By a ratio of nearly 3 to 1, Clarence Hollow property owners Tuesday voted approval to a $6.2 million sewer project proposed by town officials as a replacement for the area's aging, faulty septic systems.
Of the 403 people who cast their votes in the clubhouse of Clarence Town Park throughout the day, 295 approved of the project while 108 voted against it.
Town officials said the voter turnout amounted to about half of the legal property owners in the affected area, which has approximately 450 parcels of land owned by about 800 individuals.
Thomas Sweeney, a Town Board member who lives on Sawmill Road in the Hollow, said the "yes" vote on sewers was long overdue. Sweeney said he voted in favor of project, the same way he voted for sewers when the proposal was last brought before voters in the mid-1980s -- at which time the idea was defeated.
"It should have been approved 40 years ago. Ransom Creek is terrible," Sweeney said. "I think people felt it was worth the expense to solve the problems."
The state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Erie County Health Department have both stated support for the sewer project, citing pollution problems in the area -- including high levels of dissolved oxygen, ammonia, and fecal bacteria in Ransom Creek -- that date to at least the 1940s.
Prior to Tuesday's vote, officials from the two agencies had told Hollow property owners that, should the project be defeated, immediate punitive steps would be taken against those properties with malfunctioning, inadequate septic systems -- some of which have been draining directly into Ransom Creek.
Those pollution problems were the factor that ultimately determined the votes of some Hollow residents, such as Brookhaven Drive homeowner Ron Schulenberg.
"You can literally smell it in some places -- that's why we need it," said Schulenberg.
But some residents said they voted "no" on the project because their fear of future development in the town outweighed their environmental concerns.
"It'll make it easier for developers to come in," said Nanette Tramont, a Hillcrest Drive homeowner. "I've lived here since I was three, and there are reasons why I continue to stay here. I don't want us to become like Amherst. I know that's a pat answer, but it's true."
Town Supervisor Daniel A. Herberger was not present when the polls closed at 9 p.m.
But developer Dominic Piestrak, one of two local developers proposing to build 500-home subdivisions in the town, watched the polls close and called the vote result "a great thing for the town."
Although a current proposal by Piestrak and fellow developer Anthony Cimato to trade a 3.5-mile sewer trunk line to the town for the rights to develop 1,000 new homes has worried Hollow residents -- some of whom expressed fears that a "yes" vote for Hollow sewers was in reality a vote for the 1,000 homes -- Piestrak said the two matters shouldn't be confused.
"We've got to go through all the studies, like any big project," Piestrak said of the developments he and Anthony Cimato are planning. "It's going to be 1 1/2 to 2 years on that, if we get it approved -- and that's a big if."
Town officials said if the Hollow sewer project now goes through -- a proposition that hinges on $5 million in state bond money the town is seeking -- property owners in the new sewer district will pay an estimated $500 per year for 20 years, plus a one-time connection fee of between $1,500 and $2,500.
The annual figure is based on a $115,000 valuation, said Town Accountant Daniel Tirone. The actual figure for an individual property could be more or less than that, depending on assessment, water usage, and street frontage, Tirone said.