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Williamsville panel addresses reports of impaled deer

Reports of deer being impaled on the spiked ends of a historic wrought-iron cemetery fence prompted a meeting Tuesday of the Williamsville Historic Preservation Commission.

The grotesque specter of wild animals becoming eviscerated on the low-lying fence surrounding Williamsville Cemetery off Main Street prompted about 30 people to attend a work session by the little-known commission that is required to meet a minimum of four times a year.

No action was taken by the commission at Tuesday's work session, though members agreed to reach out to the owner of the cemetery to determine if the company had a plan to modify the fence that it could formally propose to the commission.

Williamsville Mayor Mary Lowther said the Village Board recently received two written communications from residents on North Long Street who registered complaints about deer being impaled on the fence at the cemetery. It has come up before, in 2006.

"So the board asked if we would just have a work session and talk about what we thought might be appropriate action," said Lowther, who made a rare appearance at the commission's work session Tuesday.

"I mean, no one wants to see any child, or any deer, or anything else injured on this cemetery fence. On the other hand, it's a historic landmark property, and it's a fence that has been there over 100 years, so we need to be very thoughtful about what we do," Lowther added.

Since no formal request to alter the appearance of the fence had been submitted to the commission by the Forest Lawn Cemetery Group, which owns Williamsville Cemetery, Lowther said the commission was prohibited from taking any action on a request by members of Animal Allies of Western New York that the spikes be modified with attractive, scalloped capping.

"We have nothing before us from Forest Lawn. They have not submitted anything, so there is no way a certificate of appropriateness can be [issued]," said Lowther.

Morgan Dunbar of Animal Allies, however, insisted that her organization had submitted a detailed proposal to village officials.

"What we suggest is a nice scallop so that we actually showcase those spikes, because we appreciate the historic nature of them. We don't want to cut it off or hide it behind angle iron," said Dunbar, just prior to the start of the commission's meeting.

Residents were not permitted to address the commission, despite Dunbar's appeal to allow them to speak at the conclusion of the meeting. After again being advised that a formal proposal to alter the fence would have to come from the Forest Lawn Cemetery Group, Dunbar asserted that its president, Joseph P. Dispenza, was already on record as being amenable to altering the fence but that the company was rebuffed by the preservation commission in August 2006.

In a written statement Tuesday, Dispenza raised concerns about the cost of modifying the fence, which he estimated at more than $25,000. Dunbar on Tuesday said her group could access grants that are specifically intended to cover wildlife issues to help defray the cost.

"I'm sure that there are also people who would be willing to donate money. We conduct fundraisers all the time for our organization. We can take it out of the organization fund and put it straight into the fence. I mean, whatever it takes," said Dunbar.

Exactly how many deer have been impaled on the fence was in dispute Tuesday.

Mark Beatty Sr., of Hillside Drive, lives across from the cemetery and said that for seven years he has observed about seven deer being impaled when they jumped and failed to clear the 4 1/2 -foot-high fence.

"I saw one on Reist was pregnant, and the baby was hanging out," Beatty said. "I saw one jump that didn't make it. I wanted to help it out, but there was nothing I could do."

Lowther said that, according to Amherst police reports, five incidents of impaled deer have been reported at the cemetery since July 2001. She said she suspected that two reports on May 29 and May 30, 2008, were actually the same incident.

Beatty said he last saw a deer impaled on the cemetery fence less than a month ago.


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