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The Buffalo News (New York)

A soccer club's plan to convert an old stable into a practice center attracted petitions, phone calls, emails and finally a "no" vote from the Orchard Park Town Board.

In a split 2-1 vote Wednesday night, concerns about how the Orchard Park Soccer Club would harm the historic, neighborhood character of Freeman Road were the most persuasive to Supervisor Patrick Keem and Councilman Eugene Majchrzak.

"I think it's a great idea. Just the wrong place," said Majchrzak, who lives about a mile and a half away. "I just don't think it belonged."

The proposal from the soccer club was previously approved by the Planning Board in a 4-to-1 vote. Neighbors rallied, hired a lawyer, gathered about 160 signatures on a petition and came out in vocal protest at a public hearing earlier this month.

People supporting the club's plan to practice in the former arena for horses responded and submitted their own petition with a similar number of signatures.

Public comments seemed evenly split, said Councilman Michael Sherry, who cast the lone vote in favor of the project.

To placate the opposition, he offered a series restrictions to the resolution that would have allowed the special exemption for the club. In addition to a ban on whistles, berms would have been added as buffers. And, lighting and audio systems would not be allowed without Planning Board approval.

Sherry said he had hoped that the compromises would have served the interests of the club's 800 to 1,000 young soccer players and the neighbors.

He also thought the project would have preserved open green space, one of the missions of the town, which has bought land to prevent development.

"I think an opportunity was missed," Sherry said. "I feel there will be an awful lot of disappointed families."

The soccer club now rents a practice area in Elma. During the May 7 public hearing, families complained about the extra time needed to travel that distance.

Keem said his children all played soccer and he hopes to work with the club to find an alternative. "Maybe we can work with them to find something someday," he said.

Opponents of the proposal were pleased with the vote. After getting an embrace from a woman, Ryan Belka, the lawyer representing the neighbors, said he thought the potential loss of tax revenue was another important factor in the board's decision.

Taxes on the stable property are about $8,000 now. If it is developed into house lots, tax revenue could be as much as $56,000 a year, by Belka's calculations.

"It was nice the board listened," he said.

email: mkearns@buffnews.com

May 22, 2014

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