Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Town Board is one step closer to making a decision regarding environmental impacts and the proposed site plan for the Fashion Outlets of Niagara Falls’ planned $71 million expansion project.
During its latest work session Thursday, the board reviewed answers to the State Environmental Quality Review documents with engineer Norman Gardner in hopes of finalizing its stance on the project’s impacts on the land, water, wildlife and people surrounding the mall project’s space, the former Sabre Park mobile home park.
“In my opinion, the project’s being managed appropriately and been designed appropriately,” Gardner said. “So I don’t feel there’s any significant, adverse impacts (to the surrounding area) being proposed.”
The key words in Gardner’s statement are “significant” and “adverse,” both of which would need to be present to have the town declare the project a potential risk.
Gardner said he identified several significant impacts the project will have, both in the short term and longer range. But he said plans the mall’s ownership, Macerich Real Estate Trust, either mitigate any negative affects or simply are positive changes to the area.
For starters, the land is considered a “brownfield” site, with the state Department of Environmental Conservation recognizing chemicals have contaminated much of the soil at or beneath the surface. Before the mall can build on the land, Macerich must demonstrate the land has been cleaned to acceptable levels.
Another benefit may come in the form of updated water, sewer and electric utility infrastructure.
But the largest impact, and one of the most significant;y positive ones, Gardner said, may be the one on the water system of the area. Proposed building will occur within a 100-foot buffer of a state-designated wetland — not federally protected, according to Gardner — which he said may see help from a massive retention pond designed as the project’s storm water management system.
How massive? The proposed pond would run behind neighboring Walmart to the south of the mall. It’ll run the entire length of the building and will be designed to handle a 100-year rain event with little issue.
Gardner said the pond is the state’s preferred method in large projects such as this, but at least one of the board members doesn’t see the pond as a great idea.
“From all the garbage that collects to the cat tails, the obvious contamination of the soil to the chance of someone going in and drowning. I’ve always been against retention ponds,” said Councilman Charles Texeiera.
Gardner attempted to satisfy Texeiera’s concerns, saying the ponds are widely considered an improvement to local water systems. As water flows into the pond, the cat tails and the natural filtering system keeps unwanted items, both large and small, from negatively impacting the area’s ground water.
“As water runs across a parking lot, it generally picks up everything and goes on its merry way,” he said. “With this, when it goes into the pond, the cat tails and everything else serve as a natural treatment for the water. Plus, all of the garbage from the parking lot goes to the pond first. It’s no longer in sight.”
Controlling garbage from a parking lot may be needed, as the mall is proposing 1,200 new parking spots as part of its expansion, which Gardner identified as one of a few items which could have adverse affects on the mall’s immediate environment. He didn’t, however, identify it as both significant and adverse, citing a state threshold for air pollution which he said the mall probably won’t meet.
Another area of possible concern would be the increased traffic to and from the mall caused by the new space. Through recent traffic studies, Gardner said, the mall has been asked to install a right-hand turn lane from southbound Military Road into the mall’s north-most entrance.
Signal light adjustments would also need to occur, he added.
While Gardner’s opinion isn’t officially the direction the town will go, Councilman Marc Carpenter made it clear Thursday his expertise in the area would provide much of the town’s feedback to the 20-question SEQR document checklist used to determine an official ruling.
The town’s next step will be to make an official ruling on both the environmental impacts and the site plan, which could come as soon as the board’s next meeting, set for 7 p.m. Tuesday at town hall, 7105 Lockport Road, Town of Niagara. Once the project’s impacts have been determined, Macerich would be able to start work on creating the base for the expansion.
Doug Morrow, vice president of development at Macerich, said Canadian competition is pushing the mall up against a timeline, as getting started in the last quarter of 2013 would be an “absolute must.” It’s all part of a plan, he said, to open the expansion next year.
“We do want to start the work as soon as we can,” he said. “Everyone involved knows how we’ve done everything right, how we’ve done everything by the book. We’ve been going through everything with a fine-tooth comb.”20 Number of questions town is answering for state officials on potential impact of Fashion Outlet's expansion. Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.