Expressing concerns

GOWANDA – Residents packed the Gowanda Fire Hall to voice their opinions on a potential new use of a vacant building in the downtown area. The Zoar Valley Clinic, which sees mental health patients, is a possible new tenant at the former Burger King on Jamestown Street.

Tim Greenen from Savarino Companies attended a public hearing hosted by the Gowanda Village Board to give background information. Savarino Companies entered into an agreement to purchase the former site at 42 Jamestown St. in 2011. The following year, New York state put out a proposal for a medical office building to replace the Zoar Valley Clinic. The company entered into a 10-year lease in December 2012. The Planning Board gave a recommendation for approval by the village board in July.

At the public hearing, residents spoke out mainly against the location of the facility, but there were some in favor of the move. Resident Andy Burr had questions concerning the minutes of the Cattaraugus County Industrial Development Agency when the proposal came in front of them. The record incorrectly stated the Burger King closed in 1999 and was a current blighted building. The business actually closed in 2009.

“I don’t know what the definition of a blighted building is, but I take issue with that. A blighted building would be the print shop on the corner of South Water Street and Walnut Street. Burger King is not a blighted building,” Burr said.

Burr also said the 16 new jobs will be transferred from Erie County, not created. Resident Barb Nephew brought up the county IDA’s required public hearing. According to the IDA director, the public hearing attended by three people was held in March and was published in the Salamanca and Olean newspapers, Nephew said.

Resident Robert Gaylord said the company should have come to the village first, and would have received cooperation to try to find an alternative location.

“I wish we could just back up a little bit … all these people would be working with you supporting this 100 percent if you would have come to us before and thought about a different location,” he said.

One resident who was in favor of the project was Karen Jentz, who previously worked for the state in mental health. She said the Zoar Valley Clinic has looked for other suitable locations within the village.

“The Gowanda Moose … did not sell to the state. We tried to go up to the old Ames building. … They would not lease to us because we wanted them to do site maintenance. Because of the distance between Buffalo and here, it’s too hard to maintain,” said Jentz.

Jentz said the clinic also looked into moving into the current Urgent Care facility. Representatives from Tri-County Hospital said the building would be leased to the clinic when the new hospital is built in Perrysburg. Since the hospital will not be rebuilt, the site is not an option. She also said they looked at the former print shop, which is too small, and a site adjacent to the elementary school.

“Mental illness is a disease and no one asks to get it. … If people need treatment, they should get it. They should get it in their communities and not have to drive to Silver Creek or Olean,” Jentz said.

Other issues brought up by residents were concerns regarding patient privacy, parking along Jamestown Street, potential flooding at the site, how much taxes would be paid and environmental factors from previous owners. Following public comment, Greenen was given an opportunity to respond to some of the questions raised during the hearing. Greenen addressed the issue on taxes.

“Whatever taxes we pay are passed on to the site pursuant to our lease. … Our average taxes over the next 10 years will be about $40,000 a year and in year ten it will be about $80,000,” said Greenen. “We pay the existing taxes that Burger King was paying and on top of that, over the next 10 years, we’ll pay an additional $40,000 a year or a total of about $400,000 in property taxes and in year 10, $80,000. We’re not looking for a tax break.”

Greenen addressed the plume located on the site and said environmental studies have been conducted. The site has also applied for a flood plain permit through the code enforcement officer and has been working with Gary Brecker, code enforcement officer, about any potential flooding hazards.

Mayor Heather McKeever said the village board will finalize the recommendation presented by the planning board. The village board will act on the matter at a future board meeting.

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