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Opponents of ECC’s Amherst expansion lose out on appeal

A lawsuit intended to block construction of a new academic building on Erie Community College’s North Campus appears to have run its course. Already dismissed by a State Supreme Court judge, the suit also was rejected this week on appeal.

Former County Executive Joel Giambra, along with Common Council Member Joseph Golombek Jr. and ECC student Wil Turner, originally filed their suit in October 2014, claiming that Erie County and the college had not conducted an effective environmental review before moving forward with the project.

In January 2015, Justice Deborah Chimes dismissed their suit on the basis that the three did not have legal standing to file the environmental complaint. At the time, Giambra, who for years had advocated that ECC consolidate its programs at a downtown campus, vowed to appeal.

This week, the Appellate Division of the Fourth Judicial Department unanimously upheld Chimes’ ruling.

“Despite the responsibility of every citizen to contribute to the preservation and enhancement of the quality of the environment, there is a limit on those who may raise environmental challenges to governmental actions,” the judges wrote in their decision.

For a complaint to be legitimate, they continued, the petitioners must show they have sustained some type of environmental injury.

This they failed to do, the judges decided.

First the panel cites an affidavit filed by Turner, who “stated that, as a student at ECC, he would be harmed by the proposed construction because he did not own a motor vehicle, and it would be both expensive and inconvenient for him … to use public transportation to attend classes at the Amherst campus.”

Giambra’s complaint was based on his campaign to have ECC only in the city, saying that, should the $30 million project go forward, “(he) would be harmed in that all of the work (he had) done and all of the procedures (he had) fought for would be shown to have been useless.”

And Golombek tried to connect environmental concerns with his political fortunes, alleging that, by allowing ECC to expand outside the city, “constituents would certainly judge him according to how well he accomplished his tasks,” including “safeguarding the city from ‘adverse economic decisions.’ ”

The appellate panel pointed out that “None of those alleged injuries constitutes an environmental injury.”

The three plaintiffs also didn’t have standing to argue against possible urban sprawl and traffic problems that might result from the expanded campus, since none live in that vicinity, the panel ruled.

The appeal has not interfered with progress on the new Science, Technology, Engineering and Math building, a project that already overcame challenges in funding and design. Ground-breaking is scheduled for spring, with hopes that construction will be completed in time for opening in September 2017.

The new 57,000-square-foot facility, designed to complement the North Campus’s existing midcentury architecture, will be the most expensive construction project ECC has ever undertaken.

email: mmiller@buffnews.com