Williamsville residents say turning the Blocher Homes assisted living facility into mixed-income housing will not only displace 50 seniors, but also congest traffic, eliminate green space and decline property values.
Nearly two dozen people voiced those concerns in a crowded public hearing Monday night before the Village of Williamsville Planning Board, which is currently reviewing the project along with the village Zoning Board of Appeals.
“I don’t want to deny people who need that type of affordable housing a place to live, but it’s a bad site for that type of project,” said John Ostroot, who has lived behind the property for 24 years. “It’s just a bad fit for the neighborhood.”
Blocher Homes’ not-for-profit parent, Beechwood Continuing Care, announced plans in July to close the facility and sell the property to People Inc. amid an occupancy rate of 73% and four years of financial deficits.
People Inc., the region’s largest non-profit human services agency, plans to convert and expand the Blocher Homes property into 97 units of mixed-income housing via a $29 million project.
The roughly 50 seniors at Blocher Homes, who range in age from 75 to 105 and would be moved to Beechwood Continuing Care’s Getzville campus, held a protest against the closing in October.
Those who live near Blocher Homes say they’ve collected 600 signatures against the project, including 45 of the 56 households on Evans Street, where Blocher Homes is located.
They argue closing the facility and allowing it to become mixed-income housing goes against the village’s own initiatives, like allowing seniors to age in place and calming traffic.
“So it’s just a bad idea from the start and all the environmental, social and economic pointers are all in one direction,” said Williamsville resident Nelson Torre. “Common sense has to prevail here.”
Further congesting traffic, particularly at the intersection of Evans and Eagle streets, is one of the main concerns. That intersection is problematic with a delay of 120 seconds for every 15 minutes, according to a traffic calming study by the Buffalo-Niagara Regional Transportation Council.
“The Blocher project before you is anything but calming,” Victoria D’Angelo, who lives across the street from Blocher Homes, told the Planning Board.
Beechwood President and CEO Daniel O’Neil provided a statement Monday, noting Beechwood and People Inc. have already adjusted their plans based on neighbors’ concerns.
The original plan was to make one large expansion to the existing Blocher Homes building. Now the plan is to make a small expansion to the existing building and construct three new smaller buildings, providing for more green space.
Beechwood and People Inc., which are working with Long Associates Architects, also eliminated an access roadway on Village Point Lane based on neighbors’ concerns, but O'Neil noted the Planning Board has since asked them to restore the roadway.
One person did speak in support of the project Monday night.
Williamsville resident Amy Carrato said she hopes her disabled adult son will be able to live at the new mixed-income complex, as People Inc. has said some units will be for adults with disabilities. She noted this would allow him to have some independence while still being able to stay in the village and see his family.
“Not everybody is against it,” she told the Planning Board, “they're just not here voicing that.”
While some residents hope Blocher Homes can remain an assisted living facility, others seemed resigned to the fact the closing and sale is inevitable, and the Planning Board may not have grounds to deny the project. Instead, they asked the Planning Board to get the best possible compromise for residents.
“(The developer) needs to go back to the drawing board. That’s what a Planning Board is about,” Torre said. “The board has to tell the developer, ‘Go back to the drawing board and come back to us with a plan for 50 new apartments instead of 100 new apartments and some other design notifications.’”
Planning Board Chairperson Wesley Stone, as well as other board members, declined comment after the meeting. However, they noted both they and the Zoning Board are a long way off from voting on the matter. They’re still awaiting a completed State Environmental Quality Review, or SEQR.
Beechwood officials have said they don’t expect to receive approval from the village until at least the fall of 2020.