Letter to the Planning Board

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Letter to the Planning Board
Examining Proposed Plans for 23 Washington to Current Village Policy

Dear Ladies and Gentlemen of the Planning Board:

I am writing to provide my perspective on the subject project for consideration by the Village of Ellicottville Planning Board in support of your review. Based on my understanding, the project includes the following alterations or key features:

  • An addition off the back of the structure as well as an additional third story that will essentially double the size of the building with the goal of offering restaurant and/or retail space for eight or more tenants.
  • A roof-top area for proposed outdoor bar/restaurant use.
  • A second outdoor patio off the second story of the structure.
  • Lack of access to the rear of the structure which would require additional easements from adjoining properties.

I would like to provide you some background on my history with the Village which influences my perspective and hopefully provides an understanding for my support to the concept of appropriate economic growth and in particular the continued growth of tourism and recreation for the Village and surrounding areas. My grandparents and parents began coming to Ellicottville to ski in the late 1960s. My father decided to move our family here in 1971 and became a plumbing contractor who benefited greatly from the growth that occurred throughout the 1970s and 1980s. We resided in the nearby Town of Mansfield and after attending college I was fortunate to find a job in the area, allowing me to make my home in the Village of Ellicottville. I have been a Village resident since 1987. I very much appreciate everything the Village has done over the years to partner with local businesses, embrace outdoor recreation, and support the growth of tourism. My husband and I made a decision to invest our own personal resources in the Village when we opened The City Garage Ski and Outdoor retail business on 5 Monroe Street. We worked very hard to keep the character of the original blacksmith shop/garage in the initial renovation and as we have grown over the years. We have also made it a priority to be open throughout the year, even when it has not always made good business sense, in large part because we believe this is the right thing to do in support of the Village, its full time residents, and the continued growth of tourism for the area.

After hearing of the proposed project at 23 Washington Street, I referred to the referenced Comprehensive Plan as a guidepost to determine how the project might be viewed against current Village Policy. I found the Plan to be thoughtful and considerate of the overarching goals supporting growth and development, balanced with maintaining the character of the Village and the lifestyle it offers to both permanent and part-time residents, which has been so very crucial to Ellicottville’s success to date. Three of the eight Goal Areas provided by your Comprehensive Plan (A through C) and several of their specific goals/objectives have direct relevance to the proposed project:

  1. Development Village Wide

Goal: Link land use decisions to the ability of the land to support development, both now and in the future.

Objective: Avoid changes in community character from tourism related over-development.

  1. Residential

Goal: Maintain small rural Village way of life over urban or suburban lifestyle.

Objective: Limit development to densities compatible with the existing neighborhood in which it is located.

Objective: Protect physical character of older neighborhoods.

Goal: To have the best possible residential environment for both permanent and seasonal residents.

Objective: Promote increased development of year-round residents.

  1. Commercial

Goal: To maintain a viable year-round central business district.

Objective: Encourage year-round operations of shops and restaurants.

Objective: Promote Central Business District as a tourist destination in itself

Goal: Maximize commercial utilization of each building in the central business district.

Goal: Continue to grow as a four-season recreation destination.

Objective: Establish a community development program to foster growth while safeguarding community character and rural quality of life.

In addition, several of the specific recommendations in the Comprehensive Plan have relevance in considering how or whether the proposed 23 Washington Street project aligns with Village Policy:

  • New buildings and re-uses of existing structures should be in harmony with neighboring development. The height and scale of each building should be compatible with its site and adjoining buildings. Building components (windows, doors, eaves, awnings) should have good proportions and relationship to one another. Colors should be harmonious, with bright or brilliant colors used only for accent.
  • To protect, maintain, and promote the historic character of the Village, it is critical to uphold current and future Historic District regulations, particularly as it relates to demolition or significant alteration of structures within the Historic District Overlay Zone.
  • Recognizing that adequate parking is an important concern among Village Businesses, the Village will consider parking needs and impacts as a high priority in review of all new development proposals.

As you consider the project, I recommend you evaluate whether the features of the proposed 23 Washington Street project are in keeping with your Policy for appropriate growth and development in the Village of Ellicottville, and I would like to share with you my concerns in this regard. Note that my concerns are not with respect to any specific design plans or whether the project will be tastefully executed. My concerns relate to the overall magnitude of the project, the potential for additional empty retail/commercial space in one of the most important and historic areas of our commercial district, the potential for the building to no longer fit within the size and scale of its surroundings, and the impact it will likely have to nearby residents in terms of noise and lack of available parking.

  • The proposal involves a significant alteration to an historic structure, doubling available commercial space for retail and restaurant use. With current vacant retail and restaurant space in the Village, to include nearby vacant spaces on Washington Street, I question whether this would actually support growth or alternatively, hinder it. As an owner of a small, independent, brick-and-mortar retail business, I have first-hand knowledge of the impact of the Internet and how it has significantly changed the landscape for small business retailers. Since an important aspect of Ellicottville’s tourism attraction is its quaint shopping district in the heart of the Village, I encourage the Planning Board to make development decisions that will support sustaining such small businesses. I sense that the proposed project will result in a more “high end” rental posture for potential tenants and although there may be those that have the sufficient means to support a business case, I worry about the prospect of new retail operations being able to sustain and make a profit in a high rent district. I have also noted restaurant locations that have been challenged to succeed recently in the Village. I am very concerned about the prospect of additional empty commercial space in the most highly visible portion of our commercial district. I would want to see a viable business plan as part of the proposal that has some assurance for longevity. In light of these concerns, it is not clear that the proposed expansion supports the following Village goals and objectives to:
    • Maintain a viable year-round central business district,
    • Encourage year-round operations of shops and restaurants,
    • Promote Central Business District as a tourist destination in itself, and
    • Maximize commercial utilization of each building in the central business district.

 

  • Additionally, the large expansion of this historic building, to include the addition of a third story, is not consistent with Village Policy to:
    • Limit development to densities compatible with the existing neighborhood in which it is located,
    • Avoid changes in community character from tourism over-development,
    • Protect the physical character of older neighborhoods,
    • Ensure the height and scale of each building is compatible with its site and adjoining buildings, and
    • Uphold current and future Historic District regulations, particularly as it relates to significant alteration of structures within the Historic District Overlay Zone.

 

  • The proposal features a roof-top area for bar and restaurant use, as well as a second outdoor patio, both of which will impact area residents as a result in additional noise, especially during the evening hours. In addition, these features don’t seem in alignment with existing community character, the current charm of the Village, and the rural quality of life it supports. These features seem more in alignment with a larger city environment or perhaps a waterfront location and although it could generate at least an initial interest from some; it does not seem supportive of the Village policy goals and objectives to:
    • Maintain small rural Village way of life over urban or suburban lifestyle,
    • Have the best possible residential environment for both permanent and seasonal residents,
    • Promote increased development of year-round residents, and
    • Foster growth while safeguarding community character and rural quality of life.

 

  • The expansion off the back would appear to infringe on available parking spaces and create additional parking needs. Unless there is a viable strategic plan to support additional parking infrastructure in the Village, I highly caution expanded development of this nature and in particular within the small footprint of the historic commercial district. I also understand that the project will result in the need for the building owner to obtain additional easements from adjoining properties to gain access to the rear of the building. If this is the case, I assume that access will be accomplished within a legal framework as opposed to an informal commitment on the part of the individual who owns access, and in a way that can withstand the test of time and the potential for change in ownership of all impacted properties. In terms of parking, I am confident the Planning Board will give this careful consideration, consistent with your stated Policy to consider parking needs and impacts as a high priority in review of all new development proposals.

In summary, your Comprehensive Plan, coupled with existing Village regulations, provide guidance and requirements to determine whether the proposed 23 Washington Street project aligns with Village Policy on growth and development. The Purpose statement in your Plan states, in part:

“This plan allows for growth in a reasonable manner which is compatible with both its neighboring land uses and the community’s physical, economic and social needs as a whole. It should balance growth against protecting the existing community character that has made Ellicottville what it is today.”

It is good to see that there is interest in the business community to utilize the 23 Washington Street structure and I want to emphasize that I support growth and development for the Village as an overall philosophy, to the extent possible while still maintaining its character and recognizing that the Village is constrained by its boundaries. I also appreciate that it is not always easy for the Planning Board to balance these sometimes competing goals and objectives (growth and the promotion of tourism against maintaining character and a small rural Village way of life). My concerns as reflected above are primarily related to the proposed magnitude of the project in terms of both large physical changes to an historic structure and the proposed uses that would impact area residents in terms of noise and parking challenges. I believe if you simply follow the overall guidance and Policy provided in your Comprehensive Plan as you review the proposal, along with associated Village law and regulations, it will lead you to a decision that is in the best interests of the overall community. Thank you in advance for your consideration of my perspective.

Very Truly Yours,
Elizabeth Lowes