Petitions submitted in Yates to force referendum on $700K land purchase to expand town park

File photo by Tom Rivers: Yates town officials walk by a new concrete kayak launch and access point at the Yates Town Park off Morrison Road by Lake Ontario in August 2022. Pictured from left include Town Councilman John Riggi, engineer Jon Hinman of the MRB Group, and Town Supervisor Jim Simon. The town wants to acquire 153 acres next to the town park.

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 12 April 2024 at 9:51 am

YATES – The Yates Town Board on March 14 voted to buy 153.3 acres of land from NYSEG for $700,000. Town officials envision the site to stay undeveloped with walking trails. It is next to a 6-acre town park on Morrision Road by Lake Ontario.

But town residents Paul Lauricella, Bill Jurinich and Steve Colon want the sale to have voter approval. They submitted petitions signed by 200 residents on Thursday.

That should meet the threshold to force a public referendum, Town Supervisor Jim Simon said. The petitions are being reviewed for valid signatures, and town officials are checking the local law for how soon the referendum will be held. It may be before the Nov. 5 election day.

“This is the American way,” Simon said Thursday after the Town Board meeting, responding to the petitions filed that morning at the town hall.

Lauricella, a Yates resident and chairman of the Orleans County Conservative Party, said he wants the community to have the final say in whether the land is purchased, and to be aware there will be ongoing maintenance and costs beyond the purchase.

“We thank the people for entrusting us with their signatures,” Lauricella said after Thursday’s Town Board meeting. “This gives them a voice.”

The town’s purchase is dependent on Yates receiving grants to cover the purchase of the land, Simon said. Yates has two years to line up grants and state funding for the acquisition. The town had to put down $5,000 to hold the land, and that money will be returned if the town ultimately doesn’t go forward with the project.

Simon said there are no immediate plans for the land, except to develop nature trails and possibly add a gazebo or a pavilion. The best use for the property may be keeping in a mostly wooded state without development, Simon said.

Town officials have eyed the land for years, and wanted to use state funds through the REDI program to acquire the land and make it more accessible to the public.

The state created the Resiliency and Economic Development Initiative or REDI in response to historic flooding along the shore in 2017 and 2019. Yates received a $2.5 million grant from the state to make improvements to the 6-acre town park, including a playground, pavilion with bathrooms, a kayak launch, a crusher-run walking trail, a new parking lot with sidewalks and a pier that extends into the lake.

The town initially sought $4.5 million in REDI and that would have included buying the NYSEG land and doing some improvements, but NYSEG wasn’t ready to sell it in 2019, when the REDI funds were approved by the state.

Simon said the town’s local waterfront development plans include expanding the town park to the NYSEG site.

When the board voted March 14 to acquire the land for $700,000, there was then a 30-day window for a permissive referendum to file petitions to put the purchase to a public vote. Lauricella, Jurinich and Colon had voiced concerns about the purchase for several months.

They say it will take $25,000 in property taxes – town, county, school and fire district – off the tax rolls, and also result in increased costs for the town with maintenance and insurance.

Jurinich said he’d like to see a portion of the land be available to develop houses. That would boost the town’s tax base.

The town will have public meetings about the purchase leading up to the referendum, looking at the pros and cons, Simon said.

He sees an expanded park, open and free to the community, as a big asset for local residents that would also likely bring visitors to the community.

“This would preserve a beautiful stretch of land,” Simon said.