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Aurora bond proposal sets off intensive mailing campaign

A flurry of post cards is hitting mailboxes as Aurora voters mull a $2.5 million bond proposal to protect 1,500 acres from development through the town's purchase of conservation easements.

At Monday night's Aurora Town Board meeting, Joy D. Warren demanded to know who is paying for the mailers that share the same postal permit number, including one signed by Supervisor Dwight Krieger. She received all three cards in her mail Monday, and meanwhile, she noted that a sign in her front lawn supporting the open-space plan turned up missing the same day.

The open-space proposal is shaping up to be a dominant issue in Aurora's election next Tuesday.

At first, Krieger refused to discuss the issue during the board meeting.

"I don't know why that would make a difference," he said of her question about the mailers. "I'm not answering any questions on that."

Warren, a supporter of the town's Open Space plan, told The Buffalo News that she wasn't comfortable with the opposition's mailers coming so close to next week's election with little time for the pro-open-space side to respond. The referendum is commonly referred to as Proposal No. 2 in Aurora and is sparking aggressive opposition by the Buffalo Niagara Association of Realtors.

"I'm frightened by all the development we see," she said, noting that she enjoys the views she sees daily while driving her daughter to the Aurora Waldorf School in West Falls. "I worry what's to come if we don't get a handle on it now. I think this is desperately needed for the future of Aurora."

The realtors association disagrees, saying it supports protecting and preserving open space but is opposed to tapping taxpayer money to do it.

"Our organization is very concerned about the use of taxpayer dollars for such purposes, especially when taxpayer money would be used to purchase land easements from private landowners," said John Leonardi, executive vice president of the group.

"We are opposed to Proposal No. 2 town proposition because it would raise taxes for all residential and commercial property owners in the town for a minimum of 20 years," he said, noting that public access to properties where easements are purchased could be denied.

Krieger's mailer -- which zeroes in on his opposition to spend "over $3 million" to purchase privately owned land easements in the town -- says Aurora already has many open green spaces and beautiful, publicly accessible parks like Hamlin, Emery, Majors and Knox State parks.

Like the realtors association, he urged residents to vote against the proposition and questioned how accessible such land would be that could be purchased by the town through conservation easements.

"Let's sustain our community the right way, by developing a plan that preserves significant areas of our town for everyone's benefit, not just a few," Krieger wrote. He later said his cards were mailed to about 1,500 registered Republicans age 55 and older. Warren said she doesn't fit that description.

In contrast, advocates for the open-space referendum see the issue differently.

"The [realtors] association just won't let any of these pass anywhere," said Nancy Smith, co-chairman of the Aurora Open Space Committee. She noted that their tactics and mailers in Aurora mirror what the group did in Amherst last year, ultimately leading to the defeat of a similar measure there.

Smith said the open-space initiative does not take land off the tax rolls, if conservation easements are used to permanently forgo development rights to a property.

"It absolutely is a benefit of the conservation easement," she said late Monday. "The [opposition] has flipped it around and have it completely wrong. It's ironic."

Smith also said the open-space program can provide public access to land, if that's what the landowner and community both desire.

"This was just an attempt to get the information out. I wanted to get a little equal time on the issue," Krieger said later. "This was not done maliciously because everything is going the other way."

Another mailer told voters there are 1,500 scenic acres "you may never have access to," with a warning notice that "no trespassing will be allowed and violators will be prosecuted."

If approved, supporters have said the 20-year open-space bond would not be fully spent all at once. The full bond is expected to run the Aurora taxpayer around $32.99 per year on average. If approved by voters, the bond would function like a line of credit as the town buys development rights and negotiates conservation easements that would be overseen by land preservationists.

Councilman William Reuter said Krieger's mailer did not represent the Town Board's position as a whole on the open-space issue, but only Krieger's personal opinion.

The mailers each referred to differing dollar amounts for the $2.5 million referendum. Some referenced more than $3.5 million, while another referred to $3 million -- presumably estimating principal and interest costs.

e-mail: krobinson@buffnews.com

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