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Vacant house in park draws Clarence officials' concern

As the Town of Clarence prepares to open Beeman Creek Park to county residents, a neglected former caretaker's house at the northern end of the park is drawing attention.

Town officials are leaning toward mothballing the unoccupied house with plywood, to seal it against the weather and to keep out unauthorized visitors.

The undeveloped Beeman Creek Park, located west of Salt Road in the northern part of Clarence, was transferred to the town from Erie County. The transfer, which included the house, was intended to give the town better control over drainage around the creek and its wetlands.

Town Supervisor David C. Hartzell Jr. said work crews are scheduled to cut a trail through the park later this month. He hopes to have the park opened to county residents by July 4, which prompted discussion among town officials about the house off Parker Road.

The one-story, ranch-style house, which is in an isolated location, has been a target for break-ins. Town Councilman Peter DiCostanzo called the house "an attractive nuisance."

Town Board members at a recent work session debated whether to raze or mothball the house. They were leaning toward mothballing the structure and deciding what to do with it later.

At the session last month, Town Engineer Timothy Lavocat outlined options for dealing with the structure. The Engineering Department in 2011 gathered estimates for demolishing the house; it would cost around $10,000, he said.

An asbestos abatement survey would cost an additional $2,000 to $2,500, Lavocat said. The department did not gather estimates of what it would cost to actually deal with the asbestos.

If the town opted to demolish the house, the state Department of Environmental Conservation would not allow the structure to be buried on site, Lavocat said.

Town Councilman Robert Geiger said he felt it would be premature to tear down the house. He pointed out another structure in town was in rundown shape before it was rehabilitated as the town's Nature Center.

Town Councilman Patrick Casilio also favored keeping the house for now and sealing it. It might be possible to convert the structure to restrooms for park visitors, he said.

Town Board members supported tearing down a couple of dilapidated sheds on the property and were looking into the cost of that work.

Erie County acquired the land that makes up Beeman Creek Park from private owners in 1966, for about $90,000 in state and federal funds. The house was a residence for a county employee who moved out when the property was transferred to the town, said Peter Anderson, a spokesman for County Executive Mark Poloncarz.

In 2010, Gov. David A. Paterson signed a law authorizing transfer of Beeman Creek Park to the town, specifying the park be open to all county residents, not just town residents. An official ceremony was held last year.

The park will be used for activities such as hiking, dog walking, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.