A public hearing on a proposed moratorium for 360 Davison Road drew a full house in council chambers Wednesday, amid concern over plans to develop the property into a residential recovery facility and low-income apartments.
The moratorium, which the council has yet to vote on, would bar development of the 17.5-acre property for six months while the council reviews the zoning of the property.
The moratorium makes no mention of Cazenovia Recovery Systems’ controversial plan to bring 109 apartment units for recovering addicts and low-income individuals to a long-vacant property.
But nearly every speaker addressed Cazenovia’s plan.
Cazenovia, a Buffalo-based addiction treatment provider, is seeking to convert the property’s largest building, the Switzer Building, into a residential facility for up to 44 women recovering for substance abuse disorders, and up to 20 of their children. They also plan to redevelop five existing buildings and build five new buildings on site to add an additional 65 low-income apartments — nearly all one and two bedroom units. Half the low-income apartments would go to tenants who have completed substance abuse programs at other treatment facilities.
On June 28, Cazenovia submitted a request asking the city to rezone its portion of the property to R3, which allows development of multi-unit residential facilities. The city’s portion of the property is zoned reserved area, which permits parks, golf courses, athletic fields, cemeteries and various essential services.
Cazenovia also submitted a rezoning request to the town — the property sits on the city-town of Lockport boundary — in early August, but has yet to receive a response.
Nearly a dozen speakers, most identifying themselves as area residents, say that plan would hurt the character of what many called a “quiet, lovely neighborhood.” Several attendees carried signs reading, “Say No to Rezone.” In the corner, “R3” was crossed out in red.
Jayette Sinclair, of Rydalmount Road, said she worried the facility would increase traffic, diminish green space and strain public services.
“Please do not rezone this property,” Sinclair said.
Others said they supported increasing treatment facilities, but felt their neighborhood was not the appropriate place.
“A majority of us have said we do believe in what Caz does,” said Kirstin Barnard, of Bonner Drive. “The problem is they want to put a huge complex in the middle of a small, quiet, residential neighborhood.”
“I have an investment. I live in a quiet neighborhood. ... And I don’t want to see big apartments with a ton of traffic going in and out of it,” Barnard said.
But Cazenovia CEO Suzanne Bissonette said residents and community leaders did not raise those concerns when they thought the property would be developed into market-rate apartments.
“When LHC Holdings put forward their original proposal, there was support from elected officials,” Bissonette said, referring to the Mulvey Construction subsidiary that bought the property from the county last August for $100,000. “When Cazenovia added our concept to the proposal, the reaction from the community and elected officials was hostile.”
Bissonette and attorney Charles Grieco, who represents Cazenovia, argued the rejection of the facility because its tenants are in substance abuse treatment could violate several federal anti-discrimination laws, including the Fair Housing Act, Americans with Disabilities Act and Rehabilitation Act.
“To put this moratorium in place now indicates concern about the identity of the clients at the facility,” Bissonette said. “This is called intentional discrimination.”
Grieco and Bissonette also argued the facility would not significantly reduce green-space or increase traffic, and that such concerns should be handled in the environmental review process.
State zoning laws do not specifically mention moratoriums, but several state Court of Appeals decisions have established when it's appropriate for local governments to temporarily halt development in an area. Grieco argued the proposed moratorium violates a court ruling against "singling out a particular land use for unfavorable treatment."
Several treatment advocates and recovering former addicts joined about a half dozen Cazenovia executives in speaking against the moratorium.
Save the Michaels CEO Avi Israel urged the council to approve the facility so their organization can get more area addicts into treatment.
Israel said their organization, which opened a Lockport location last month, put about 280 county residents into in-patient treatment programs this year alone.
Israel said many patients, left with nowhere else to go, are forced to live in a homeless shelter. “Which means they have to go back into the same environment that we plucked them out of,” he said. “That’s not setting people up for success; that’s setting them up for failure.”
“What Cazenovia is trying to do is give people a chance to get back into the community,” he added.
The council could vote on the moratorium as early as its Sept. 4 meeting.