Lewiston addresses transparency regarding proposed rec/senior centerby jmaloni
by Terry Duffy
Discussion topics at Monday's Lewiston Town Board session were numerous and varied. A big one concerned the proposed Town of Lewiston Community Recreation and Senior Services Center.
Resident Paulette Glasgow had questions in the comments segment over transparency, or the lack of it by the town thus far. This triggered responses at the session by Town Councilman Ernie Palmer and Town Attorney Mike Dowd, and further moves this week in the form of explanations and voices of support by Town Supervisor Steve Reiter and volunteer members of the town recreation committee on the merits of the proposed center.
"Over the past year, the Town Board has scheduled meetings regarding the rec center," Glasgow began. She said this has involved such groups as the Lewiston-Porter School District, Lew-Port's administrators, Board of Education and staff; area land use developers; the town's Planning Board; the Lewiston Environmental Commission, the town building board; rec center architects; construction companies and others.
"There's one group that you haven't met with yet, that's the people," said Glasgow "... Why don't you have a public information meeting, where people can come, you take comments, you can answer their questions and maybe that will resolve some of this?
"I'm getting phone calls from seniors, and I'll be honest with you, they're pissed," she continued. "You may hear one thing, but I hear quite another."
Expanding on the public comment idea, Glasgow asked, "How about a public referendum? I think that's probably a good thing to do, to see if the people really want this."
She then suggested the board consider a resolution to have a public information meeting scheduled to answer questions and have a public referendum. "That would surely tell you if the public wants this, because all I'm hearing is, this is something needed for our community, it's in high demand. ... It's a long-standing need ...
"Obviously no one has come here and told you that," she told the board. "... Maybe that's what you need to do ... have a meeting, so they can (come) here and give their opinion."
Palmer quickly responded, "Mrs. Glasgow is absolutely correct in asking for a public information meeting. You can bet that this is forthcoming."
Dowd piped in saying, "You can't put the cart before the horse (with holding an information meeting before all the recreation center specifics are finalized). We're not rushing into this whole thing like it's a barn-burner."
Palmer continued, "... One of things that will make this a success ... is complete transparency as this goes forward. We have to have transparency in this project in order to gain the trust of everyone involved. We are not going to embark on a $10 million or more project with backroom ... it's just not going to happen ... I won't be a part of that."
Reiter pointed out that the town has in fact had public discussions on the proposed recreation center. A lengthy presentation by the town recreation center committee and Reiter occupied much of a Dec. 10 board work session.
And the matter has been discussed at subsequent sessions of the Town Board, plus at recent sessions of the Lewiston-Porter School Board, including one held just last week, and at the Porter Town Board's Feb. 11 meeting.
This week, the town and the recreation/senior center committee, seemingly responding to Glasgow's concerns, expanded on this information sharing further, to remove any doubts of transparency concerning its proposal. In materials released over past days and posted on its website, www.LewistonRSC.org, the committee reported the following updates:
•Lewiston has solicited lead agency status for the project, and a 30-day waiting period will be complete on March 4.
•The State Environmental Quality Review process has been completed.
•A request for quotation for construction management services is in current review.
•A letter of intent to sell school property to the Town of Lewiston is in its final stages.
•Unanimous approval has been received from the Niagara County Planning Board for this project.
The town announced it will hold a series of public comment sessions, with the purpose of providing interested residents the opportunity "to offer support or your opinion on this project." Meetings will be held Mondays, March 4, March 25, April 22 and May 23, at 6 p.m. in Lewiston Town Hall. All are open and residents and interested parties are encouraged to attend.
"We are now at the point when we are comfortable with the overall design and direction of the project and now must determine the public need and desire for this center," commented Reiter in a column that appears on Page 5 of this week's Sentinel. "The Town of Lewiston asks for your input, comments, questions and concerns at these next public meetings. Each meeting will address the Lewiston Recreation and Senior Services Center, and we look forward to your input."
Moving on to other news from the session:
•Sara Court resident John Frandina, appearing with two other residents, inquired as to the status of the town's intent to sell off green space in the Lewistowne Park subdivision. The Town Board, responding to what it called long-standing issues involving town-owned green spaces in the subdivision, including maintenance problems, overgrown trees, liability factors, access and encroachments from neighboring landowners, has been considering selling off the lands. Problem is, according to Frandina and others who have appeared or commented on the plan, is the impact on property owners should a sale policy be implemented.
Reiter, Dowd and board members responded the matter is not yet final and that it's the town's intent to do what's best for affected residents. "The goal of the Town Board is to place limits on the green spaces if the green spaces are sold," said Dowd, adding it was never the town's intent to sell off all the lands to just one person.
Dowd said the town has been updating its surveys of the lands, the board was still reviewing the matter and that all affected residents will be getting letters on a yet-to-be-announced informational meeting, to fully discuss the matter further.
"The board will weigh all the pros and cons before a final decision is made," said Palmer, adding that none, including a proposed green space sale to Jay Coppins family interests, has been finalized thus far.
•The board unanimously approved a resolution in support of the Second Amendment, and called for repeal of the NY SAFE Act and opposing federal anti-gun measures proposed by the Obama administration. Councilman Ron Winkley, former chief of the Lewiston Police, called recent swift passage of the SAFE Act by the State Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo "ridiculous" and said the Western New York Chief's Association, along with a number of other law enforcement organizations are staunchly opposed to the measure. Reiter, Councilman Mike Marra and Palmer all voiced similar frustrations on the SAFE Act and its impact on gun rights.
Lewiston joins a number of local municipalities and county legislatures throughout the state in opposing the act.
•Reiter blasted the New York State Power Authority on its continuing to allow out-of-district costs to be passed on to Lewiston for maintaining NYPA upgrades. Noting a recent water service line improvement on NYPA property, completed at town expense, he called for Dowd to investigate further NYPA's out-of-district fees not being paid to the town.
•Marra directed that Town Parks Director Mike Dashineau prepare a report outlining further improvement work to be done at town parks, using annual NYPA benefit funds delegated to the town from the 2007 relicensing agreement. Parks in need include Colonial Village (roof repairs to the shelter) and at Sanborn (gazebo and equipment needs). Dashineau was requested to prepare a report and estimate for board review.