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West Seneca denies access to Seneca Mall study

The Town of West Seneca has refused to release a consultant’s economic and fiscal impact analysis of the initial proposal to develop the former Seneca Mall property off Ridge Road.

An attorney for the town claims, among other things, that it doesn’t contain statistical or factual tabulations or data.

“How can that be?” asked Robert Freeman, executive director of the state’s Committee on Open Government.

Under a Freedom of Information Law request filed in late July, The Buffalo News sought a copy of, or an opportunity to inspect, the analysis of developer Scott R. Congel’s plans for the long-vacant site off Ridge Road. The town hired Camoin Associates of Saratoga Springs last October to prepare the report.

Known as Seneca Place, the original $700 million, public-private proposal included two hotels, residential apartments, office buildings, retail shopping, a theater and community facilities atop a vast underground parking garage.

The feasibility study was to look at, among other things, projected revenues on a $128 million community center – which includes twin ice rinks, as well as construction costs.

In May, Congel revealed a proposal under which the 55-acre site could later be expanded to possibly include a covered stadium for the Buffalo Bills.

After changes to the proposal rendered the consultant’s analysis moot, town officials said Congel would reimburse the town for it – a $30,000 maximum had been approved – and that it wouldn’t be publicly released.

In denying the FOIL request for that initial proposal by The News, Town Attorney Charles D. Grieco said that the record was exempt from disclosure under the Public Officers Law.

“Upon review of the requested document, I have determined that it falls squarely, and completely, within the ‘intra-agency’ exemption,” Grieco wrote last week.

“Any and all data contained in the report are premised upon certain assumptions made by Camoin that are inextricably linked to their analysis and do not constitute purely factual tabulations of statistics or data,” Grieco wrote.

Freeman countered: “The numbers need not reflect objective reality.”

Congel’s paying for the report has no bearing on its access, Freeman said. “It’s always the town’s property if it was prepared for the town. It doesn’t even have to be in the physical possession of the town,” he said.

Before receiving Grieco’s denial letter late last week, The News had filed a separate FOIL request seeking proof of payment/reimbursement to the town by Congel for that report.

There’s been no response to that request.