The Lancaster Village Board will not ban skateboarding on sidewalks in the village's central business district, a decision announced Monday night at a meeting packed with opponents of the proposed law.
The Village Board two weeks ago had directed the village attorney to draft a ban after merchants complained that teen skateboarders and BMX bikers loiter, scare customers and damage property.
In response, more than 100 teenagers, their parents and supporters packed Monday's board meeting to argue for more than an hour against the proposed ban and in defense of the teens' conduct.
"We're going to fight to keep our rights," said Shane Anderson, 17, a Lancaster High School senior and U.S. Army enlistee who organized a protest, held Friday on Central Avenue, against the ban.
Mayor William G. Cansdale Jr. and village trustees assured the audience the ban was dead and said they plan to find a less punitive resolution to the problems cited by the merchants.
"We're not against anybody. We want to see everybody get along," said Trustee Edward M. Marki.
Village officials are working with their Town of Lancaster partners to bring to fruition a skateboarding and bicycling park proposed for the village. A group of volunteers has been raising money for the park since the death of bicyclist Bryce Buchholz, 14, who was killed by a drunken driver May 3 in the village.
Skateboarding and bicycling in downtown Lancaster has been an issue for years, but it grew increasingly divisive this spring and summer. A group of merchants has complained about the behavior of teens who ride and perform tricks on their bikes and skateboards outside their shops.
"I don't believe Central Avenue is a skateboard park," said Julia Corallo, owner of Happy Tails Dog Daycare, on Monday.
Trustees on Sept. 10 directed Village Attorney Arthur A. Herdzik to draft a ban on skateboarding on sidewalks. Media coverage of that meeting prompted Dan Prichard, owner of Sirens Skateshop on Central Avenue, to decide to close his business, a move that upset his young customers.
Cansdale said the crowd at Monday's meeting was the largest he's seen in 20 years in village government. The session was moved to a bigger space, but members of the audience still lined the room's walls.
"Skateboarding is our life. It's something we love, and it's something we do that keeps us out of trouble," said Olivia Sojka, 15, one of many teen speakers.
Their parents expressed outrage that the village was considering banning an activity that occupies and inspires their children.
"It's a way of life. … It should not be considered a crime," said Denise Neth, whose son, Ryan, was biking with Bryce the night Bryce died.
Other speakers said they hope a skateboarding and biking park will alleviate the problems in downtown Lancaster.
Bill Buchholz, Bryce's father, said a committed team of volunteers has raised $53,000 so far, about a third of the expected cost of the park. Officials hope to break ground at a still-undetermined site in the spring.
Joseph L. Maciejewski, a former Lancaster School Board member, said he has talked to David A. Hoch, the executive director of the Lancaster-Depew Boys & Girls Club, about letting the teens use the club's parking lot until the park is ready to open.
Village trustees seemed open to this idea, and they urged the merchants to try to police any problems on their own.
That suggestion wasn't well-received by some business owners in the audience, but one merchant said he has had a change of heart over the skateboarders and bicyclists.
"They are respectful, if you talk to them one-on-one," said Mike Diegelman, co-owner of the Bloomsbury Lane Toy Shoppe.