On February 16th, the public got its first look at the Vision Main Street Clarence study in a public forum at the Clarence High School. The event was well attended, and the response was largely positive – so much so that the study conclusions are now being finalized. Which brings us to the question “what happened next?”
While change is welcome on our Clarence Main Street – and certainly needed – don’t expect to see crews at work this summer planting trees, re-greening areas and remarking the pavement for those new bike lanes. There’s a lot that still has to happen first – and this is where it’s important for the community to stay involved with the process.
Here’s a look at the next steps for Vision Main Street.
1. Adoption of Vision Main Street into the Master Plan. (zero to 3 months)
At the Town of Clarence Level, this is what needs to happen next. Once the Vision Main Street plan becomes a part of the Master Plan 2030, it will become a guiding document for the Town to rely on, and will help guide the next steps for the Town, including adopting the zoning changes necessary to permit future Main Street development to proceed according to the plan.
Although the broad strokes of the plan are likely to be adopted as is, there are a few details that are likely to get more scrutiny from the Town before adoption. The likeliest change? The creation of a “third hamlet” at Sheridan and Main. Although the idea of a roundabout has cachet in planning circles, and could one day come to fruition, there are some wetland issues – and a lot of established uses are already holding down key parcels surrounding that intersection. Principal stakeholders such as Walgreens, Rite Aid and Tim Hortons are all going concerns with strong incentives to remain where they are – conditions that aren’t likely to change much for a generation or more.
A more likely center for the third hamlet is Main and Gunville, home of the Clarence High School. The High school is already a center of Town life, the surrounding area from Goodrich Road east to Kraus Road is already seeing successful re-development and there are still fairly large parcels (including a nearly 10 acre parcel once planned for a Tops Supermarket) that would be ideal for the sort of dense mixed-use development envisioned for the “third hamlet.”
The idea of the High School as the center of the third hamlet already has some support in Town government, and creating a walkable community in the area around the high school is likely to have strong support from the Clarence School District as well. Expect to hear more about this before Vision Main Street officially becomes part of Master Plan 2030.
2. Rezoning of Main Street in Clarence (3 to 6 months)
Once the plan is adopted into the Town’s Master Plan, work will start on zoning changes that will provide the legal framework to match the Vision Main Street plan. An obvious zoning change will be reduced setbacks – bringing buildings up to the sidewalks in the hamlet areas – but there will be other changes too, including calling out building styles, construction materials, and allowing for three story buildings and clustering in the “interstitial spaces.”
3. Building a Main Street Sewer District (12 months to 10 years)
This is one of the most important steps of the entire process, since the majority of the Vision Main Street plan would simply be impossible without public sewer facilities.
It’s more than likely that the final embodiment of a sewer plan for Main Street will be made up of more than one district, since a section of Main Street in the Clarence Hollow is already sewered, the result of a Department of Conservation consent order, and the looming threat of another consent order makes it likely that sewers will be coming to Harris Hill via Harris Hill Road. The next likely access will be up Goodrich Road to Main Street, allowing a connection to Spaulding Lake.
The Current Town government has already recognized the futility of waiting for consent orders before building out adequate public facilities. The Town is already far along on a sewer master plan, and Main Street is a part of it.
The biggest challenges in front of the Town are gaining support at the Erie County level and the need to expand the wastewater treatment facility in the Town of Amherst, a facility originally constructed to serve both Amherst and Clarence. And then there’s the rock. Lots of it, and one of the reasons why the Town needs to find outside sources of funding to aid construction.
The good news is that the new administration is planning a large infrastructure package that for the first time in nearly thirty years could provide substantial federal funding to sewer construction. The even better news is that our representative in the 27th New York congressional district, Congressman Chris Collins, has the ear of the Trump administration. In a Town often looked at as too wealthy to merit funding, a federal component will be the key to building out sewers along Main Street and around town.
Even then, it won’t all happen at once. Expect that it will take at least a decade before substantial portions of Main Street enjoy the benefits of public sewers.
4. Restriping Main Street (24 months)
Yes, this includes bike lanes. The re-striping of Main Street will likely be the first tangible result of all of the Vision Main Street Clarence plan. Incorporating nearly seven miles of bike lanes, the re-striping of Main street will be a boon to businesses and cyclists and will be immediately noticeable.
The subtle narrowing of the driving lanes has been repeatedly demonstrated to reduce speeds, and the change in the character of the roadway will be apparent from the moment drivers first enter town. The goal: providing visual cues to drivers that they are have arrived somewhere, rather than just another place to drive through on the way to somewhere else.
The bonus? The community has repeatedly shown its support for a bike friendly Main Street. Coupled with the Town’s growing network of publicly trails and plans for interconnecting north-south bike lanes along secondary roads, the entire town will be substantially more bike-friendly.
5. Re-greening and Tree Planting (36 months to 10 years)
Tearing up extra blacktop to re-green the rights of way and the first tree plantings to match the plan will make a huge visual difference, softening the visual appearance of buildings and providing benefits to our air and water quality too. Expect to see areas of the Clarence Hollow and Harris Hill to see these benefits first. Some patience is warranted, however, because these plantings will happen first in areas that are sewered (after all, it wouldn’t make sense to plant trees and then tear them out to build out public sewers).
6. Private Development (24 months to 20 years)
Although there have been several larger projects on Main Street in the last 24 months, and a few more on the drawing board, it will take some time before the types of development envisioned by Vision Main street Clarence begin to appear.
The Town will have to complete its revisions to the Zoning law before anything can be finalized, and the lead time for approvals will mean that the first major projects (larger than 1 acre) specifically designed around this plan won’t begin construction until 2019. Development cycles being what they are, it will take a good twenty years before the full Vision Main Street Clarence is realized.
One notable exception is the planned mixed-use development across from the Clarence High School, which should be completed in 2018. It’s mixture of shops and retail will be a welcome change from the unoccupied Fountain Court Motel that still stands at this key intersection. The planned demolition of the Fountain Court this summer will symbolize another major step forward for the new Main street.