Island Dispatch Senior Contributing Writer Karen Carr Keefe last week posed the same set of questions to the two candidates for Grand Island town supervisor: Peter Marston, running on the Conservative line; and Michael Madigan, running on the Republican line. Both candidates currently serve as councilmembers on the Town Board.
Here are Marston’s responses from an in-person interview with the Dispatch this week.
Marston favors collaborative approach to town government
Dispatch: What are your best qualifications for office and why should Grand Islanders vote for you? Please highlight your most significant experience in management both in town government – and in business, also, if you like.
Marston: As a small business owner, my job is to do more with less. I have a very small crew. We do that by collaboration by working together. All my people can do everything in my business. The big thing is working together with everybody … as a group. I’ve seen a lot of people in government that don’t want that. They want regimented, they want to divide. I don’t care for that at all. I’m probably the most unpolitical person you’ll meet, who is involved in politics. And I take pride in that. I’m not here for an agenda. I’m not here to enable a special interest group of any kind. My wheelhouse is the greater good of Grand Island.
I’ve always had a really good pulse of Grand Island because I deal with so many people – business, town, and our involvement in the community. I’m very blue collar. I prefer to march with you instead of telling you how to march.
When I first got into office, we were not collecting recreation fees from apartment builders. My opinion on that was, if you live in an apartment, you are more reliant on the town’s recreation than if you had a home, because you don’t have a yard. We’re seeing apartment-dwellers using our senior center, using our parks. So, one of the first things I did as a councilman was reenact that (fee) on more dense housing – apartment and townhouses – and we raised it substantially. That collected us hundreds of thousands of dollars and we built all those pavilions in Veterans Park, we redid the gazebo. We’ve given the community more recreation without taking tax dollars.
Dispatch: What is your management style? Do you feel you can bring a collaborative and cooperative approach to Town Board meetings and decisions and minimize any potential counterproductive confrontations among Town Board members?
Marston: The best thing you can do is work together and have relationships. When I first started as a Town Board member, I was really disappointed that this department did this, but they didn’t work with this department, and they didn’t work with that department. It was like silos. To me, it was counterproductive. Since then, we’ve seen some little changes in leaderships in most departments and we’ve been very – at least I’ve been – very cognizant of who we put in charge. And now you see these guys working together. They’ve collaborated. That’s what small towns should do. And that’s very cost effective to the taxpayer. I really don’t enjoy this whole divisiveness stuff. Let’s work together. Let’s do the best we can.
Dispatch: What do you see as Grand Island's most significant challenges you would face as supervisor in the coming four years?
Marston: I think the drain keeps swirling around development. People are very upset about that. Personally, my opinion, when you took down the toll booths, now we are much more accessible. If you look at, I’ll call them the hubs – like Niagara Falls and Buffalo – they’re all building out, out, out. And we were always left alone because we had toll booths. Now that’s kind of gone. There is traffic, I will admit to that, but more and more people are working from home now, so that’s become less of an issue.
Grand Island is kind of in its adolescent phase, where it’s starting to grow up, and I think it’s very important that we keep an eye on how we do what we do and where we do what we do and why we do what we do. You have to have some creativity.
Dispatch: What are the strengths that our town possesses, and how can these be maximized in upcoming town government decisions?
Marston: I think we have one of the strongest communities ever. We work together when we have a common goal. I think our geography is really unique. I think we leave a lot of money and a lot of opportunity on the table with ecotourism. I think we should do better with that. We have interesting challenges because we have our own sewer and water department, which is unique to an island, where many others just use a county-type thing, and that’s where infrastructure is tricky for us and so is money. I think we need to hold developers accountable to give us good things. If they’re going to develop here, we need something out of it.
Dispatch: What is your opinion on the different proposed developments working their way through the approval process at this point – such as Acquest Development’s Long Road warehouse proposal, Southpointe, the former Radisson property, Rivertown, solar projects – and others.
Marston: I don’t think anybody wants more development. It’s not something that anybody’s raising their hand and saying, “Please, build more here.” But, people do have property, people own it and they buy it to do things, and then they have rights … to make money or sell it. But we can steer the ship a little bit as far as what we get, in regards to design standards, what we want our businesses to look like, what we want their impacts to look like on the community. That’s something I’ve been really instrumental in. I’ve been working with the long-range planning since it started, back when I was on the planning board. And I worked through as councilman. I’m very interested in these design standards, so we can keep businesses that are building in the right district.
With Acquest Development’s warehouse, I see two sides of it. You have a property owner that’s trying to do something, which I’ll say is “as of right use,” which is light manufacturing, M1, which is warehouse, and he has the amount of acreage to allow it; and then you have the people that live in near proximity of it that don’t want it because they are residential. So, they both have valid points. Is there a way to make what he wants to do, fit there?
But my biggest concern with that project, in particular, is not so much the project, but how it affects everything around it. If it’s allowable, we have to work with that. But when your traffic leaves, how does it affect us … as a town? That has to be our biggest concern.
As much as we looked at the project, we had to issue a positive declaration on it because we felt the traffic was pretty enormous, and we felt that, in the first iteration, that it was going to create a lot of noise – with larger trucks. We thought it would really impede the quality of life in our community. We’ve hired, on their dollar, some peer reviews – so we have our own traffic people, our own noise and sound people that are going to study what they’ve offered.
And they made substantial changes and they’ve gone a lot of the right directions. I don’t know if they’re there or not yet – to be determined. They are going to make some substantial changes to many things, on their dollar, not ours. I suggested to them that maybe they should look at straightening Long Road, hooking it right to the parkway road and losing that leg and then bringing West River to a stop sign.
Dispatch: Please share any information you are comfortable with as to your family composition – marriage, kids, education, private sector employment history and interests.
Marston: I’m married 16 years. I have a 15-year-old son, Pete Jr. He’s very active with volleyball, he’s a drag racer – my wife, Susan, and I enable that. Last year, he was ranked ninth in the country out of thousands of kids. He’s very passionate about what he does. We try to enable that any way we can and keep him a good kid, keep him humble. My wife is on the school board and she works from home, she’s very active – lifelong Islander. The whole family is very involved with community. We believe in giving back.
Dispatch: What do you think are the biggest constituent concerns on Grand Island – what are the most frequent complaints or compliments you hear from residents. If there are certain problems that are on the hit list, how do you propose to solve them?
Marston: The biggest thing I hear people upset about is development, and nobody wants their taxes to go up more than they should. But I’ve also heard from many people that you don’t want to minimize our services. People want things for the town. And they don’t mind paying their share, but they don’t want to pay more than their share.
I’ve gotten hundreds, if not a thousand of compliments about the work I’ve done on trails. We can do that inexpensively, and people really like the outdoor activity. That really came into focus during the whole COVID thing. People were using the trails. The trail system that I helped work the design on and pushed for won the Erie County Award of Excellence – the ones we did at the Nike Base, all the expansions we did of the trails. We’re starting to get messages from people from Youngstown and Lewiston and Angola that come up here and they cross-country ski all those trails. Again ecotourism. I think that’s really cool.
Dispatch: What is the best future you can envision for Grand Island as a town, and as a place to live, work and play? How can you contribute, during your term, to achieving that ideal future for Grand Island?
Marston: I think I’ve already spoken about quality of life and how people want things but they don’t want to pay enormous amounts. They’d like to see us improve recreation facilities to a point, but they don’t want to pay the big money. So, we have to use our heads. That kind of stuff is all in play. I think we’ve pushed the play part with all the ecotourism-type trails and expansions, we’re holding our developers accountable to give us things like that and work together with us. Interconnectivity with all this stuff is huge. It’s very important. In the future we won’t all drive cars. I think you see more and more people bicycling, walking, riding those e-bikes. So, let’s just be ready.
Dispatch: Do you have any other statements you would like to make about your candidacy for supervisor?
Marston: Probably the biggest thing that bothers me as an elected official is the misinformation and the division that gets out there. And the fact that people put misinformation out there to divide people. I’ve seen elected officials divide the community and decide which piece is stronger and support that. I just don’t agree with that. Throw the facts out there, let everybody discuss it. Try to figure out how to make things work, not how to break them. To me, it’s all about, let’s work together for the common good, not divide it and see which teams wins.