet rural road connecting Grand Island Boulevard and Baseline Road claim plans to alter zoning on properties adjacent to their homes for apartment buildings and commercial recreational properties will destroy their neighborhood.

"Don't let business rule your decisions like the towns of Amherst, Clarence, and Lancaster and all the other suburban communities. . . . Listen to what the taxpayers are saying," Timothy Wellence, of 1919 Webb, told the board.

"The rural character of Webb Road is what brought my wife and I to Grand Island six or seven years ago."

Wellence's wife, Mary Elizabeth, also addressed the board and presented a petition signed by residents in 25 of the 29 homes on the road. She invited board members "to come to (her) neighborhood and house to have a better understanding what (they'll) be destroying."

Mary Wellence said that while precise lines neatly distinguish one zoning area from another on a map, "in real life, it all blends together."

According to Supervisor Peter A. McMahon, the hearings are part of a continuing effort to revamp the code and are being held by the Town Board to generate input on the proposed changes to the zoning code, which was last updated in 1972.

The goal of the rezoning, McMahon said, is to properly align the town's zoning code with its master plan that was adopted by the Town Board seven years ago.

"We have struggled at great length as a committee. The changes by and large are made to conform to the master plan," McMahon said.

"We want business concentrated in the center of the island, which is called the town center. It's from Webb Road to Bedell Road and from the Thruway to the power lines."

Matching the master plan or not, however, Webb Road residents are demanding their neighborhood retain its rural characteristics.

"The new proposed zoning is too close to our homes," said Jean Bleich of 1865 Webb, who built the first house on the north side of the road 42 years ago with her husband. "The character and peacefulness of our community that we have all enjoyed is being threatened."

Bleich and other Webb Road residents say they plan on returning to reiterate their feelings at the next public hearing, Wednesday in Kaegebein Elementary School, 1690 Love Road.

Following next week's hearing, town officials will use the comments received to draft a revised proposal for eventual Town Board approval.

McMahon said the two-year endeavor to update the town's zoning will likely wrap up sometime this summer.