Battery Point Villas still battered by residents’ concerns

OBSERVER Photo by Nicole Gugino Otter Street residents raise concerns over drainage and other issues that the worry will be exacerbated by the construction of apartments off Lake Shore Drive.

Time has passed and some plans have changed for the Battery Point Villas project, however, some residents’ concerns remain the same.

Developers Bill Gugino and Mark Baerwaldt presented to the planning board in November and were met by nearly a dozen Otter Street residents with drainage concerns. The planning board asked for drainage issues to be addressed before approving the project to move forward.

Gugino and Baerwaldt presented to the board again on Wednesday with new plans to accommodate a retention pond in the northeast corner of the site plan. The new plans scrap the retail space at the front near Lake Shore Drive. Instead, there would be 12 buildings with eight two-bedroom, two-bath apartments in each. The developers plan on four buildings at first to gauge the demand.

Residents’ first concern was with drainage, which is already a challenge in the neighborhood due to an outdated and poorly designed stormwater system.

DPW Director Randy Woodbury said he had already been tapped by the mayor to find a solution to the existing problem.

“When you do a development, by federal and state law, they can’t exacerbate a problem. They have to prove in engineering that their drainage will have a net zero effect on what’s already there. That being said what’s already there is not right and the city has to fix that. This is an opportunity to get in there so that the existing condition is right,” Woodbury said.

The second issue was the matter of the paper street. In September, the Common Council approved a quit claim to give the paper street to Erie Land Development. Later, at the November Planning Board meeting, Otter Street residents felt that action was unfair because the land was not offered to residents living on the other side of the land.

City Attorney Richard Morrisroe said the city now proposed filing a formal easement with the developers and property owners as a compromise.

Still not satisfied, residents and planning board members were confused if developers should be able to build structures 13 feet onto property that is part of the easement, which totals 66 feet wide. Residents also expressed interest in buying portions of the paper street for themselves.

Morrisroe explained the issue with selling it outright is that the city would not have access to replace the drainage pipe to resolve the area’s drainage issues. However, he said the easement could be a temporary solution and any decision on what to do with the land could be taken to the Common Council for a vote.

Another resident said many hydrants have been bagged on Otter and Ounce streets and questioned where fire protection for the complex would come from. Woodbury explained it would not be drawing from the same line as Otter, but if given time to look over the problem, he may be able to find a solution to that problem as well.

“The goal here tonight is to work with each other and try to make everyone happy. The issues you’ve brought up are serious issues and I can tell you that I have already instructed our DPW director two weeks ago that we need to put in for funding from the state so we can address the issues we’re having with flooding. … I can’t make any promises, so I’m not going to promise anyone this will be done within a certain amount of time, but I can tell you that we will address this issue and it will be taken care of regardless of whether this development happens. I don’t believe that this issue is sufficient to prevent this development from happening here in the city,” Mayor Willie Rosas said, adding he would be willing to raise taxes to take care of the problem, if necessary.

Planning Board member and Otter Street resident John Mackowiak said he is not opposed to development, but is against progress that would cause “deficiencies for taxpayers.” Rosas contended the development would not do so.

Planning Board Member Ed Schober said he has questions, but felt confident moving the project forward.

“I think what we have right now is a conceptual layout. We’re no looking at finished civil drawings, the finished grading, utility drawings. I think a lot of these questions are going to be able to be answered maybe when your engineers are present and we really have that information in front of us. To me I look at this as a concept plan; OK, go to the next step. The concept plan looks good, but there’s questions, so I think we’ve got to go to that next step so we can see the real finished plans: the landscaping plan, the grading plan, utility plan, all those sorts of things, the drainage plan may be most important of all. I think until we have that we’ll just keep talking in circles,” Schober reasoned.

The vote was taken with four in favor of approving the conceptual plan and having Gugino and Baerwaldt return with finalized plans and their engineers.

The next meeting will be held on March 21 at 5:30 p.m. in city hall. Meetings will regularly be held on the fourth Wednesday of the month except for March and December, which will be held on the third Wednesday.