JAMESTOWN – The Jamestown City Council has approved the annexation of the Falconer Dow Street Substation, which is owned by the Jamestown Board of Public Utilities.
During Monday Night’s City Council Meeting, the council voted unanimously on moving forward with the annexation, which would move the 4-acre substation parcel, located between Tiffany Ave. and Dow St., from the village of Falconer into Jamestown.
The vote was the culmination of months of effort by the city, which started in January when the BPU first brought the proposal forward.
Council members offered no discussion or comment prior to the vote, although two residents, in attendance did speak out on the issue during the public comment portion of the meeting and voiced their opposition.
City resident Raven Mason, who also said she owns property in Falconer, asked that the council to seriously consider 12 different questions related to the annexation prior to acting on the matter.
“As public service members of our community isn’t there a moral obligation as a the bigger entity to seek to aid our neighboring communities when there is a need and not to take from them in their time of need?” Mason asked, referring to the challenges Falconer is still dealing with resulting from an historic fire that damaged a significant portion of its downtown.
“Why are you doing this? It’s insane. It’s politically motivated and nobody I’ve talked to wants anything to do with it,” said city resident Chris Gardner.
No one from the council addressed any of Mason’s questions, nor Gardner’s comments, prior to voting on the annexation.
The annexation resolution – along with two others related to it – came after the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation commissioner late last week approved giving Jamestown lead agency status in the environmental review of the property.
On Thursday DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos ruled that the Jamestown City Council would be designated as lead agency to conduct the environmental review under the New York State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA), based on his findings that the city has the broadest authority to conduct the environmental review.
The lead agency designation was required before the city, town of Ellicott, or Village of Falconer could formally act on the annexation proposal. With the lead agency designation in place, the city council approved a resolution issuing a negative declaration pursuant to SEQRA and authorizing the council president to executive the required Environmental Assessment Form.
“The environmental assessment is limited to the action of the actual annexation, not what might happen to the property in the future,” Jamestown mayor Sam Teresi explained following the action by the city council. “At this time there is no plan and nothing on the docket to expand the substation, to reduce its size,to modify it, to change out equipment. There’s going to be no physical change to the site. The SEQRA process is about evaluating impacts to the physical environment… The determination tonight by the city council, that as it relates to the action that is being proposed – amending the official maps of the city, the village, and the town – will not have any physical impact on the physical environment.”
As part of their effort to fight the annexation, the Town of Ellicott had requested the DEC commissioner deny the city lead agency status for the SEQR, but the commissioner’s ruling is that the city had the broadest authority when it comes to the environmental assessment.
Ellicott Town Supervisor Patrick McLaughlin told WRFA on Monday that the town was not happy with the decision, but the town would not be able to challenge the commissioner’s ruling. He adds, however, that it will continue to fight the annexation. WRFA also reached out the Falconer Mayor James Rensel on Monday, who said he had no comment at this time on the DEC ruling.
Under state law, the involved municipalities must vote on the annexation within 90 days of a public hearing on the matter. Since the public hearing on the Dow Street Substation annexation took place on June 12, the deadline to act is Sept. 12.
If either Falconer or Ellicott or both vote against the annexation, Teresi said the matter will then have to be settled in the New York State Appellate Division Court in Rochester.
“If anyone of the municipalities should object in any way, then those findings and objections will ultimately be brought to the 4th Department of the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court for a determination on the matter. We expect that process to start as soon as the town and village are completed with their portion of the process,” Teresi said.
Both Ellicott and Falconer have voting sessions scheduled for September, but they are set to take place after the Sept. 12 deadline. McLaughlin told WRFA the town will schedule an emergency meeting in the coming days in order to act on the annexation. It’s not known at this time if Falconer’s village board will also hold an emergency meeting.
City officials have said the annexation would serve in the best public interest, because it would help stabilize utility rates by reducing the annual tax costs the BPU has to pay on the property – which totals more than $320,000. In addition, the city has argued that by putting the property in the jurisdiction of the city, it means it would also be protected by the city’s professional Fire and Police Departments. Currently the property falls under the jurisdiction of the Falconer Volunteer Fire Department.
Officials with the Town of Ellicott and Falconer, along with the Falconer Central School District, oppose the annexation because it would result in a loss of tax revenue.