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Lewiston Town Board session covers potpourri of issues

by jmaloni
Sat, Feb 2nd 2013 07:00 am
Members of the Lewiston Town Board recognized winners of the recent Lewiston Lions Peace Poster contest at the board's Monday session. Not shown is Councilman Ernie Palmer. (photo by Terry Duffy)
Members of the Lewiston Town Board recognized winners of the recent Lewiston Lions Peace Poster contest at the board's Monday session. Not shown is Councilman Ernie Palmer. (photo by Terry Duffy)

by Terry Duffy

Legacy Drive, green space, zoning, recreation, water and CWM issues were among a host of items covered at an active Lewiston Town Board regular meeting, Monday night at Town Hall.

The session opened with a public hearing on the Legacy Drive acquisition matter. A years-old discussion issue, the town of late has been seeking eminent domain of an 81-by-150-foot parcel of Legacy Drive that has seen the road completed and structures built but never occupied, and the road never actually dedicated due to a title issue.

The situation became aggravated following the death of developer Benjamin Siccoli and disagreements among family members. Its status today is that of a non-used "paper street" with earlier constructed buildings falling into disrepair, thus prompting the town to seek action.

Attorney John Blair of Blair and Roach LLP of Niagara Falls, the lone speaker, appeared on behalf of the estate and told Town Board members, "We believe there are alternatives" to the town's seeking eminent domain status. Blair said that, while the matter remains in dispute, family interests are still pursuing alternative options to resolve the matter, including access and egress changes to the parcel. "(We see the town's) eminent domain process as a waste of taxpayer money, as well as a conflict with the private objectives of Siccoli interests," Blair told the board.

Board members took his comments into consideration as they elected to table the matter for a period of 90 days before making a final decision. But they did approve related resolutions, including the town accepting "lead agency" status; a determination on whether such an eminent domain would serve the public interest of the town; and acceptance of a "short" environmental assessment form en route to a negative declaration of the property.

It is now tabled for further review.

In public comments, the issue of surplus green space and the town's attempts to sell these parcels off was revisited when residents of the Lewistowne Park subdivision appeared before the board with questions. The Town Board had recently approved the sale of one parcel of town-owned green space on Powell Lane to Coppins family interests and is moving toward the disposition of other similar lands in the subdivision it now views as declared surplus, hard-to-maintain properties, and liabilities to the town.

However, one resident who spoke said he felt differently. Robert Schule of Sara Court, speaking on behalf of other residents who joined him that evening, told Supervisor Steve Reiter and the board members the "forever green element" was a selling feature that Giusiana developers of Lewistowne Park used in their selling enticement to buyers. "The privacy element (of that parcel and similar lands) influenced my purchase," said Schule, also telling the board that the town's latest move has the potential to negatively impact the property and any resale value.

Reiter and Town Attorney Mike Dowd responded that after much discussion the town decided it would be in its best interests to divest itself of the properties; that the green space/recreational intents of the developer were never realized and the lands, now overgrown and poorly maintained were a liability. Dowd said the town views the alternative of selling the lands as its best option.

Reiter said that the developer's earlier vision of the green space to what it has become today is far different. "It's turned into a nightmare," said Reiter, telling the resident of the town's problems of maintaining trees, of overgrowth problems and access, not to mention that some residents also have taken action to modify some green spaces on their own with sheds, etc. "There has been a lot things done to the green space beyond what it was intended for," said Reiter. He told the resident the town is moving ahead with surveys and notices will be provided to affected neighboring property owners on options to purchase lands.

"We've come to a point where we had to do something," added Town Councilman Ernie Palmer.

Attorney Joe Leone, a Lewistowne Park resident and a former town attorney told the board he supported the town's latest moves, but suggested the town consider adding a conservation easement to prevent any future negative impact on the lands.

Another topic heard in comments involved town-wide rezoning amendments now in the process of being finalized by the town. Resident Amy Witryol told the board she supported conditional approval of its rezoning, providing it modify rezoning of "unique properties" owned by the town up in the Lake Ontario Ordnance Works area, plus the U.S. government-owned Niagara Falls Storage Site. In her comments Witryol said she supported the town, "Approve the zoning and map conditioned on:

"The town's directive that within 30 days, the consultant (Wendel Engineers) shall propose cleaner zoning alternatives for the Niagara Falls Storage site and three unique properties located on the former Lake Ontario Ordnance Works Site owned by the Town of Lewiston, Niagara Mohawk (now known as National Grid) and Chemical Waste Management LLC."

In a resolution later that evening on zoning codification by Councilman Al Bax, the board approved the addition of the LOOW classifications suggested by Witryol plus language on the exemptions.

Moving on to other discussion matters:

•Reiter provided a synopsis on the town's recreation/senior building schedule "if all goes perfectly." He said the Lewiston-Porter Board of Education had reviewed and modified a letter of intent on the sale of the land that fronts Lew-Port High School. Reiter said the town had requested the district reduce the sale price in half, which it did. He also said agreements were made regarding priority of future use of the center by Lew-Port versus that of a paying customer.

He said the town would be moving on its intent to assume lead agency status, and that solicitation letters would be sent to "other agencies" to gauge their intents or interests regarding the center, if any.

And he said that a 30-day public comment period would follow and emphasized that funding would be provided completely via the Niagara Greenway Commission "with no impact on individual taxpayers." Further, Reiter said he approached both the Town of Porter and the Lew-Port District regarding support/funding of the project and both responded positively.

•In another recreation matter, it was reported the Lewiston Family Ice Rink, thanks "to the generosity of our sponsors and continued interest and attendance at the rink," would in operation until Feb. 10, with a "Learn to Curl" exercise set for Feb. 2 and the town to begin shutdown on Feb. 10. Councilman Mike Marra said Recreation Director Mike Dashineau informed him the town would be able to operate the rink "on a weather-dependent basis."

Daily updates for rink usage and hours can be found at http://www.lewportsports.com/.

•Reiter noted the confusion presented in an earlier Niagara Gazette article on water consolidation discussions between the town and Village of Lewiston, and wished to clarify a few issues. Noting a disputed area of cost, he said that for a village property valued at $100,000 the actual cost under town control would be $111.97 per 6,400 cubic units of water usage versus the current $227.20 paid to the village.

"I'm looking for a fair way of how we can help them out with our power discounts," said Reiter. "The town has nothing to gain here, other than opportunity to save village residents money."

And regarding questions over winter water usage/billing for "snowbirds," Reiter said all that an affected resident would need to do is simply notify the town of an upcoming prolonged absence and the town would shut off water service to the property with no cost involved.

Reiter said the town would be working at resolving its misunderstandings with the village on this matter in coming months.

•Finally moving to the CWM issue and money received from the company in support of ice rink operations, Reiter reiterated the town's stance on opposition to any future CWM expansion efforts.

"Recently the town accepted a donation from Waste Management," Reiter began. "And there was a lot of discourse about conflict of interest ... so I would ask that once again, we resolve our stand against the expansion of the landfill ... and I would say that 'whereas the advertisement on behalf of the town appeared in the Lewiston-Porter Sentinel on Dec. 3, 2012 (actually it was Dec. 8), be it resolved it continues to be the Town of Lewiston's position that it is firmly against the continued expansion of commercial hazardous waste landfilling in Niagara County and we view that as adverse to the area's economic and public health.' "

Reiter made the motion, which was seconded by Palmer.

In his remarks, Palmer stated he opposed CWM expansion and said the controversy raised by the $5,000 donation was understandable. "But I think this organization, which explicitly lowers the quality of life in this area, should be giving contributions to programs that benefit our children," said Palmer. "I think it's incumbent on them and others who disrupt our quality of life to at least try to pay back the community, even it's a token $5,000. At least it's something. I would hope that in the future we would see more community responsibility from organizations like Waste Management. So therefore I don't think we should we return this contribution."

Reiter's motion on the town's opposing CWM's expansion plans went on to pass the board by a unanimous vote.

In her comments following the session, Witryol challenged Palmer's views, suggesting that it could be used down the road by CWM in a legal opinion against the town.

"For Councilman Palmer to make a statement, 'I think that if you're damaging the town, we ought to get paid for it,' that you're cutting off your nose to spite your face, if the compensation for that damage helps them create another 40 years worth of damage. And that's the question that's going to be asked," she said. "If he's going to translate that (view) we really should get compensated without getting legal advice as to whether or not it would have the opposite effect, then I think that's very problematic as a public official."

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