Niagara Gazette

December 18, 2012

Lew-Port lays out land sale requirements

by Timothy Chipp
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Lewiston-Porter district officials are moving forward with plans to sell land to the Town of Lewiston for the construction of a multi-use recreation and senior center.

The district's school board authorized Superintendent Christopher Roser and attorney Elizabeth Holden to finalize a letter of intent, which they reviewed Tuesday, to the Lewiston Town Board.

"Negotiations can commence from there," Roser told his board.

The document outlines the particular desires of the district in possibly selling 10 acres of land for the building and its adjoining parking lot. They've been discussing the sale of land along Creek Road in front of the high school for the project and set a price of $5,000 per acre.

The price is considerably lower than the property is worth, a factor which could be argued as the district gifting land to the town. To avoid the classification, though, district officials are instead seeking preferential use once the building is completed.

The district is proposing the town allow its children the rights to use the main athletic fields between the hours of 6 a.m. and 5 p.m. weeknights during school sport seasons to help offset the reduced price.

Holden said the district could use the reduced price, add in the services received, and avoid gifting, a process which requires a public referendum.

Roser has been vocal about not wanting to ask for a higher amount from the town, estimated to be about $10,000 per acre, because it would come from many of the same taxpayers who finance the school district.

Members of the board, in allowing Roser and his negotiating team to move forward, gave their approval of his reasoning.

"I paid particular mind to the preferential times and use sections," board member Keith Fox said. "If this goes through as is, I'll be real happy with getting $5,000 (per acre)."

In addition to bargaining, the letter of intent also provides a better defined timeline for the process. It sets a frame for the town and the district to meet several contingencies, including the completion of a environmental quality review, completing financing and get approval.

Once the negotiations are finalized and an agreement is in place, a window of undetermined length – either 30 or 45 days – would be open to allow residents to force a referendum vote on the sale, even though it's not a requirement in the process, Holden said. To do so, petitions containing the signatures of 10 percent of the voters in the 2011 gubernatorial election in the school district would need to be filed, she said.

The final piece of the district's letter of intent would seek to put restrictions on land use after its sale, while also giving the school board rights to both review all plans prior to construction and first refusal should the town abandon the building or undeveloped land for any reason.

"If the town discontinues its use of the property, the district should get the first opportunity to acquire the land back," Holden said.

The sale of the land could be finalized and completed by April if the timeline is agreed upon.