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Town Board committed to bringing more athletic fields to Lancaster
By Lee Chowaniec
Aug 19, 2009, 09:45
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Citing that soccer has become a hot item in Lancaster, where 3,000 enthusiasts attended a recent soccer event at Lancaster High School, Supervisor Robert Giza was pleased to announce a plan to build a future park complex that would initially hold seven soccer fields and two football fields.

“We have two fields at Westwood, a field at the Hillview School, we need more,” declared Giza. “It keeps the kids off the streets, families have a picnic atmosphere and it provides the quality of life that makes people want to move into Lancaster. Unfortunately, because of a lack of athletic fields we are turning hundreds of kids away from playing not only soccer, but lacrosse and football as well.”

The complex development would occur on the north side of Genesee Street, east of Pavement Road and across from the Fox Valley golf course. The parcel being considered covers 4 SBL numbers, 4 quadrants; 131 acres in total. “We would be able to use it all because of the mining that will take place there,” Giza told the 75 or so Town Board attendees. “But, there is about 35 acres that we consider virgin area that we could go in there very easily and put in fields and roads. Ensol, which is a reclamation company, is going to buy the property from Lafarge. We could use the 35 acres to put in nine fields immediately. Westwood Park covers 175 acres and was built for $4 million. I don’t think this would cost that much because we would only have soccer, lacrosse and football fields. Say it would cost $2 million; it would only cost the town $1 million.”

Supervisor Giza presented a drawing that showed a sliver of land (10-12 acres in size) that was just purchased for $645,000; $80,000 an acre (includes mining rights). This shows you how valuable property is. When that strip of land was mined out, the remaining acres of land could be purchased by the town for $1. The board is pretty much committed to making this happen as we think this is a pretty good deal, but unless the project involves a church, there is usually opposition. So, I would encourage anyone to speak on the matter.

As the project grows so will reclaimed land become available for more soccer fields. The quarry will be clay capped and hydro seeded; made ready for soccer. It will take a few years to get the initial available land up and running. I want the soccer people to have their own building there where they can have a refreshment stand, bathrooms, some storage for equipment, etc. The board is pretty much committed to making this happen as we think this is a pretty good deal, but unless the project involves a church, there is usually opposition. So, I would encourage anyone to speak on the matter.

Public comments

An attendee asked on who was Ensol and what was their involvement in this process; namely, why were they making this land and money offer?

After Giza read a letter from Ensol that spelled out the conditions, but did not offer any information on the why, Town Assessor Dave Marrano interjected that Ensol was a reclamation company that Lafarge contracts with its projects; an engineering firm. Town Engineer Robert Harris responded that for national environmental reasons Lafarge had to contribute lands through the mining reclamation settlement process. “So, they are looking for places to make such contributions and we are fortunate enough to be the beneficiary of such settlement.”

“Sounds too good to be true,” voiced an attendee.

Councilman Ron Ruffino interjected that as he walked door-to-door in his campaign people asked about when more soccer fields were coming. As a Town Board member he feels it is his duty to provide events that keep the kids off the streets. He was all for the project.

When asked by a soccer proponent whether it would be possible to have artificial turf installed on the fields Supervisor Giza cautioned that there was grant money available that he could use for such purpose, but that he represents many residents and some are not soccer enthusiasts. He voiced that he has to think of all town taxpayers and hold them as harmless as possible for paying for the project, that it would be a hard sell for some even though the town was being fronted $1 million to do the project. “I think it’s a good and worthwhile project and we have to do what we think is in the best interest of the community. People are moving too Lancaster because of the good quality of life we provide here. We have some of the finest parks and we keep them that way. There’s a big pot of money out there and if we don’t grab some of it, somebody else will.”

A resident asked if was too premature to consider putting a structure on site to house an indoor facility? While stating that some of the dome facilities are a nice feature to have, Supervisor Giza replied that he didn’t want to belabor the taxpayers with the costs and wasn’t sure he wanted to get into private sector involvement. “That is not a cheap complex (dome),” declared Giza. “It cost millions. I don’t know if that would be fair to the taxpayer. I won’t say that it will never happen, but there are no plans for that now.”

Work Session Minutes

Giza informed the board members and work session attendees that he had met with Lafarge and a company called EnSol, Inc (Environmental Solutions) located in Niagara Falls. He presented a drawing showing where initial development would occur on the north side of Genesee Street, east of Pavement Road and across from the Fox Valley golf course. Initially, 35 acres would be developed allowing for 7 soccer fields and two football fields.

Ensol would buy the property from Lafarge (purchase price unknown). Ensol will reclaim the property to the west that is mined in the future (approximately 10-12 acres). Ensol would give the town immediate access to parts of two parcels in the east quadrants. Ensol will also give the town $250,000 per year over three years to help develop the park. We also have $250,000 in grant money from Legislator Dennis Gabryszak to purchase land,” said Supervisor Giza. “That gives us a million dollars to move this project forward. Lafarge mines across the street from this project and has offered to provide the stone for the roads and other park needs. That would save the town a considerable amount of money.”

“My proposal would be to put the park in as quickly as possible by borrowing the money and using the $250,000 we get from EnSol to pay off the loan. Westwood Park cost us about $4 million to build. We would like to have a place to store equipment and perhaps have a refreshment stand. Basically, it would be fields. The drawing we have has been provided by EnSol and we need to have architectural design plans drawn up.”

“At the end of the reclamation project (10-12 acre sliver of land to the west), which could be ten years from now, we have an option to buy the remaining part of the land for $1. Actually, we are getting 131 acres for free, $750,000 over three years and $250,000 in land purchase grant money. We and possibly future boards have a decision to make. If Gunville Road is ever connected to the Thruway, we could make the land to the west into an industrial park, or you could extend the park we are considering developing to the western quadrants. We have to make these decisions to account for how and where we want to put the roads in. The plans presented also include a housing development. There is a rule that says you can’t box a future board into doing something they don’t want to do. But I think if we made a commitment, one way or the other, the future board might honor our commitment.”

“If it works out, we would have the Pony Tails at Walden Pond, Little League at Westwood and soccer, lacrosse and football here. Each group has approximately 1,100 – 1,200 kids in the program and hundreds of children are being denied access because of lack of fields to play on. If I can get the project off the ground for around $2 million, I believe it’s worth it.”

The Department of Environmental Conservation will be overseeing the reclamation project so that nothing toxic can be located there. Sewers end at Ransom and Genesee. Supervisor Giza is working on getting a sanitary sewer system hookup instead of having a septic system. Giza spoke on the several failed attempts to get land for more soccer fields.

Councilman Ron Ruffino interjected that during his campaign house visits, many residents asked on when more sporting fields would become accessible. There is a need, he was told. He commented on the town’s disappointment on having been promised land from the Wesleyan Church at Bowen and William for building soccer fields only to be told later on that the land would be developed for housing.

Supervisor Giza declared that the project would not be intrusive to the neighborhood, but cautioned that “parks don’t come cheap.” “There is a cost to maintain them.” The project would also take a few years before it could become operable – land clearing, grass planting and conditioning, etc. There is a need for more soccer fields because the daily wear and tear on the limited amount fields turns them into mud piles. “We have to give them a chance to recover.”

Work session attendee comments

There are 26 travel teams and the league is “begging, borrowing fields from all over the place.” Soccer Club officials voiced that schools doing like giving up their fields as they use them for playground use. Referred to the West Seneca complex, its 15 fields and how Lancaster could use a like facility to provide accessibility to the kids that are turned away (100 -200) from sporting programs because of lack of fields. Hey can see their programs growing from 1,200 kids to 2,000 in the next five-to-ten years, serving ages 3-19. Having the fields made available from this project would also be beneficial for holding tournaments that bring in visitors and revenues to local businesses.

Constant use on limited accessible fields also tears up the turf and is another reason schools limit their use to organized sports. They have to protect their grounds for their own use. There is a need for fields for all sports, but it is soccer that is bursting at the seams.

Soccer League officials declared they are aware of present economic strains and were willing to contribute $20,000 per year for maintenance services. Supervisor Giza he would do what was done at the other parks, namely provide the land to the petitioners who wanted to build facilities to store equipment, provide covered benches, etc. Giza stated that it was not for lack of effort that the project didn’t begin sooner, but that land was tough to come by. “We have been sitting on $250,000 for the past two years.”

Supervisor Giza encouraged attendees to visit the site, cautioning them at the same time that there is water in the quarry and that “it looks like a moonscape.” Giza was reminded that the town doesn’t really own the property; that it’s under DEC jurisdiction and as such they control the time line as to development. The town has no control as to legal proceedings, whatnot. “We have to work beyond Lafarge committing the property to the town.”

Giza again commented on the value of the deal, getting a million dollars to build a multi-million dollar project. “I don’t think the taxpayers are going to be upset about it.” He also made mention that Lafarge didn’t have to work with the town regarding the reclamation process, but that the town was lucky to be the beneficiary of a reclamation settlement.

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