Fredonia board drops rental property, creek cleanup laws

Dozens pack the Fredonia Village Board meeting room Monday night. Attendance was high over concern about a proposal to mandate cleanup along creekbeds.

The Fredonia Village Board set aside two controversial local law proposals Monday — a rental properties measure and an anti-flooding initiative to force creekbed owners to clean up their waters.

The board voted down the rental law 1-3, with Trustee James Lynden voting “yes” and trustees Michael Barris, Roger Britz and Douglas Essek voting “no.” Trustee Kara Christina abstained.

As for the waterways debris removal measure, Mayor Athanasia Landis asked the board to drop it after an outcry from people who own property bordering Canadaway Creek on Liberty Street.

CREEK LAW SET ASIDE

The Village Hall meeting room was packed with dozens of concerned property owners who overflowed into the next room, as the workshop portion of the meeting started. They heard Landis explain the mandate to clean the creekbeds as a way to halt recurrent flooding problems.

“It’s not that we wake up in the morning and see what new law we can make to make you upset,” the mayor said to the crowd. She said flooding last year in the Water Street/Norton Place area — and complaints about a debris pileup in Canadaway Creek at the Water Street bridge — led to the proposal.

Landis stated that the village cannot clean creekbeds because they are private property. She sought help from the county and state on the issue but received none, she added. The state Department of Environmental Conservation, which is “not easy to work with,” told her residents needed to clean up the creek by themselves.

“When we flood, everyone has to pay,” the mayor said. “Guess who had to pay to clean up that debris (last year)? All of us.” The proposal was “a reaction, an answer to a complaint,” she concluded.

“The concept of keeping the creek clean, I agree with. The concept of how we do it, I don’t agree with what is proposed,” Essek said. He questioned how people on fixed income would pay for the work, and said the penalties for non-compliance were unclear.

Essek argued that the Water Street bridge, with its center pier that debris stacks up on, is the main problem. As for keeping the creek clear, he suggested the village offer an optional service a couple times a year, with the homeowner’s approval, using the contractors that were to be listed as options for stream bed debris removers in the proposed law.

“If you don’t require it, no one’s going to do anything,” Lynden said. He picked up an argument previously made by Landis, that a creek is like a sidewalk and residents are required to keep sidewalks cleared. The crowd booed.

Christina called the law “good in theory but I don’t think it’s practical.” She asked the gathering for suggestions or solutions on the flooding and the debris buildup. Barris said the Army Corps of Engineers should be consulted.

During the regular meeting portion, audience members had their say — and they were none too happy. In total, 11 people, most of them Liberty Street residents, spoke against the proposal.

“There is nothing you can make us do that will stop the flooding as long as there is a problem in the town of Dunkirk,” downstream from Fredonia, Gary Damico said.

Christine Starks, a Chautauqua County legislator representing Fredonia, said she had received many concerned calls about the law. She questioned whether Landis had properly and thoroughly sought help from the county and suggested the Soil and Water Conservation District would assist on the issue.

John Siskar wondered if any of the suggested contractors were properly vetted. “This is a situation ripe for price gouging,” he said. Liberty Street creekbed owners would be responsible for 20 miles of debris coming down from upstream — and it wouldn’t solve the problem because “2 miles won’t make a difference,” he said.

‘It’s going to devalue our property enormously,” Dennis Cecala said. “Who’s going to want to buy my house with this hanging over our heads?”

Glenn Madenford owns the auto shop next to the Water Street bridge and said the property took the blunt of everyone’s debris. “There is something you guys can do — preventative maintenance,” he said. If storms are forecasted, he said village workers were welcome to clean out the creek ahead of the bad weather to make sure it wasn’t blocked there.

After everyone spoke, Landis told the crowd, “Your voice today gave me much more power.” She said she would redouble her efforts to seek help from state and county officials on the flooding and debris buildup issues. She asked the board to set aside the law for further vetting and it did so unanimously.

RENTAL LAW VOTED DOWN

A controversial registry for tenants was dropped from the latest version of the law, although a registry for landlords remained. The law was on the Fredonia Village Board agenda for a third time Monday, having been tweaked after each previous tabling.

The changes weren’t enough for John Gullo, a lawyer speaking on behalf of a group of village landlords. “I’d like to convince you to start over again and do this a different way,” he told the board during the public hearing on the law.

Though the registry changes were important, Gullo felt there were portions of the law that were still dangerously unclear. For example, under the maximum occupancy rules, it is open to interpretation what a bedroom is, he said.

Gullo was the only person to speak during the hearing, and the board then voted down the proposal.

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