What happened Monday night in Williamsville looked nothing like your typical government meeting.
Board members sat on picnic tables, their knees crunched up to their chests like 10-year-olds sitting on a log.
Village residents stood a few feet in front of them, addressing the board at eye level and not as if they were looking up at a supreme being.
And the entire thing happened not in a stuffy boardroom, but outside, in front of the village’s most historic property.
“The board likes to think we are at the epicenter of a revolution in Western New York in terms of how we approach government,” Village Mayor Brian J. Kulpa said.
The meeting was held outside in an effort to boost citizen participation as the village embarks on a new plan to “take back Main Street” for pedestrians.
It kicked off a series of events this week that include temporary streetscape changes painted onto Main and Spring streets and a festival Saturday that will shut down the busy stretch to traffic.
If the meeting was any indication, the changes are just what people want.
“I love this stuff,” said village resident Ellen Spangenthal. “This is awesome.”
Spangenthal walked from her home in the village to check out the outdoor meeting, one of many who don’t usually venture out to see the Village Board at work.
“I’m not usually into meetings,” said resident Bob Padgug.
But Padgug and his wife just had to see what village leaders were talking about with their new plans to “Picture Main Street” at an outdoor meeting.
“It’s a nice change,” Padgug said.
The meeting was held in front of the Williamsville Water Mill to highlight pedestrian-friendly redevelopment plans for the historic yet blighted structure.
“How often do you get to have a village meeting in front of a 200-year-old historic structure?” asked Kulpa, the mayor. “The only thing missing is a soapbox,” he quipped.
Such a prop would have fit right in at a meeting that at times resembled the type of town gathering seen in Revolutionary War times.
Village leaders asked residents to speak their minds about some of the changes proposed for the Main Street strip, and later they even explained some routine budget transfers in common terms.
Some residents nodded their heads, while others addressed the board about issues ranging from guardrails to the water mill, which was open after the meeting for public tours.
Other residents, looking for something to do after the meeting ended, wandered up to Main Street and peered into some of the small boutique shops.
“There’s a real strong sense of community here,” said resident Jean Stadelman. “And when you have something like this, it only strengthens it.”
Not everything was perfect at the village’s first outdoor meeting in anyone’s memory.
The board had to return to Village Hall to go into executive session, and there was no game plan when one resident wandered into the mill halfway through and started ringing a loud bell inside.
But residents seemed to appreciate the board’s willingness to try something different.
“It seems like they’re going out of their way,” Spangenthal said. “I just think it’s nice to be outside the constraints of a boardroom. It just helps you see a little better” what’s going on.
Those who missed the quirky event will have plenty to do at the mill and on Main Street the rest of the week.
The water mill on Spring Street will be the site of a party from 6 to 9 p.m. Friday where residents can picture what the run-down corridor could look like with new sidewalks and New England-style shops.
Saturday’s party, also from 6 to 9 p.m., will close down Main Street for live bands and the type of lighthearted fun seen Monday night.
“We’re not taking back Main Street because we say so,” said Village Trustee Christopher J. Duquin. “We’re taking it back because you all are here.”
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