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A vision for future urban development in and around the City of Olean should provide an opening for the kind of expanded intermunicipal cooperation called for Monday night by a focus group made up of about 30 area residents.

The main points of the evening dialogue will be distilled together with results of four prior focus group sessions to become the basis of an advisory land-use policy. A draft will be placed before the Cattaraugus County Legislature in the coming months.

Many of the mostly Olean, Portville, Allegany and Hinsdale residents acknowledged the interdependent needs of their communities while pointing out the pitfalls of shifting population, urban sprawl and the loss of independent retailers.

Olean businessman Mike Blumenthal said it is difficult to stabilize the merchant community because it has changed forever. He instead urged policies for strong regulatory controls at the county level to preserve green space and center development in urban areas like Olean, where the infrastructure is in place.

Wendy Brandt of Allegany praised the merchants in her village for creating shops that make the community a shoppers destination. But Allegany resident Richard Bothner said the downside to growth is more vehicle traffic and large chain stores.

Many pointed to the successes of shared projects such as the recreation trail and Constitution Avenue, but one woman countered that the green areas of county roads are already giving way to sprawl.

Former city alderman Gary "Casey" Jones pointed out that a call for partnerships in building a new water treatment plant went unheeded despite problems with similar facilities and surrounding communities.

Several Portville residents pointed out problems with traffic congestion in the Route 417 arteries leading to the village. They asked for an upgrade because of the lack of alternate routes, and they stated that an accident or flood would cut off the village.

Facilitator Dan Sitler, who will invite all focus group participants to a final session to review the final draft of the vision statement, suggested that the urban communities should unite to seek funds and other investment tools such as public development monies to support their goals.

"It's up to municipalities to do what's right," he said, reminding the group that New York State's home rule laws precludes effective cross-border controls.

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