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State plan criticized, backed in East Aurora Roycroft campus to benefit in plan

The stretch of East Aurora's Main Street fronting the Roycroft campus will be narrowed and the crumbling brick wall rebuilt, along with the adjacent sidewalk relocated to the street side of the wall in what many proponents say is the most historically correct way to tie into a broad campus restoration.

The state's reconstruction of the village's Main Street turned highly controversial in recent months for the South Grove Street corner of the campus stretching down Main to Walnut Street because plans called for narrowing Main in that strip, which would bring the return of stately columns to South Grove and returning the wall and formal entrance to the campus the way it had once been.

"Someone wants to do something more beautiful, and we're [thinking of] saying 'no'?" said Dorothy Clough, a longtime village resident. "What's wrong with this picture?"

But with it comes the loss of 18 parking spots along Main that serve nearby businesses and small restaurants that complain it will hurt them -- even though at least 15 additional parking spaces will be available in an expanded public parking area on the campus.
In a spirited Village Board meeting Monday before a crowd that spilled out of the board room into the hallway, many residents and Roycroft campus backers lauded the state's plan, which the village had informally backed last summer.

There were also critics, who questioned the safety of the plan and narrowing the street to the point of gutting street parking in that section of Main.

"This is our crown jewel, and we need to treat it that way," said Mark Warren, chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission. "We have an opportunity to do something special, and it could pay great dividends to this community for generations to come."

In the end, the board held firm to its position and backed the changes, again agreeing with what the Main Street Task Force and Roycroft Campus Corp. have long supported. The board voted, 5-2, to narrow the street by 7 to 8 feet in that stretch and move the sidewalk to the opposite side of the wall. Trustees Ernest Scheer and Patrick McDonnell opposed it, expressing concern for the businesses and the plan's authenticity.

"We want something unique and to play up the heritage," said Dan Castle, who heads the task force and village Planning Commission. "We're going to have two years of hell, but we then can have a Main Street to re-create the Roycroft footprint."

A petition signed by an estimated 500 community residents opposed to the street's narrowing and loss of parking failed to sway the board in its decision. Former Mayor John Pagliaccio and three others whom he declined to identify spearheaded the petition drive, which began after the holidays.

State officials insisted at the meeting that three options, including the one chosen, were all deemed safe for pedestrians and drivers. Many residents noted how children have long enjoyed walking on top of the Roycroft wall or climbing it and that that likely would continue.

"We're tied to the identity of the Roycroft," Trustee Peter Mercurio said. "It's part of the community. It's not a casino that's going to shut everything down."

Like many others, Mayor David DiPietro was adamant the design of that part of Main Street will help return the grandeur to the Roycroft community and stake its historical place in the community, which makes it a tourism magnet and bolsters the village's character.

"I have to preserve what we have here for everyone to make sure we don't become an Amherst," he said. "I feel that once you lose your character, you never get it back."

To a degree, the debate took on shades of a pro-Roycroft/anti-Roycroft sentiment, which some said was unfortunate.

"Main Street is no longer an Elbert Hubbard way," said Dr. George Janofsky, retired from Aurora Optometrics. The relocation of the Roycroft wall will not determine the campus' rebirth or success, he said.

Elizabeth Cheteny, a planner and former village trustee, urged the board to see the wisdom in going with the design that would best serve the community and Roycroft campus.

"This project need not divide this community the way it has," she said. "We're not proposing a Wal-Mart. This is a very important place as a National Historic Landmark."

However, some said the campus' success will be driven more by how its facilities and program are managed than where a sidewalk is located by the stone Roycroft wall.


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