By Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Town board has declared itself lead public agency in reviewing one of the most expensive and expansive projects in town history.
With the designation, granted to itself at a special meeting Tuesday, Supervisor Steve Richards and the other four board members will have oversight responsibility concerning the planned $71 million expansion of the Factory Outlets of Niagara Falls by owners Macerich Partnership L.P.
"The developer is responsible for preparing the (State Environmental Quality Review)," Richards said following the meeting. "Our role will be to review the results with the town engineer and make sure everything is correct."
To declare itself lead agent for this step in the process, Richards and the board needed to solicit opinions from local agencies which it deemed possibly interested in the oversight position itself. Governing bodies like the City of Niagara Falls and Niagara County Legislature, as well as certain departments like county health and the New York State Department of Transportation were all sent letters and asked to reply.
None of the four responses the town received indicated any interest in contending for the status.
With lead status established, town Engineer Steve Tanner, of Clark Patterson Lee, said Macerich Partnership's engineer responsible for preparing the SEQR documents can begin determine what, if any, environmental impacts could be caused through the mall's expansion.
The project will expand retail space into what is currently the Sabre Park mobile home community to the south of the mall, which has drawn considerable criticism from the community and residents of the park.
Tanner said no work associated with the project has been completed, aside from removing vacant trailers from Sabre Park. For work to begin, the town, along with many of the agencies contacted concerning SEQR review, would need to provide approvals, with the environmental review playing a significant role, Richards said.
"There are many problems with state processes, but the SEQR review process is a pretty impressive one," Richards said. "It protects people. It's like having 100 people ask 100 different questions."
Tuesday's action followed a public hearing concerning the potential rezoning of Sabre Park from a residential code to business. No one from the public spoke during the session.
The rezoning was promptly tabled following the hearing because it required the completion of the SEQR to be finalized, Richards said.
Tanner told the board SEQR may be finished before its next meeting, scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 21. Richards, meanwhile, wasn't as optimistic, believing the process could take "two to three months" to complete.Contact reporter Timothy Chipp at 282-2311, ext. 2251 or follow on Twitter @timchipp.