Conservancy group files lawsuit over stalled land deal

Joan Johnson takes a walk along a stretch of Miller Road she and other members of the Town of Niagara Farmland Conservancy are looking to purchase in this August file photo.

TOWN OF NIAGARA — A local resident looking to purchase the same plot of land as the Town of Niagara Farmland Conservancy spoke out about current issues at Tuesday night's town board meeting. 

Kyle Schmelzle, who has made an opposing bid on the 26.3 acres of land, said he and his girlfriend Alexis Johnson, made a bid on the land after seeing a for sale sign on the property. The property is east of Miller Road, north of Colonial Drive and west of Garlow Road in the town.

Schmelzle’s spoke about his treatment by some, his intentions to stop the rumor mill and his true intentions for the land.

We are the purchasers of this land. There are a lot of rumors and misinformation being spread through social media, newspapers and television about a development being built on the property," Schmelzle. "We are here to address the board that our intentions are to build a single-family dwelling and farm the rest of it in the near future — just like it was in the past.”

He added that negative feedback he's receiving, including an episode where he said a town councilman made a rude gesture toward him, is based on falsehoods. He added that he never thought the Town of Niagara Farmland Conservancy would halt a land deal like this because part of its mission statement says, which he quoted, “Founded to preserve and protect the increasingly scarce open spaces that give our community the rural feel that we love.”

EDITOR'S NOTE: Town of Niagara Councilman Richard Sirianni was identified as the town official that made a rude gesture toward Schmelzle during the recent discussion on the purchase of a parcel of farmland in the town. Efforts to contact Sirianni about the incident were unsuccessful on Thursday.

Joan Johnson, the president of the Town of Niagara Farmland Conservancy, said in a previous interview, that Schmelzle was someone with pull, though he said that is not the case at all. He wasn’t aware of a park or land preserve being made. For a long time, he sat quietly just trying to get the land, but he has no idea where people got some of the rumors they did.

“I don’t know where this development talk has come from,” Schmelzle said. “Social media, Facebook specifically. They’re saying realtors have said that. I asked the realtors if they have said such information, they said no. I have a hunch on who is spreading such information but basically, there’s no development going in.”

A sketch of the property and the proposed plans have been submitted with the minutes of the town board's meeting.

Johnson started a GoFundMe, attempting to raise $5,000 to “Save the Niagara Nature Preserve”, of which $705 has been raised, at the time this article was written. One comment on the page says, “We need to save this land from the bulldozer!” Johnson has filed a lawsuit to stop the land from being sold because the Town of Niagara Farmland Conservancy had a contingency agreement with the land owners to purchase the land.

However, there was no date on that agreement, specifically because the group was unsure when they would have the funds to purchase the land. Those funds were contingent upon them winning a grant, which they did. Schmelzle said that Johnson’s fighting this to protect her own personal borders and sees this more as a conflict of interest for her. He took a look at the tax map and found her property abuts the land, which led him to say the reason she doesn’t want this is because she doesn’t want neighbors.

“The town building inspector has a sketch of our plans for where a house would be, how much square footage a house would be, and all of that,” Schmelzle said. “It’s not like we’re sneaking in here and we’re going to slip a development in (within) five years. We’re just a young couple that wants to farm, be left alone and be peaceful. And go figure a Farmland Conservancy is stopping farmland from being used as farmland.”

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