What started out as a quest to usher our village board into the 21st century in terms of planning for our future, has recently uncovered the gaping abyss that exists between the Village of Lakewood Board of Trustees and the Busti Town Council.
Unbeknownst to residents and some members of the Lakewood Board, the Town Council, has been pursuing the purchase of a prime section of retail property along Chautauqua Avenue to move its offices there. This is anti-business, and pro-government. Once a building is a government-owned, no further taxes can ever be assessed. Busti would essentially curtail potential tax revenue for Lakewood, by hijacking future business opportunities that may lie ahead. Indeed, those business opportunities are quite possibly just a few months away. Bag and String Wine Merchants, which now resides in a nearby storefront, has expressed interest in moving into and expanding operations in this same property.
According to Busti council members, they are in need of a new home due to a local bank offer to purchase the building they now occupy. If you have lived in Lakewood long enough, you know that this building is a former bank; it still has the drive-thru window attached. While returning the building to its original purpose is commendable, given this would spur foot traffic along Chautauqua Avenue, Busti Supervisor Jesse Robbins wants to move the town offices right next door and remove any potential further business expansion. At the very least, there is the appearance that Busti has no concern for what's best for Lakewood. Did the Town Board ask a single resident of the village or the town for input? Apparently not. In fact, it appears this "deal" was being pursued completely beyond the public's sight.
Several Lakewood residents, including members of our newly formed non-partisan Lakewood-Busti Citizens Action Committee, attended a meeting where the Busti Town Council was planning to vote on the purchase. Many expressed outrage. This was met with astonishment. Several citizens offered a solution: move the offices to the ample space available in the Lakewood village building. They also suggested, as part of the village future planning, this solution might even attract grant funding for renovation as part of a consolidation effort.
Busti's response? An emphatic, "No thanks." For now, the vote on the purchase has been temporarily delayed, and residents are calling for a public hearing on the matter. In the meantime, the storied chasm between the town and village, real and perceived, continues, and is now exposed for all to behold.
Cara Birrittieri is a Lakewood resident and a member of the Lakewood-Busti CAC.