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Zoning Board suit stalls Wal-Mart bid

Donna Pieszala's lawsuit over her ouster from the town Zoning Board of Appeals has delayed action on the variances for the Wal-Mart supercenter until after Feb. 1.

That's the date set Wednesday by State Supreme Court Justice Frank Caruso for arguments on whether Pieszala should be returned to a seat as the board's alternate member. Caruso also issued a restraining order that Town Attorney Daniel E. Seaman said bars the board from voting on anything until the suit is settled.

The board gathered as scheduled Thursday morning in Town Hall for the fourth round of a public hearing on the 40 Wal-Mart variances. But instead, the board announced the hearing was off, gathered behind closed doors with Seaman for about 15 minutes and then adjourned.

"We're not allowed to take action until the [court] return date, which is Feb. 1," Seaman said. "The Town of Lockport obeys the orders of the court."

Zoning Board Chairman Paul Siejak said the restraining order even prevents the board from taking any votes on its non-Wal-Mart agenda set for Jan. 23. "Until this matter is resolved, the attorney has advised us not to do anything," he said.

Pieszala brought suit after the Town Board replaced her with Michael Bartus on Jan. 3. Pieszala, who was appointed to the board's alternate seat Feb. 8, was told her term would expire at the end of 2011. That's what the Town Board minutes say.

But Seaman and Supervisor Marc R. Smith now say that was wrong and Pieszala's term actually expired Dec. 31. The alternate position was created in 2001 "for a term of five years commencing Jan. 1, 2002," the town's ordinance says.

But the law is silent on whether someone appointed in the wake of a predecessor's resignation, as Pieszala was, fills only the unexpired term or starts with a fresh five years.

The law says the alternate is allowed to vote only if one of the regular five Zoning Board members is absent. Member Frank Loiars is in Florida for the winter, which makes the alternate eligible to vote until he returns.

Smith denied again Thursday that he wanted Pieszala out because she allegedly opposes the Wal-Mart project, which the supervisor supports. "I've never asked Donna what her position is," he said.

Pieszala, who also serves on the Newfane Board of Education, hasn't stated her views on Wal-Mart publicly.

She issued a statement Thursday which said, "I looked on this appointment as a way to serve my community and my fellow citizens. The action I have taken has not come without great expense, and was a matter of principle. . . . I am grateful and overwhelmed by the outpouring of public support."

"We requested that the Town Board members reconsider their positions, and they refused and forced my client into bringing this proceeding," said Pieszala's attorney, Edward P. Perlman.

Smith said, "Evidently the Ned Perlmans of the world want to try this in the newspapers. We don't discuss litigation. . . . We still are confident our position will be upheld."

e-mail: tprohaska@buffnews.com

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