Shelby landowners file protest petition over proposed Wildlife Refuge Overlay District
SHELBY – Landowners representing two thirds of the property in a proposed Wildlife Refuge Protection District have filed a protest petition with the Town of Shelby, saying the proposed law would restrict their ability to use their property.
The Shelby Town Board is looking to establish a “Wildlife Refuge Protection Overlay District” that would ban mining and other uses the town doesn’t think are compatible near the Iroquois National Wildlife Refuge, such as junk yards, kennels, airports, motor vehicle repair shops, outdoor commercial recreation areas and telecommunication facilities.
The proposed overlay district would provide a 3,000-foot buffer north of the refuge. (Map created by Orleans County Planning Department.)
Eddie Zelazny of Harrison Road was among several speakers during a hearing on Wednesday to oppose overlay district, which is Local Law No. 2 for 2016. Frontier Stone LLC wants to use 215 acres of Zelazny land in a proposed quarry that would be established in four phases, over 75 years, with 11.6 acres mined in the first 11 years.
Zelazny said the Town Board “is deliberately targeting other private property owners near our land to get my family to abandon this project. That is discriminating.”
Several farmers spoke against the overlay restrictions during the public hearing and also signed the protest petition. Alana Keppler of SK Herefords said the cattle operation relies on telecommunications for maintaining records while they are in the field. She said SK strives to stay up to date with rapidly-changing technology. The ban on telecommunications facilities could be a detriment to SK Herefords in the future, she said.
Another farmer, Todd Roberts, also signed the petition and spoke against the overlay district, seeing it as an attack on property rights.
“I feel like I’m being punished just because I have land near a wildlife refuge,” Roberts told the Town Board.
The overlay district would cover 3,821 acres. Landowners representing 2,500 of the acres in the overlay district, 67 percent of the total, signed the protest petition, which was filed with the town on Wednesday.
That exceeds a 20 percent threshold of acreage in the proposed district, which forces a super-majority vote, requiring at least 4 of the 5 Town Board members to vote for the law for it to pass.
“The Petitioners protest and oppose the Wildlife Refuge Protection District Law because the limitations and constraints that are contained therein would result in significant hardship to them as property owners, including those property owners whose property would be in the proposed Refuge Protection Overlay District,” the petition states.
The restrictions in the proposed law “go well beyond what is needed to protect the health, safety and welfare of property owners and the general community, and simply are not consistent with the wishes voiced by landowners in the Town of Shelby,” according to the petition.
Pete Zeliff said the Shelby proposal would thwart any efforts to develop bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, kennels and other potential projects that would benefit the town. He said he is in the early stages of developing a campground for Boy Scouts on his land near the refuge.
He runs the Warrior House, a hunting retreat site for wounded veterans, at his property on Salt Works Road in West Shelby. He doesn’t want that effort to be hurt by the restrictions in the town’s proposed overlay district.
Several residents spoke in favor of the law during Wednesday’s public hearing attended by about 150 people. The Town Board was praised to pushing for the restrictions after the state Department of Environmental Conservation ruled on July 27 that Frontier had satisfied the agency in its review and no “substantive or significant” environmental issues remained to be adjudicated with the project.
The DEC determined in its review that proposed quarry “would have no impact of any significance on the Refuge,” according to the petition filed on Wednesday.
David Mahar, president of Frontier, said Frontier, in a decade of working on the project, has taken steps to protect and enhance the refuge by developing a water management plan that will “get water to the refuge marshes whenever they need it.”
Frontier also has worked with the Genesee County Economic Development Center to ensure the quarry would not have a negative impact on the STAMP site on the southern side of the refuge, he said.
Mahar said the company’s project has been rigorously reviewed by the DEC, which examined impacts from blasting, dust and additional traffic on the refuge, the environment, local roads and water resources.
“This operation was designed to benefit the community and the refuge, not harm them,” he said.
Mahar said he has been a faithful attendee of Shelby town meetings for a decade, trying to help town officials understand the quarry project. But he said Shelby town officials have declined to sit down with him to learn the science behind the quarry and how it would help the refuge and community.
The Local Law proposal “not only threatens our ability to be of assistance to the refuge and a positive contributor to this community, it threatens free enterprise – mine, the Zelazny’s and all their good neighbors,” Mahar said. “And it hinders economic development.”