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Sidewalks, ECC and economic growth: Public comments on new Bills Stadium

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — Bills fans are making their voices heard about the new stadium proposed on Abbott Road in Orchard Park.

More than 20 people responded to the online forum for the State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), which followed an in-person public hearing about the stadium on July 14. The SEQR is a standard process in New York State considers the environmental impacts with social and economic factors.

“I’m glad that there were comments. That’s what the SEQR process is about during the public portion,” John Bargnesi, 4th District Erie County Legislator, said.

Sidewalks, traffic, disruptions in utility services and economic development of the area were some of the outlined concerns. County Legislators say the comments are helpful and give residents a seat at the table.

“So that everybody in Western New York can enjoy the Bills, enjoy the new stadium and benefit from what we are doing,” Joe Lorigo, Erie County Legislature Minority Leader, added.

News 4 obtained the public comments via a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request to Erie County.

Former Orchard Park Supervisor Dr. Patrick Keem called for additional sidewalks. He says residents have been asking for safer walking conditions for years.

As Orchard Park Town Supervisor, I and Legislator John Mills met with several residents around the current stadium who requested better sidewalks around the area. On gameday, I park on East Abbott Grove so I’m able to personally view the danger of fans walking on Abbott Road between Southwestern and Milestrip Roads. Please include new wide sidewalks in that are for the safety of our Bills fans.

Dr. Patrick Keem, former Orchard Park Supervisor

County leaders say new sidewalks are a valid concern and should be part of the plan.

“People in Orchard Park that have to deal with pedestrian traffic on Bills gamedays have said for years that sidewalks are needed on Abbott Road,” Lorigo added.

The Seneca Nation says they want to be involved in the planning process. They say they were left out when the current stadium was built decades ago. They believe the land under the existing and future stadiums is sacred ground. They want to start a conversation so the project can continue in a “respectful manner”.

Seneca Nation President Matthew Pagels said in part:

We are, however, disappointed to see that neither the Seneca Nation, nor the Tonawanda Seneca, were included in the ‘List of Potentially Interested and Involved Agencies,’ despite the fact that Highmark Stadium sits directly on top of known Seneca sites, confirmed by the State Historic Preservation Office’s own records…there is likely cultural materials located within the project area.

Matthew Pagels, President of the Seneca Nation

“I think they need to be answered. Part of that SEQR process, that environmental review, that will come up. If it was an Indian burial ground or sacred land. It has to,” Bargnesi continued.

Some residents are not happy that part of Erie Community College (ECC) will be signed over to the state, but legislators say it is the county’s property to use and sell.

“They’re not taking it. It’s theirs to give. I think that little portion that is being used is well being represented in the redevelopment,” Bargnesi added.

Orchard Park Town Councilman Conor Flynn says the team does not pay local property taxes, yet it uses a large portion of the town’s taxable land. He wants the Bills to pay their share.

Flynn said in part:

The Buffalo Bills organization has existed in the Town of Orchard Park and used Town of Orchard Park services without paying property taxes since its inception. This is due to the State Legislature designating the current stadium as operating for a ‘public purpose’… The state and county have taken a significant portion of the Town of Orchard Park’s taxable land mass and taken it off the tax rolls, shifting that burden onto Orchard Park residents. The state and county realize the benefits while Orchard Park residents shoulder the cost.

Conor Flynn, Orchard Park Town Council

County Leaders say there are still discussions underway for additional restaurants and hotels around the new stadium.

“That’s something that’s been talked about in the Community Benefits Agreement Committee. But really, the county is building the stadium. The free market needs to decide if it can support additional restaurants, hotels and things of that nature,” Lorigo added.

The SEQR process is expected to be completed by the end of the year, according to county officials. They say they expect to break ground on the new stadium project in 2024.

Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team as a reporter in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.

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