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Mill Road scenic overlook plan closer to reality in Aurora

Preserving the breathtaking views from a 60-acre farmstead along Mill Road just outside the Village of East Aurora and turning it into a scenic overlook has been a $640,000 dream for a long time – a very expensive one that had a long way to go, just six months ago.

But with the announcement of two substantial challenge gifts totaling $150,000, there is a huge boost in confidence among the Friends of Mill Road, the Western New York Land Conservancy and the Town of Aurora that enough money will be raised to buy the land from the two families that own it and preserve the 60 acres to create a scenic overlook for public access and place a conservation easement on the property.

Scott Bieler, president of West Herr Automotive Group, and Kathy Lasher, co-chairwoman of the citizens group, are contributing $100,000. Gerhard Neumaier, chairman of Ecology & Environment Inc., and his wife, Ellen, are committing $50,000 toward the effort.

“This is one of the most unique and important properties for preservation in all of Western New York,” Bieler said. “Our investment now will hopefully encourage others to join us in leaving this legacy for our children and grandchildren.”

The gifts by the two couples bring the total raised to $416,000. Another $150,000 from the community that is being sought – to match the challenge gifts – would provide enough money for the town to purchase the land. In all, $640,000 is needed for the entire effort, which includes the cost of building the overlook and placing a conservation easement on the land so that it is protected from any development in perpetuity.

The deadline for raising the remaining funds is the end of December. The Mill Road landowners – the Closs and Sievenpiper families – agreed late last year to extend their purchase contract with the Town of Aurora by one year, to Dec. 31, 2013. That deadline is critical because the project’s supporters worry the land would otherwise be eyed by developers to build homes along it, unless enough money can be raised to purchase it and then preserve the spot.

The property, known among locals for its tremendous views during all four seasons, is along Mill between Sweet and Blakely roads. It offers a 180-degree panoramic view to the west. On a clear day, downtown Buffalo is visible. There’s also a Knox Farm State Park connection since ridges seen in the distance lead to the park, while the Mill Road land, in turn, can be viewed from the park.

Gerhard Neumaier, who lives on Mill Road, lauded the effort to preserve the property. “Everybody likes the idea of having open space,” he said in an interview Wednesday night. “Scenic land has great value, and doing this is kind of like having some foresight for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. It’s a great piece of property, and it has great significance in it.”

His wife, also an avid lover of parks and the outdoors, said it is important to preserve it for the next generation. “A challenge gift gives people more of an opportunity to feel they ‘own’ it,” said Ellen Neumaier, a Friends of Mill Road steering committee member. “We really want the community to think about it.”

Lasher said she believes the economic benefits reaped from the project make the case for preservation a compelling one. “We know that the quality-of-life benefits provided by this project will make our community a more attractive destination for homeowners, business and visitors,” she said.

“It’s a great spot that Scott and I have both driven by thousands of times, and it always captures our attention, and is a reason to take your foot off the gas pedal,” Lasher said. “It’s an inspiring place. It’s one of those things that if it were gone, it would be missed. Scott and I are in a position to do something and leave a legacy to help keep it rural and open.”

A formal announcement is to be made this morning at the overlook site about the $150,000 in challenge gifts to help propel the capital campaign toward its goal. To make a contribution that will be matched dollar for dollar by the challenge gifts, visit or contact Nancy Smith, a co-chairwoman of the citizens group and executive director of the Western New York Land Conservancy, at 432-1777, or Kathy Lasher at 861-5498.