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Editorial: Officials need to stop concealing details of major project in Village of Lancaster

Village of Lancaster economic development officials should make a commitment to transparency as they try to revive the village’s business district. Instead, they continue to keep secret the only proposal submitted for the purchase of a nearly 5-acre parcel on West Main Street.

Officials have refused to provide what should be public information to The Buffalo News, offering only a one-paragraph denial of a Freedom of Information request.

What is it officials have to be concerned about by simply turning over a copy of the proposal submitted to the Lancaster Community Development Corp.? The investment group making the proposal is led by Mark S. Aquino, the agency’s former longtime legal counsel and property manager.

Indeed, the process of finding a developer to tackle the short, dead-end street that boasted retail activity more than 30 years ago has been challenging.

As The News’ Karen Robinson has reported, Lancaster-based Stampede Capital Partners pitched a $30 million proposal to village officials in August, but withdrew the proposal last month, two weeks before the development agency issued a new request for proposals. It was the second request for proposals in less than two years.

But then the young company found itself in competition with an offer by the investment group led by Aquino, who in September resigned his position with the Lancaster Community Development Corp.
While Stampede released information about its plan, we still have no information about what is now the sole proposal, by Aquino’s group.

The village’s outside counsel, Buffalo attorney James L. Magavern, recently hired by the LCDC on the project, offered that the village could keep the proposal secret because it may be subject to “further negotiations” that may “improve upon the proposal.”

However, Robert J. Freeman, executive director of the New York State Committee on Open Government, said that reasoning was incorrect. Because the LCDC’s deadline for submitting proposals has passed, he said, disclosure would not adversely affect the process.

Residents deserve an explanation and access to the only proposal for the long-stalled downtown revitalization.

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