Letters on Lake / Webb / Lyon Houses

AUBURN CITIZEN, 22 April 22 2006

MY VIEW: Rowland created eyesore, broken promises

- Laura Holland

The writer delivered the following remarks at an April 5 Village of Aurora meeting:

With the best of intentions and complete trust in Pleasant Rowland's credibility, we sold our house to her in October 2003.

At that time, Katie Waller told me that the house would be moved from the site it now occupies to another location in the spring of 2004. When Rowland first expressed interest I told her that the house had been measured several times by parties interested in moving it, and that it was unfeasible to move it along the road, intact.

This was acknowledged, and I was told that they would remove it by barge. Soon, they informed me that they would have to wait until spring, with higher water levels, to do that.

We had such confidence that Rowland would honor her word to us that we even considered allowing her to keep our former house in our back yard. We are now very relieved that we did not agree to that.

That their research rushed and faulty does not mitigate Rowland’s responsibility to do what she told us she would do.

In October 2003, we had no reason to suspect that Rowland would shirk her responsibility, both to us and to this town, and perpetuate the fiasco this matter has turned out to be. I can assure you that had we known Rowland would have left that house sitting there for 2
1/2 years we would never have agreed to this arrangement. More importantly, had we known that she would ultimately attempt to permanently relocate it at 327 Main Street we would never have accommodated her wish to buy our house. We had our demolition permit in hand, and in hindsight, we wish we had used it.

We have numerous reasons for objecting to this proposed scenario. But, first and foremost, we simply should not have to. Our patience and good faith have been taken advantage of by Rowland. If she had done what she told us she would do, the house would have been off the site in the spring 2004, and this issue would not be before any of us today.

Or, if the Village of Aurora enforced its own two deadlines for the building’s removal, we would not be having this meeting tonight.

In 2
1/2 years – as neighbors – we have not heard one word from Rowland regarding the eyesore she has created next door to us. This is not the neighborly behavior we had hoped for.

The current arrangement being proposed by The Aurora LLC and Wells College is a contravention of what Katie Waller, as Rowland's representative, promised us in the fall of 2003.

As residents of this village, we have witnessed a series of misrepresentations, deceptions, falsehoods and broken promises by the Aurora LLC.

We were promised rental space for local businesses.

In May 2001 PR said:

“We intend to provide opportunities for qualified individuals to have their own businesses in Foundation–owned buildings, which we will rent at fair market rates”.

Five years later, there have been none.

Rowland also publicly stated: “The community is concerned about how revitalization efforts will affect the security of existing merchants and fearful that new businesses operated by the Foundation will be corporate and faceless, perhaps employing non-local personnel. Will there be opportunities for entrepreneurs in Foundation-owned properties?”

Five years later, the former is exactly what has occurred, and the latter is a question Rowland has emphatically answered “NO”. Just last spring we were promised the Fargo wouldn't change and it did - in much the way a New England town square would if it were paved over: it's still there, but it's dead. The Fargo that so many area residents cherished has been killed by Rowland’s Aurora LLC.

Rowland promised us accessibility and visibility. That has proven to be a cruel joke, and everyone here knows it.

We were promised a “partnership” with members of this community. Last summer, this “partner”, Laura Holland, was made the target of a smear campaign conducted by the Aurora LLC. Aurora Inn Management confirmed that I was banned from the Aurora Inn. When I asked why I was read a litany of lies regarding my conduct and the conduct of my loved ones. I believe the creation of these defamatory fabrications was a calculated attempt to silence my criticism of Rowland, and to make me fear for my reputation in this small community. Apparently, for any one of us who doesn't toe the line, the “partnership” becomes a dictatorship.

The same Aurora Inn that sought to deny me admission has no hesitation encouraging their guests to take a walk along the lake path, 484 feet of which is my back yard.

So, we have all been lied to, and I have been lied about by the Aurora LLC. In the interest of preserving whatever small sense of community Aurora has left, I have offered no formal resistance to this until now. Katie Waller told me in October 2003 that our former house would be taken off the sight in Spring 2004. This is one deception that will not go uncontested.

As adjoining property owners we oppose having this arrangement foisted upon us and we will strenuously resist it with all means possible. If this proposal is approved, we will initiate actions to hold the Aurora LLC and Wells College accountable for what they promised us in October 2003 and to compel them to remove that house from that site.

We will not sit by idly while Rowland tries to peddle away her responsibility in this matter.

We have waited patiently for 2 years for either the Aurora LLC to act as promised, or for the Village of Aurora to enforce the building’s removal.

Please, get that house out of there.

Holland writes from Aurora

April 13, 2006

The Controversy Continues

- William E. Dugan III

There is a large controversy around a house on stilts in the village of Aurora. It has been an eyesore for three years now, and is typical of the way that very well intentioned Wells College handles all its real properties. It is also typical of the level of expertise of the local village government.

recently, after being notified by mail, for the first time, about any of the modifications to this abutting property, I attended a so-called public hearing calling for public input on modifications ot an existing non-conforming parcel. Some of the abutters were present, and communicated their positions on the proposed changes. But the majority of the comments came from non-abutters, and reflected much of the venom against the Aurora Foundation built up over the past five years.

Residents and taxpayers have to realize some pertinent facts about the Aurora environment in which we all live. There are 261 tax parcels in Aurora: only 100 are fully taxable. Wells, the churches, cemeteries, Masonic Hall, and others own 63 percent of the village, and it reflects in the way Wells handles property titles and other interactions with the the village.

If there were a court case won in favor of a damaged zoning applicant, the 100 parcels would pay the cost. There could be no charge to tax-exempt properties. And remember that only the 100 parcels are paying for the entire cost of running the village government.

The fact that Aurora’s population is so small severely limits the quantity and quality of the residents who serve as the government. I am not disparaging my neighbors who labor in the village boards routinely: they have stepped up and are taking their own valuable time to work at thankless jobs in a pressure-cooker environment. But the meeting was a travesty: the village attorney ran the meeting.

The chairpersons were obviously intimidated by the continuing onslaught of venom. So they failed to do the correct procedures, know the appropriate statutes and command the meeting process.

The village attorney is appointed by the village board to advise and is not elected to preside.

So with this kind of indecision, and only marginally effective zoning, we are faced with another variance which confirms earlier mistakes in allowing alterations to non-conforming parcels. This established precedent will result in later subdivisions of lakefront properties, and a proliferation of buildings lakeside, approximating Honoco Road conditions.

If standard procedure happens, and I trust it will, the planning board should turn down this application, and the ZBA should read the zoning law carefully for reasons to grant a variance. If the letter of the law is not followed, there will probably be a lawsuit.

As to the Wells College / real property interface in the village, good business sense says that there should be an entity between the college and the taxpayers which is a business model, and has a proven public-relations director who can ameliorate the frustration now out there. Requests for negotiations or actions should not go unanswered for months at a time. And a separate budgeted business entity, with management authority, would quickly whow the the expenses of running a real estate operation.

Finally, it is stupid to duplicate government offices in such a small village, when the town is so much better equipped to perform the job.

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