Collesano, Sutherland working to resolve conflict among boards
By Joshua Maloni
New Niagara River Greenway Executive Director Jeanne Leccese paid a visit to Monday's Village of Lewiston work session. Not yet three months into the job, Leccese has already made visiting Greenway municipalities a priority.
"I'm still learning my way, and still learning the ins and outs, but I'm doing these listening tours," she said. "I'm going to each of the communities, the 13 municipalities that are located along the Niagara River corridor. And sharing what we're doing as a commission; sharing what our priorities are for the upcoming year; and then hearing from all of you."
In 2017, Leccese said, "We have three priorities. ... The first is a continuous trail to connect the two Great Lakes - to connect Lake Ontario and Lake Erie with a physical trail that will run along the Niagara River."
"We also want to have consistent signage along the trail, so that, whether you start in downtown Buffalo or you start in the Village of Lewiston, or you start anywhere along the way, you know that you're on a trail that, if you want to, you can bike or walk 37 miles in one direction - which is a pretty incredible resource," Leccese said.
She explained, "The second priority is called 'Where the Green Meets the Blue.' The whole reason we've got this beautiful Greenway is because we have the beautiful Niagara River that borders along the 13 municipalities. We want to ensure that there's a really nice connection between the water, the Niagara River, and the green of the Greenway."
To this end, the Niagara River Greenway is working with Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper and its habitat conservation strategies.
And then, "Our third priority is really to make the Niagara corridor a global ecotourism destination," Leccese said. Pointing to the new illumination at Niagara Falls, she said, "This region is really taking off, and there's a lot of opportunity to build on that, and to support that - particularly around this ecotourism. Having people come who want to be active; who want to find some hiking trails; who want to do some birding; who want to just experience nature here, in our setting."
A native of the Philadelphia area, Leccese earned a master's degree in urban planning from the University at Buffalo. She most recently served as a senior research associate at the UB Food Systems Planning and Healthy Communities Lab. Prior to that, Leccese worked as the project coordinator for Creating Healthy Places to Live, Work and Play, an initiative of the Human Service Coalition of Tompkins County in Ithaca.
Former Mayor Richard Soluri, who serves as vice chairman of the Niagara River Greenway Commission, introduced Leccese to the Board of Trustees.
"We didn't have (an executive director) for several years," he said. "I think some of you, maybe, remember Rob Belue. He returned to Florida, and then we didn't have the funds. And finally (Empire State Development Regional President) Sam Hoyt came through, and we now have Jeanne Leccese."
Leccese reminded trustees of the Niagara River Greenway's goal of being a "world-class corridor of places, parks and landscapes that celebrate and interpret our unique, natural, cultural, recreational, scenic and heritage resources, and provides access to and connections between these important resources, while giving rise to economic opportunities for the region."
In 2007, the New York Power Authority was given a new, 50-year federal license to operate the Niagara Power Project. As part of the deal, NYPA agreed to provide $450 million over 50 years to fund Greenway projects.
Locally, Lewiston submits projects to be funded through the Host Communities Standing Committee (HCSC), whose members include NYPA and the Niagara Power Coalition (Niagara Falls; towns of Niagara and Lewiston; Niagara County; and the Niagara-Wheatfield, Niagara Falls and Lewiston-Porter school districts). This board annually receives $3 million.
Leccese said the Greenway Plan "provides a blueprint for what we're going to do within the Niagara corridor and along the river."
But the Greenway Commission has no funds to award. Rather, monies are distributed through standing committees.
In recent years, some local projects have, seemingly, bypassed the Greenway Commission - the board charged with preserving the Greenway Plan and determining project consistency - and gone straight to the HCSC for funding. Other projects have been voted inconsistent and still received funding.
Though HCSC proposals are not required to receive a consistency review, Leccese said, "I think it's so important to collaborate with everyone - to get everyone at the table to have these conversations, so that we can have a dialogue about how the funds are going to be spent - how we're going to move the Greenway Plan forward. And to ensure that really we're keeping in mind what the purpose of the Greenway Plan is, and we're not losing sight of that, and we're really ensuring that we're using the funds appropriately."
Leccese said she looks forward to improving communication. The ultimate goal, she said, is "to ensure that, at the end of the 50 years, we have a real green corridor that runs the length of the Niagara River that supports the ecological habitat along the river; that supports the communities along the river; and really is part of what makes living in Western New York great."
Getting on Same Page
Pictured at the table, clockwise from left, are Village of Lewiston Building Inspector Ken Candella, Planning Commission Chairman Norm Machelor, Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland, Mayor Terry Collesano, Zoning Board of Appeals Chairman H. John Ritter, Historic Preservation Committee Chairman Harry Wright and Zoning Officer Edward DeVantier.
Throughout the course of this year, the Village of Lewiston's appointed board members - from the Planning Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals and Historic Preservation Committee - have not seen eye to eye, nor agreed on practices and principles related to the village code.
In an effort to get members on the same page - or at least cooperating - Mayor Terry Collesano and Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland recently began holding meetings with the board chairs.
"It's something that's long-overdue," Collesano said before the work session. "We've talked about it in the past, but there's not coordination amongst the different (boards)."
"We feel it's going to be a great asset to the village," he added.
The meetings are designed to foster board harmonization en route to project synchronization.
In other words, elected and appointed officials are working to create an active flowchart of each new proposal, so as to remain up-to-date on project progress. Residents and developers, meanwhile, will, in coming weeks, have access to documentation stating which board they need to appear before, and in what order.
With these documents in hand, all parties should then know the required steps toward final plan approval.
"We'll have the answers," Collesano said.
The Planning Commission will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Monday in the Red Brick's Morgan Lewis Village Boardroom. The ZBA will assemble at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday to decide on variances for the Lewiston Event Center. The HPC has rescheduled its meeting to 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 20.
Trustees will next meet at 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 19.