A new group on Facebook is ratcheting up pressure as the Lancaster Village Board and the Community Development Corp. spar over an old issue: whether to undertake a $2 million extension of West Main Street, restoring a design dating from the 1960s.
The social media presence pushing village leaders to extend the street from Central Avenue to North Aurora Street is a sign that community frustration over the decades-long delay of West Main’s redevelopment is mounting.
“I hope this (Facebook) effort ignites debate,” Town Councilman Matthew J. Walter said Saturday. “We have the opportunity to do what most communities would kill for, to completely design our downtown and the village center from the ground up.”
Two years ago, the village bought a strip of land to extend West Main, but then backed off the nearly $2 million of work that would be required. Village leaders feared that the same mistakes that led to the street’s current condition could be repeated and decided that further review was warranted.
A citizens advisory panel was supposed to make new recommendations, but nothing materialized since June 2014.
The village’s decision to pull back followed the demolition in fall 2013 of part of a hulking complex to make way for the road extension. By early 2016, it was clear that any developer interest had fizzled, and now the complex is for sale, even though it continues to draw new tenants.
Late last week, a “Rebuild Main Street in Downtown Lancaster, N.Y.” community group emerged on Facebook, generating nearly 90 “likes” by early Sunday.
It also generated a handful of comments, some of them posted by members of the Community Development Corp., the village’s development arm that owns the former Board of Cooperative Educational Services complex and part of the surrounding land.
The group’s campaign is setting the stage for a political showdown between the development corporation and the Village Board.
“I hope this page puts some pressure on the powers that be, to get this thing rocking and rolling,” said Walter, board member and secretary of the development corporation. “I’d love to keep the conversation going and see the project happen.”
Village Trustee William C. Schroeder expects trouble. “What I’m afraid of is that this will come down to a confrontation between the village and the Community Development Corporation,” he said.
“I think the CDC is trying to start a fire.”
Moreover, Mayor Paul M. Maute and Schroeder both say the village, which just bought a $1.2 million fire ladder truck, cannot afford to build an extension of West Main right now.
“The cost of the road alone is a dead end. To put the road through right now, where is the money coming from? We don’t have the money,” Maute said. “We just can’t put a road in because someone put something on Facebook.”
Despite widespread speculation, Walter said he didn’t start the Facebook group.
“I’ve been saying this for 10 years. It’s basically something that was screwed up 45 years ago, when they chopped Main Street up with a Walmart supercenter-type building and there was urban renewal,” he said. “I was invited to the Facebook page, and it’s something I want to get behind.”
In its current state, West Main is a short road with a handful of businesses that abut the remaining portion of the BOCES complex. There, the street level is about 14 feet higher than the foundation of the razed portion of the building and an accompanying parking area.
Those dynamics complicate its development. Retaining walls would be required for the elevated roadway to run straight through to North Aurora Street.
The importance of creating a plan that will work is critical, Schroeder said.
“We wouldn’t want to throw out taxpayer money without a well-researched plan, and I’m not so sure we have that,” he said.
“If we don’t put the road in, we’ll lose public confidence. But if we do put the road in, it’s expensive. We’d have to bond for it,” Schroeder said.