As I sat in the Comprehensive Plan meeting earlier this week, discussions touched on subjects such as what makes Hamburg unique from other Western New York towns, and how do we draw people in to bring in income from non-residents. Immediately, my thoughts turned to the waterfront. Having a waterfront is an instant advantage over landlocked towns such as East Aurora or Orchard Park. Waterfront land, even if it doesn’t have direct access to the water itself, drives up the desirability of a piece of land. With the right kind of business on that parcel, it could become a tax-generating destination.
After the meeting, I took a second look at the waterfront area on the zoning map. Unfortunately, there’s a scarcity of land zoned for commercial use, largely because most of Hamburg’s waterfront land is already in-use as residential. This makes it even more important to keep any available waterfront land appropriate for commercial use designated as such.
However, the Hamburg Town Board seems intent on tearing down the vacant former Foit’s restaurant and replacing it with a non-revenue generating scenic overlook. My question is – who benefits from an overlook? Town residents can view all the scenery they want at the Hamburg Beach, a half mile away. Except for the few people passing through to head down to the Seneca’s Irving slot shack, Route 5 doesn’t have much in the way of tourist traffic. So why would we lock up one of the last few available pieces of land with something as useless as a scenic overlook?
Now, here’s the real kicker. Someone already wants to take Foit’s and turn it into a business. The Town Board is saying “no” because they apparently have their heart set already on this overlook. Personally, I don’t think the proposed yoga studio is the best possible use of the land (I’d much rather see an upscale restaurant) but I’m certainly willing to let an eager and willing individual give this a shot. Even if the business fails, we’re left with a renovated building that would certainly be in better shape than the existing one, and a more likely possibility that another business would be willing to follow in it’s footsteps. Once the land is taken off the market, the likelihood of returning it to the tax rolls is slim.
Now, I don’t know the Barretts, who want to purchase the Foit’s property, and it’s certainly possible that even given the green light they may never get their project off the ground. But don’t they at least deserve a shot? Doesn’t the Town owe it to the taxpayers to let someone attempt to generate revenue with this isolated parcel of land before they take it off the table?
“There are major concerns here on whether or not he could really do what he is proposing,” [Hamburg Town Councilman Thomas] Quatroche said. “We are very concerned that if we step away from the project and his plan doesn’t work, what will we be left with?”
You’re left with what you have now. Nothing preventing you from creating the overlook you so desire. Nothing you can’t tear down anyways. Let these people have their shot at improving Hamburg.