NEW ALBION - The New Albion town council held a special meeting to get acquainted with their newly appointed attorney, Ms Ashley Smith, Esq. They also took advantage of the occasion to familiarize Ms. Smith with the history of a zoning dispute which has plagued them since about 2004.
The case deals with alleged infringement onto the Pat McGee Trail by Michael Zacholski, who, after purchasing property in the Linlyco Lake development near Little Valley, built a structure which extends well over his lot line into the trail property.
The Pat McGee Trail was developed as a "Rails for Trails" project and is owned by the Cattaraugus Local Development Corporation. Rick LeFeber, in his capacity as the CLDC's Executive Director, has been urging the town to enforce its building and zoning codes in regard to this situation for approximately seven years.
Attorney Ashley Smith, Esq. met recently with the town council of New Albion to discuss what is hoped to be the final resolution of a long-standing zoning dispute. Pictured, from left, are Councilman Patrick Erhart, Ms. Smith, Town Supervisor Lloyd Chilson, Councilman Michael Weishan and Councilman Eric Pritchard. Councilwoman Marilyn Wasmund was absent from the discussion.
Trustees Michael Weishan and Eric Pritchard both said they felt it was important to uphold the integrity of local laws within the township.
Weishan related that before joining the town board he had served for 10 years on the zoning board, at a time when that body was framing the very codes and rules now being broken.
"We have the laws," he pointed out. "Every one of them was made with a purpose in mind. We need to enforce them."
Cort Wilkins, the town's code enforcement officer, also was present at the meeting. He recounted the various actions he and his predecessor, Elliott Ellis, Jr. have taken since LeFeber first brought the incident to the council's attention (about 2004). He said that originally Zacholski was cited for three clear-cut violations, but added that he believed other problems existed.
Weishan pointed out that the town's zoning ordinance provides for the assessment of a $250 fine for each violation. What is more, these fines are to be reimposed weekly until said violations are remediated.
In Zacholski's situation, with three separate violations, that would amount to $750 per week.
"Instead of ever trying to remedy the problem," said Weishan, "he (Zacholski) just kept trying to change the rules. Now, he's trying to settle for a one-time payment and have it over with. It's become ongoing and never-ending."
Clerk Rose LaQuay informed the council that she'd notified the county that the town has retained a new attorney. She said she'd been informed that a new court date had been set for the Zacholski case in mid-April.
Ms. Smith told the council it would be helpful to have a clear-cut timeline of events, and asked for a factual accounting of everything that had so far transpired. Pritchard endeavored to clarify the case for her by recounting some of its tangled history.
Those councilmen who had documents pertaining to the case, handed them over to Ms. Smith so she could more completely acquaint herself with the specifics.
Pritchard suggested that if she needed more explicit information, she might contact LeFeber, who, as might be expected, has kept extensive records over the years.
Ms. Smith then asked the council, "What is it exactly that you want to do?"
Pritchard replied, "We want our zoning law enforced. Nothing's been done for years in our local court. We want to see our laws upheld here at the local level."
To which, Weishan added, "Repeated warnings have been issued, to no avail. We'd like to resolve this in our local court."
The council was united in seeking to impose the prescribed weekly fines, and flatly rejected the idea of a one-time payment.
"A one-time payment would allow him to buy our whole zoning code for $750 and that would be the end of it," said Weishan. "We'd end up with the same encroachment problem we've had all along, and that isn't how the law was intended."
Council members discussed the fact that once their code has been successfully upheld locally, the matter can be passed from their hands into Mr. LeFeber's. They surmised that LeFeber would then be free to pursue the case at the county and/or state level. "And we will have done our part," summarized Pritchard.