The Lancaster Town Board held a public hearing Monday, hoping to help Kevin King escape a homeowner's nightmare that forbids him to build a backyard swimming pool for his family.
It turns out the Kings' 60-foot-deep backyard on Lancaster's Michael Anthony Lane really isn't theirs, though they pay taxes on it. Legally, they shouldn't even mow their lawn or have a swing set or fence for their two kids, ages 3 and 5.
That's because the Kings' backyard falls mostly within a conservation easement established by a previous Town Board -- something the family said they had no knowledge of when they purchased their home five years ago as second owners.
Monday, the Town Board heard emotional entreaties from residents of neighboring Country Place who believe the Kings should not be allowed to have a pool installed. They said it would violate the town's 1994 agreement establishing a "buffer zone" between their subdivision's homes and those on Michael Anthony Lane.
"The town made this agreement, and you are not enforcing it," said Country Place homeowner Henry C. Seege.
"It's like a slap in the face. It's a joke," said Kathy Szymanski," another Country Place resident, who complained that her neighbors on Michael Anthony have repeatedly violated the conservation easement by installing tree houses and jungle gyms for their children and by cutting down trees.
Town Supervisor Robert H. Giza pointed out that normally the town only establishes buffer zones between businesses and residences, not between subdivisions. His appeals for a neighborly, cooperative solution to the problem were not warmly received.
The board took no action on the matter but plans to revisit the issue in the future.
The Kings found out about their unusual problem in the spring when a pool contractor visited Lancaster Town Hall to get them a construction permit and was refused.
The easement came about because of a deal cut 10 years ago between a previous Town Board and the developer of homes on along Michael Anthony Lane.
There were no wetlands or wildlife concerns involved in setting this particular easement; it was simply a way to avoid a zoning battle and get the homes built, according to developer Michael Tufillaro.
The Kings said nothing at Monday's public hearing and let their attorney, John Bailey, do the talking.
Bailey pointed out that the family's backyard had already been significantly tampered with before they bought it. Trees had already been leveled and a shed built on the property -- all of which is prohibited within a conservation easement.
"This is a fairly minor change that's being requested," Bailey said. "A swimming pool has a very low profile. No greenery would be affected, he said.
"It wasn't put together properly to begin with," Pat Szarpa, executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy, said of the conservation easement that bedeviling the Kings. "This particular conservation easement isn't preserving anything."
Municipal governments that attempt to create conservation easements, she said, set themselves up for trouble. Most have neither the time nor the resources to properly monitor such easements once they're established.
The conservancy -- which protects about 4,000 acres of open space -- is set up to answer questions from prospective property owners who have questions about conservation easements, she said.