Yates voters will decide fate of land purchase on Thursday

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 17 June 2024 at 5:35 pm

Town Board seeks to buy 153 acres to expand town park with stipulation $700K must come from grants

Photos by Tom Rivers: Yates Town Supervisor Jim Simon speakers at a meeting Saturday morning at the Yates Town Park during an informational session about a public referendum this Thursday at Yates Town Hall.

YATES – Town Supervisor Jim Simon sees 153.3 acres by Lake Ontario as a tremendous opportunity for the town to preserve undisturbed land for generations to come.

But some residents see the acquisition, even if funded by grants, as a potential drain on taxpayers with maintenance and other expenses.

Residents will decide on Thursday whether the town moves forward with the land purchase. The town will only spend $700,000 to buy the land from NYSEG if the Yates can secure $700,000 in grants to cover the price. Yates would have two years to come up with the money. The public vote will be from noon to 8 p.m. at the Town Hall, 8 South Main St.

Simon is optimistic the town could secure the grants through the state Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation and also the Lyndonville Area Foundation, with other entities also as possibilities. If Yates doesn’t secure the grant funds for the purchase, the sale will be cancelled.

The Town Board on March 14 voted to buy 153.3 acres of land from NYSEG. It would be next to existing 6-acre park along Morrison Road.

Town residents Paul Lauricella, Bill Jurinich and Steve Colon circulated petitions wanting the matter to go to a public vote. On April 11 they turned in petitions signed by 200 residents. That was well above the needed threshold of 50 signature to force a referendum.

“I’m glad it’s come down to this where the people have a say,” Simon said on Saturday during an informational meeting about the land purchase. “That doesn’t happen to often in government. We can make a case and the people can vote yes or no.”

This map shows the boundaries of the land the Town Board seeks to acquire to expand the town park by 153.3 acres. The site, which is zoned waterfront development, would remain largely undisturbed in the near future, perhaps with a nature trail if the sale is approved by voters. If the sale is approved, a committee will be appointed by the Town Board to pursue grants and develop a plan for potential uses of the site.

If the land purchase is approved on Thursday, Simon said the Town Board will appoint a committee to pursue grants and consider how the land could be used by the public. He said he would prefer the land stay largely undisturbed with only walking trails. But the committee will look at options for the land.

Paul Lauricella sees more burden on taxpayers with the expanded park. Te land if bought by the town would become exempt, taking $23,650 away in taxes – for the town ($3,557), school district ($11,279) , county ($7,009), fire district ($735), library ($302) and water debt service ($768).

Lauricella also foresees more demand on the highway department for maintaining the site, even if it’s just a nature trail. If there are pavilions and other amenities, it would cost even more.

“We’re not Lighthouse Park to have to maintain this,” Lauricella said about the nearby Golden Hill State Park. “Just the maintenance could raise our taxes significantly. My concern is survival here because the taxes are going up.”

Resident Bill Jurinich also said he was uneasy with the unknown total costs if the town is given the green light to acquire the land. He said he and others are on fixed incomes and he worries about his taxes.

“That is my biggest fear: I just don’t want to be driven out of the town because of the taxes,” Jurinich said during the meeting at the town park.

Another resident, Deborah Schmitt, urged the community to support the land acquisition and vote yes at the referendum. If the purchase is voted down, she fears that NYSEG will sell the land to be developed for mansions.

“I’d rather it be owned by all of us,” she said.

The land up for sale runs just before the “shoe trees” at the corner of Lakeshore Road and Foss Road.

The site could also be eyed by industry for the fresh water access, another resident said.

Georgette Stockman said she would prefer to see the land stay undeveloped. Sh said 146 different species f birds have been identified in the park.

Paula Simon, wife of the town supervisor, said the referendum gives the community a chance to keep the land wild.

“NYSEG wants to sell now,” she said. “They’re giving the town a special price.”

If the land is five separate parcels. If it went on the open market, Mrs. Simon said there would be strong interest in the properties.

“It’s not going to stay the way it is,” she said. “It’s going to change.”

Mr. Simon, the town supervisor, said there wouldn’t be much additional cost to the town. He said the town’s insurance wouldn’t increase with the added land if there is only a nature trail.

He said the expanded town park would likely draw some visitors and keep more people in town for recreation. He noted the pavilion at the town park had $4,700 in income last year through rental fees, and already has hit $4,000 this year.

Some of the people using the park also likely get food from local businesses, helping those entrepreneurs and generating some sales tax.

Simon said an expanded town park has been identified by previous town boards through waterfront development plans. Yates sought the land previously, but only now is NYSEG willing to sell the larger chunk of acreage. NYSEG did sell the town 6 acres for the current park in 1997 when Russ Martino was town supervisor. In pavilion at the park is named in his honor.

“This idea didn’t generate with me,” Simon said. “It goes back to prior town boards and Russ Martino.”