Tonawanda News

September 20, 2013

Cleared and grubbed

By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — A thick forest has given way to the beginnings of a rumbling roadway, as dump trucks, backhoes and cranes continue to barrel through the future Meadow Drive extension. 

North Tonawanda City Engineer Dale Marshall said the project is ahead of schedule, with much of the forest now “cleared and grubbed” an initial foundation largely laid down along a 3,300-foot stretch between Wayne and Erie avenues. 

The process was long-stalled as the city navigated through difficult bureaucratic terrain of state and federal agencies and acquiring privately owned land. It finally launched in early September. 

But with concept now etching toward reality and a potential completion date of late November, talks are starting to swirl around development projects that may, eventually, begin along the belt of roadway that is being lauded by city officials as the only true east-west corridor linking the city’s commercial district in the Mid-City Plaza to Erie Avenue.

While much of the surrounding area is still protected by state and federal wetland laws, there are viable options for development. City officials had initially downplayed those aspects as they worked bringing the project to fruition. 

It received $1.4 million in federal funding in 2006. 

Council President Rich Andres said the majority of ideas circulating are focused on the south side of the road extension, with many of the protected wetlands to the north. He added that development companies have owned the parcels since the 1970s, when a water line was installed through the wooded area. 

Over time, as the land stayed untouched, the trees grew back and interest waned. But the idea of brining in residential homes and business along the stretch has begun to re-emerge. 

One concept that has been loosely discussed is the installation of a rails to trails bicycle path that may be able to connect the Wurlitzer Park neighborhood with North Tonawanda’s downtown, though many of the parcels along the former CSX-owned rail line have been purchased by private entities, making the idea more challenging, Andres said. 

“Connectivity is the key to any real thriving city,” Andres said. “There’s a lot of hurdles, though.” 

Mayor Rob Ortt was more skeptical about the prospects, stating that the city had to fight a state Department of Environmental Conservation wetland designation, which nearly nixed the entire extension, though will leave some of the forested areas in place.  

“There was a significant amount (of developable land) lost due to DEC and they actually tried to stop the Meadow expansion,” Ortt said. “Whatever we have there is going to be significantly less than what should have been there or could have been there.” 

Third Ward Alderman Eric Zadzilka said development ideas are “all speculation at this point,” though he noted that a change in zoning laws will allow light commercial development on about half of the roadway abutting Erie Avenue. 

But at this juncture, Zadzilka said, he was more impressed with the idea of connecting the heavily trafficked Niagara Falls Boulevard to business on Payne Avenue, as well as shaving off emergency response times. 

“I know of the possibilities but I don’t know how feasible they are,” he said. “I’d like to know how people in the Third Ward feel about them. But I’m excited to see things moving forward quickly, just like they planned.” 

Contact reporter Michael Regan at 693-1000, ext. 4115.