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Collins vows veto if action is taken on planning unit Legislators surprised by opposition to board

Erie County lawmakers are headed for another showdown with County Executive Chris Collins -- this time over the creation of a countywide planning board.

Collins, in a move that caught lawmakers by surprise Thursday, promised to veto any legislation to create a county planning board.

"We're adamantly opposed," said Collins spokesman Grant Loomis. "We think it just adds another level of government bureaucracy."

Collins' opposition surfaced on the same day one of Western New York's biggest private developers announced his support for a new board.

"Regional planning would tell us what the rules are," said Paul Ciminelli of Ciminelli Development. "Right now, they're confusing."

Using words such as "conflicting" and "costly," Ciminelli said the county's current land-use strategy is so fractured that it adds unnecessary costs to local development projects.

Ciminelli thinks a new board would help eliminate one of the root causes of those fractures -- local politics -- and help clarify what he called a piecemeal approach to planning across the county.

"Sometimes politics gets in the way of good planning and development," he said, "and I think there are costs associated with that."

Ciminelli announced his support at a morning news conference and later at a meeting of the County Legislature, where the bill currently sits. The question is whether that support is strong enough to survive a Collins veto.

Majority Leader Maria R. Whyte, a Buffalo Democrat and a strong proponent of regional planning, said she was surprised by Collins' threat of a veto.

She also suggested that his stance conflicts with his support for the Framework for Regional Growth, a local planning study that called for the creation of a countywide planning board and quick action against suburban sprawl.

"Get on the bus and help the bus go somewhere," Whyte said of Collins. "Don't just get off the bus."

It was the Framework for Regional Growth that put a figure to the potential savings -- $800 million -- that can be achieved if the board is created and sprawl is contained in the next 25 years. The savings would come from infrastructure projects that could be scrapped in the event that development is contained.

"The status quo is not working here," Whyte said. "Creating more infrastructure paid for by less people means only one thing -- higher taxes."

Whyte acknowledged that some of the opposition to the countywide board is coming from towns and villages concerned about autonomy.

She said local officials have to remember that they retain the final say on where development and growth occur, not the county or its 18-member board.

Whyte said she hopes that county lawmakers will pass the bill this spring and get the new board up and running by next January.

e-mail: pfairbanks@buffnews.com

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