Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

September 5, 2013

Referendums, Lafarge draw reaction

BY JOE OLENICK joe.olenick@lockportjournal.com
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — There’s one thing a pair of referendums and the proposed Lafarge expansion have in common. In each case, some in the Town of Lockport have something to say about it. 

Both issues came up at a Town Board meeting Wednesday night. It was started off by Paul Black, a Town Board candidate who came to the meeting to officially turn in the pair of petitions asking for referendums to appear on the November ballot.

The first referendum asks residents if the town should be divided into four wards, like many cities including the city of Lockport. Residents in a particular ward would elect a town board member from among those who live within the ward.

Black’s second referendum asks voters to consider a set of public meeting bylaws. The referendum would move all meetings, regular and work sessions, to evening hours. And anything requiring a board vote would take place at the regular meeting, not the work session.

The referendum would also limit any punitive measures by the Town Board. It also calls for delaying board votes on all matters in which the public expresses an objection, at least until the board reconsiders the matter and makes a public explanation regarding the objection.

Black claimed the referendums would improve representation and the board’s interaction with the public. Over 400 signatures were collected by Black, more than the required 322 needed, or 5 percent of those who voted in the last gubernatorial election in 2010.

“The people want change,” Black declared.

The referendums will be reviewed by Town Attorney Michael J. Norris. No Town Board action is required in order to have the referendums put on the ballot.

Black also submitted a petition with 164 signatures opposing the construction of traffic medians on South Transit Road. The medians would run from Robinson Road north to the city line, divided into five sections, covering 887 of the 6,850 feet there would be medians. The medians would include landscaping, trees, flower beds, signs and lighting, all to improve the aesthetics of the South Transit Road corridor for current and future development, town officials said.

Donna Pieszala voiced her support of Black’s referendums.

“I feel they are very important,” Pieszala said.

Thomas Grzebinski, a resident and alternate on the town planning board, raised some concerns about the proposed ward system. He gave a few examples of towns that either decided not to have wards or got rid of them.

Most of those towns struggled to have competitive elections, he said.

There are other challenges with the ward system, Grzebinski said. For one, residents would have fewer representatives, as instead of the entire five-person board they would have one ward representative and the supervisor, he said.

A few Hinman and Murphy roads residents spoke up about the ongoing Lafarge issue. 

Lafarge North America’s proposed expansion was allowed with a zoning change approved by the Town Board in December. The zoning ordinance change allows Lafarge to mine on a strip of land about 162 feet wide and 4,000 feet long. The change cuts in half the current 300-foot buffer between the edge of the quarry and the north edge of Hinman Road.

Residents said they wanted answers and better communication from the Town Board.

”Please communicate with us, we’re afraid, honestly, we feel powerless, we’re afraid bad things are going to happen to our neighborhood,” said Tony Battaglia.

Some residents have filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn the zoning change, which is why town officials couldn’t speak about it, Supervisor Marc R. Smith said Wednesday. But prior to the lawsuit, town officials did speak with concerned residents, Smith said.

Enough is Enough, as the group of residents is known as, is contending the Town Board did not follow the proper procedure for an environmental review process, before it approved the zoning change.

The lawsuit states the board voted Dec. 26 to approve the amendment and an environmental assessment form. However, back on Dec. 4, board members approved a “negative declaration,” asserting that the zoning change would have no impact on the environment. In the lawsuit, town officials said the negative declaration was proper because the Town Board was merely amending the zoning ordinance, not undertaking a particular project.

Town officials sent a letter to Lafarge asking the company about their plans with the expansion and raising residents’ concerns. The company said it would not answer the letter until the suit is resolved.

Contact reporter Joe Olenick at 439-9222, ext. 6241 or follow him on Twitter @joeolenick.