CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) – For the better part of a decade, the old Garden Village Plaza has sat vacant (or nearly-vacant) and dilapidated, at the corner of French and Union Roads in Cheektowaga.
Now Benderson Development wants to repurpose the existing buildings and construct a new one, for warehouse, manufacturing, office and light industrial use.
Benderson, which bought the property in 2006, has filed a request to rezone the existing 177,354-square foot building from retail to light manufacturing. It also wants to construct a new, 163,787-square foot building toward the front of the property, across from what was formerly Hills and then Ames department stores.
But not all of the neighbors are thrilled with that proposal, and they let a representative of Benderson know it during a meeting Wednesday evening at South Line Fire Hall.
Neighbors have long complained about the deteriorating appearance of Garden Village Plaza, what it’s doing to adjacent property values, and now a worsening problem with rats.
“It’s an eyesore. Nobody wants to be in there,” said one woman at Wednesday’s meeting. “When Hills was in there, Ames was in there, Payless was in there, it looked nice. It was kept up. Benderson bought it and it’s gone to crap!”
“You said you were attempting to find tenants. Nobody is going to rent a building that looks like this,” another woman chimed in.
Many of the people at Wednesday’s meeting – which Benderson arranged to hold so it could receive feedback from residents – questioned why the plaza cannot continue to be used for retail, as it traditionally had been.
“We’ve marketed this to large retailers. We have marketed this as a medical facility. We offered to knock down the buildings and build new buildings. They won’t go in this site,” Benderson’s James Boglioli told the crowd assembled. “We marketed it for call centers, agreeing to knock down the buildings and build new buildings. We’re not seeing the desire to be here.”
However, Boglioli pointed out, properties that stand immediately opposite Garden Village on French and Union Road are already being used for light industry. Boglioli said Benderson determined there is a market for that type of land use.
He noted that many of the other industrial plazas Benderson owns in the area are filling up, and running out of space.
“This is consistent with what the zoning is on French Road, which is why we’ve been going in this direction. And we do see a need,” Boglioli said. “Our warehouses are full. So we’ve identified a need here. We’re in the process of designing it so we can mitigate impact.”
That process will include environmental and traffic studies, he said, to address the concerns neighbors and the Town Board have, including concerns about truck traffic, noise and exhaust from diesel engines.
“I don’t want this to turn into the Peace Bridge, where all those people are breathing those diesel fumes day in and day out, for over how many years?” one woman said.
“The noise wakes you up in the middle of the night. And sometimes the traffic here is atrocious. And you’re going to tell me you’re going to improve on that?” a man asked.
Benderson does not currently have any tenants lined up for Garden Village.
“If this project is approved, and the construction does happen, but it happens to stay vacant for a short period of time, are you going to undertake the security of that location?” another man asked. “Because it looks like just a bigger playground for not just the rats, but anything else that might want to [over]take the space like that.”
Boglioli said Benderson would be responsible for security.
Cheektowaga’s Planning Board and Town Council haven’t approved the site plan yet. Town officials say there will be a thorough review process, which will take into account input from the public.
“I hear the remarks,” said Town Councilman Gerald Kaminski. “Which tenant is going to go in there? What’s the town going to have to do with it?”
“I think you have to be a wee bit open-minded,” Kaminski urged the crowd. “Probably how I measure everything, one word: jobs. It’s jobs for somebody. And whether it’s going to be a trucking company, offices, whatever goes in there, it’s going to employ people.”
Town Supervisor Mary Holtz said the plans shown at Wednesday’s meeting were “really the first plans we’ve seen, publicly, about this project. It will go through a long process of various traffic studies, pollution studies, the lighting studies. It has to go through rezoning.”
“I’m not sure this is the right way to go,” Holtz acknowledged. “That’s why I’m listening to the public, I’m listening to what Benderson’s developing here. But I want to see it developed. I want to see something on there. I want this ugly eyesore, in the Town of Cheektowaga entrance, gone.”
The first step will be when the project goes before Cheektowaga’s Planning board in August. Holtz noted all town, zoning and planning board meetings are open to the public.