By Larry Austin
Island Dispatch Editor
Grand Island Town Supervisor Nathan McMurray said when he saw Monday's Town Board meeting agenda, "I spent the whole day and the whole weekend preparing for war, preparing for bloodshed."
Councilman Mike Madigan had put five items related to the West River Connector Trail on the agenda for discussion that night, including resolutions to reject the state's plan to close West River Parkway and to direct the town's attorneys to "investigate and identify options to keep West River Parkway open."
Thanks to what McMurray alluded to as a "Thanksgiving Day miracle," the meeting was free of rancor and animosity, for which he praised Councilman Ray Billica.
McMurray and Madigan have been at loggerheads over the parkway issue. The state's preferred Option 3 would close the West River Parkway to vehicular traffic in establishing the West River Connector Trail, a multimodal path along the water. The state had announced Nov. 16, after months of input from residents and the Town Board, that it maintained its commitment to pursuing Option 3.
Madigan removed his proposed resolutions after he and McMurray met for two hours Monday morning with Mark Thomas, Western District regional director of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Madigan said McMurray, Thomas and the State Parks team were "professional, respectful, and fully engaged in the conversation and I greatly appreciated the opportunity they all provided through this meeting."
Madigan said the meeting focused primarily on Option 5, a "Share the Road" concept that Billica suggested as a compromise at a Nov. 9 meeting with the state. Resident Bonnie FitzGerald had made a presentation on the option at a Town Board workshop meeting held at Grand Island High School in October.
Share the Road would run from May 1 to October, the five peak outdoor use months. Madigan described the option, saying: "The parkway is closed to vehicles on weekends - making it an event! The parkway remains open on weekdays - the peak vehicle traffic use days. From October through April (seven months), the parkway remains in use (except when conditions prevent use due to snow or ice). Similar programs are in place in Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia and are incredibly popular."
Madigan has said a primary consideration in the trail plan is the safety of residents living on West River Road. Option 5 "minimizes area resident exposure to increased vehicle traffic on their residential streets during peak traffic periods."
Madigan said that at the end of the morning discussion, "Thomas committed to performing a 'comprehensive' review of the compromise Option 5 and will report on the points listed above in relationship to Option 3. Director Thomas did not provide a timeline for when he would complete this assessment but did mention it would take at least 10 days. Director Thomas committed to ensuring it will be a detailed assessment. Stay tuned."
At the end of the Town Board meeting, McMurray noted "we didn't have bloodshed today, and I'm grateful for that, and I want to thank one person."
"I can't talk about what happened in this executive session," McMurray said of a work session held to discuss possible litigation. The meeting was held behind closed doors before the regular meeting. McMurray said during the executive session Billica "stepped up in a way that was very noble."
Also during the regular meeting Monday at Town Hall, the Town Board took receipt of a report from the Planning Board that reviewed local law intro No. 7 of 2016 on tourist homes. The Planning Board met Nov. 14 and sent its findings to the Town Board. Local law No. 7 of 2016 removes judicial processes from the Zoning Board of Appeals and establishes a Tourist Home Oversight Committee, as well as sets forth an application process and annual fees for licensed tourist homes.
Local law No. 7 says, "Tourist homes, transient rentals, and/or short-term rentals existing as a nonconforming use as of Oct. 15, 2016, are hereby permitted to continue as pre-existing, lawful non-conforming uses."
The Planning Board was charged with:
•Recommending to the Town Board leaving local law No. 9 of 2015 in place as is or recommending some variations.
•Recommending approval of local law No. 7 of 2016, which "eliminates much of what was enacted in local law No. 9 of 2015. Newly created tourist homes are not allowed in residential or R districts going forward."
According to the minutes of the meeting, after discussing both the local law No. 7 of 2016 and its predecessor local law No. 9 of 2015, the Planning Board voted 5-1 to recommend that local law intro No. 9 of 2015 be retained in its present form.
The board voted 6-0 against establishment of a Tourist Home Oversight Committee "because adequate enforcement is already in place within the town" through code enforcement.
McMurray said Monday the Planning Board made another recommendation: These tourist homes that are granted continuance of operation by the Zoning Board of Appeals under local law No. 9 should be subject to performance standards ... as proposed under local law No. 7 with exception of the Tourist Home Oversight Committee.
•Doug Learman, the town code enforcement officer, wrote two memos to the board regarding sidewalk installations. Each member referenced different properties: 905 Baseline Road, owned by the Garten Family Trust, and 1993 Marjorie Road, owned by Heath Frisch.
The Baseline Road property work involves installation of 348 square feet of sidewalk and totaled $3,136, or five yearly installments of $627.20 assessed on the owner's town/county tax bill as part of the town's five-year recovery plan.
The Marjorie Road property walk incurs costs totaling $7,102. The assessor is authorized to collect the funds in five annual installments of $1,420.40 starting as soon as the amount can be added to the tax rolls. The work is 219 linear feet of 4-foot sidewalks and 20 linear feet of 4-inch pipe.
The board tabled the matter in a 5-0 vote. McMurray said the town is "currently working on a comprehensive sidewalk plan" for which the town has submitted a grant application.
A resident spoke on behalf of Frisch during the public comment portion of the meeting, saying Frisch has requested a meeting with the board.
•The board approved a request from Highway Superintendent Jim Tomkins and Town Engineer John Whitney for a change order to the bituminous resurfacing of various town roads job for 2016.
The memo from the department heads said, "The highway resurfacing contract has been completed and because of the favorable unit prices received and the need for additional parking at Town Hall, it was decided to expand the upper lot at Town Hall and to resurface the entire lot under this contract."
The additional work was estimated at $25,420 by Amherst Paving Inc.