~ spanning the years ~

PUBLIC LETTERS ON THE POST OFFICE CONTROVERSY

Auburn Citizen, 15 June 2007

Aurora post office needs repairs, renewed lease

Your article on May 31st about the Aurora Post Office contains several misstatements.

The idea of moving the facility from its present location in a village-owned property to the Heary Building did not originate with the US Postal Service. They did not “plan” to move “for more than three years.” Back in 2004 they expressed no dissatisfaction with the arrangement which they have had with the village for nearly 30 years, nor did they indicate that a relocation was needed.

The need for relocation originated with our Mayor in December, 2003 when he informed the USPS that the village-owned facility would not be available for their use after the lease expired in March, 2009. The Aurora Foundation LLC, a partnership between Wells College and Pleasant Rowland, wanted that building demolished for its own purposes. The Heary Building, now owned by Wells College, was offered as a relocation site.

The USPS has made it clear that the proposed relocation site does not yet meet their size, design, handicapped accessibility or historic preservation requirements. Now the proposed site has been withdrawn, apparently because Rowland was unwilling to compromise to meet those important requirements. As a result, the USPS has asked our Mayor if the lease on the present post office might be renewed.

Granted, the roof of the current post office needs repair because the Village Board, in its mistaken assumption that the USPS would move to the Heary Building, neglected to perform routine maintenance. But a 3-to-1 majority of respondents to the Citizen poll favored keeping the post office at its present site. And there are no other suitable sites available in the village center. Therefore, only one reasonable resolution remains: repair our post office building and renew the USPS lease.

Crawford R. Thoburn, Aurora

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Auburn Citizen, 11 July 2007

Distortion of facts really what destroys community

The column by William Dugan which appeared in The Citizen on June 25, under the unintentionally ironic heading “Bad gossip destroys community values,” is full of erroneous statements and is a text-book example of the very type of behavior which he attempts to disparage. Either Mr. Dugan is totally out of touch with the documented facts of the Aurora Post Office situation, or he has willfully chosen to distort them to suit his own peculiar ends.

In any case, his irresponsible and inflammatory statements should not stand without correction.

In a letter of May 9, 2007, from U.S. Postal Service Real Estate Manager Paul Senk, to the mayor of Aurora, and in his earlier communications, Mr. Senk never “mentioned looking for other sites outside of Aurora,” as Mr. Dugan wrongfully alleges. For years, this falsehood has been spread by promoters of the Heary Building project in an attempt to scare residents into supporting the post office relocation. However, Mr. Senk has reassured residents and officials by e-mail that "leaving the community of Aurora is not an alternative" for the USPS.

In fact, a May 3 e-mail from Mr. Senk to Aurora residents, which Dugan references in his column, supports none of his bizarre and misleading assertions.

The May 9 letter from Mr. Senk shows clearly that: Wells College Vice President Hutchinson (not the USPS) withdrew the Heary Building from consideration; the USPS asked "if the Village of Aurora will extend its lease for the present post office; and Dugan's column misrepresented these important issues to our community.

Crawford R. Thoburn Aurora

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Auburn Citizen, 17 June 2007

More to Aurora post office story than many are aware

Expanding upon some information found on your Web site under “Citizen's Say,” here are some additional facts about the stalled proposal to relocate Aurora's post office.

The offer of formal village access to some of Wells College's lakefront property in exchange for the demolition of our current post office has been off the table for over a year; it expired back in March of 2006.

Pleasant Rowland's post office relocation proposal did not offer “new” parking; it only restored some parking lost through her development. (Construction of new delivery driveways and re-positioning of a building eliminated parking spaces.)

No June 1, 2007 deadline was adopted by the U.S. Postal Service or the village board; it apparently was an ultimatum from Rowland.

The USPS did not plan for three years to move into Aurora's old school house, now called the Heary Building. Faced with the termination of its lease by our village board, the USPS accepted the Heary Building as a possible new location in November 2006 when no other alternatives were presented.

However, once that building was accepted as a possible location, Rowland failed to enter into the required design review and negotiation processes with the USPS. Given that failure, the property's ultimate removal from consideration was inevitable.

Almost every municipality owns some real estate. Such ownership is not new in the Village of Aurora. It should present no serious problem for any mayor, particularly if the municipality leases to such a reputable tenant as the U.S. Postal Service, whose village presence is essential to the welfare and vitality of our community.

Karen A. Hindenlang, Aurora

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Syracuse Post-Standard, 25 August 2005

Post Office Plan Information Wrong

To The Editor:

Your guest column by Aurora Trustee George Farenthold incorrectly presented the position of the United States Postal Service (USPS) regarding its service to our community.

Paul Senk, the Real Estate Manager of the Northeast Field Service Office of the USPS responded when sent a copy of this column: “I respectfully disagree with Mr. Farenthold concerning his statement that the Postal Service would ‘dump Aurora as a site for a post office.’ While it is true that there are features of the present facility that do not meet current design standards...leaving the community of Aurora is not an alternative under consideration.”

Thus, Farenthold’s claim that the USPS “could easily decide to dump Aurora” is an alarmist fabrication. Despite such demagoguery, residents need not accept an outside developer’s proposal in order to retain our postal service.

Mr. Senk met in July with Aurora officials. Soon he will begin required reviews of Pleasant Rowland’s proposal to demolish our existing village-owned post office and move the facility into a building owned and operated by her privately held development corporation. In earlier communications, Senk had explained that a relocation of the Aurora Post Office would not be motivated by USPS facilities requirements. Although the USPS might not build a facility today like the one now serving Aurora, our present facility is acceptable and it is leased to the USPS through 2009.

Rowland’s proposal presents a wide range of problems for the village. Here are a few examples:
  • The proposed new facility would force our less mobile residents to walk much further to get their mail via a handicapped access entrance at the far back of the building. Presently, everyone enjoys equal access through an easy, direct, ground-level front entrance.

  • To demolish our current post office building, as required by Rowland’s proposal, is poor stewardship. Should the USPS ever decide to move its facility within Aurora, our village-owned building could provide much needed, entirely rent-free, secure space for village offices, records and archives.

  • To surrender a parcel of village-owned land to become part of a parking lot controlled by a private developer, as required in this proposal, is also poor use of a very valuable asset.

  • Prior to required reviews, the developer gutted the interior of its proposed new postal facility (the 1901 school house) . Such anticipatory demolition violates the National Historic Preservation Act, making it impossible now to evaluate or protect the historic architecture affected by this proposal.

  • While Rowland’s proposal purports to alleviate the parking problems created by her corporation, it provides only 12 additional parking spaces. That many spaces, and more, can and should be provided elsewhere on land owned by the developer.

  • No independent professional study has been made of the traffic hazards created in our village center by the developer’s poor planning . There is no proof that the proposal’s solution of shifting the entrance of the parking lot to the south will solve the problem.
These concerns and others are found in many letters on public record, some of which may be read at <www.geocities.com/auroracoalition>. Such concerns should be addressed by a State Environmental Quality Review and a Section 106 Review, both of which are required for Rowland’s proposal.

In August, however, Rowland issued an ultimatum.

Her proposal to move our postal facility at her corporation's expense -- while requiring our village to give up valuable property and a useful, needed public building in the center of our village -- now has a deadline. A federal decision to relocate a post office often takes 5-6 years for USPS consultation and planning, but Rowland has written our Mayor that “the decision to proceed with this project must be voted on by the Village Board and the demolition permit for the existing building issued no later than December 31, 2005 or the offer is null and void.”

This deadline would not seem to accommodate the time needed for proper implementation of the required community reviews, let alone the lengthy processes of the USPS.

Farenthold supports relocation without review but with some sort of land trade in return for Aurora’s sacrifice of real estate, rental income, convenience, and safety in order to satisfy the developer. Yet a similar land trade evaporated when the developer broke a pledge to improve access to our lakefront park when the inn project destroyed a public right-of-way.

Remember the promise that a temporary market would remain open during the inn’s construction? The store was closed,. What of Rowland’s broken promises to support economic diversity, respond to community needs, provide opportunities for local entrepreneurs, and be accessible to the public ?

With this track record, there is no reason to assume that a trade offered to the community by the developer will be honored.

Most of Farenthold’s column is as misleading as the portion I have addressed regarding the USPS. And by labeling those who disagree with him on this complex issue as “mean-spirited... mudslingers” guilty of unspecified “illegal acts,” he brings his own conduct into question.

Farenthold was elected to our Village Board in March of 2004. The following July, he married Lisa Ryerson, the President of Wells College. The college acts as a minority partner in Rowland’s development firm, the Aurora Foundation, LLC, and Ryerson is a member of the corporation’s board. Farenthold has yet to acknowledge or remedy his potential conflict of interest under NYS law, and continues to act as a public official on matters in which his wife has an interest. Given the appearance of such a potential conflict, Mr. Farenthold might want to consider removing himself from all official discussions and decisions involving the Aurora Foundation.

Karen A. Hindenlang
Aurora

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Part of the village's public record, read into the minutes of the Village Board of Trustees Meeting of 7/20/05

Dear Aurora Village Board Member:

Your upcoming vote on the fate of the building that now houses our post office is more than a simple decision of whether or not to raze a building and lease out the space created.

It has become an evaluation of the direction our village is now heading, an assessment of whose control we would like it to be under and a projection of what kind of place we want Aurora to be.

In determining each of your votes, I respectfully ask you to consider my thoughts on the matter.

Below are a couple of excerpts from the speech Pleasant Rowland gave to a packed audience at the Morgan Opera House on May 17, 2001.

"While I cannot live full time in Aurora, I will be here frequently. I will be visible and I will be accessible. I will be personally responsible, as head of the foundation, for assuming an open and collaborative dialogue with this community and helping to meet its needs as best I can.

"The Aurora Foundation intends to hire local people whenever possible and treat them well in the businesses we operate. 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."

As any Aurora resident knows, these words have not been lived up to.

Regarding the matter of Pleasant's accessibility: by Mayor Gunderson's own reckoning, Pleasant has not spoken to him in over two years. Many heartfelt, passionate and articulate personal letters to Pleasant from village residents remain unanswered and ignored. Repeated requests for interviews from the local press about issues that have arisen about her LLC's impact here have been turned down. Instead of "visible and accessible" to Aurorans, Pleasant has proven to be as elusive and reclusive as Howard Hughes.

Regarding the matter of local people renting LLC space to house their own businesses that simply hasn't happened. In the case of the Fargo, the exact opposite action has taken place. Her LLC personnel now operate that business, and both the local former owner, and the local former manager have been tossed aside. By assuming operation of the Fargo, and by rejecting the letter sent to them by the village board respectfully asking her not to do so, the Aurora LLC demonstrated a palpable disregard for the concerns of this board, along with an icy indifference to the wishes of the community it represents.

These actions have spoken loudly to me, and they now resonate much more clearly than Pleasant's words in May of 2001. In deciding whether or not to accommodate the LLC's latest initiative regarding our post office building, I ask that you take these actions into consideration, and ask yourselves how much further we want to go with this organization, and should we grant it the opportunity to gain control of the entirety of our downtown business district by leasing to it our last toehold there.

Just as the LLC found it necessary to assume control of all the businesses in our downtown they didn't stop until they had every one it now covets all the downtown tracts of land. The parking shortage the LLC cites as a reason to tear down the post office is a problem of the LLC's own making. I believe they should utilize some of their own downtown real estate to alleviate it. The residents of this village are under no obligation to do it for them.

I am not unaware of some of the problems associated with the village retaining ownership of the post office. Yet I question if there are ways of reducing or recouping the $30,000 figure for a new roof. Could more quotes be solicited for the job in the hope of a receiving a lower estimate? Can problem areas of the roof be repaired rather than having the whole roof replaced? Would the village residents abide a one-time, assessment-based, tax surcharge dedicated for the roof's repair? Further, can any of the new tax revenue Aurora is due to receive from the increased assessments of these improved properties be earmarked for the new roof?

I hasten to add that I offer these suggestions with no working knowledge of the magnitude of the repairs required, or of the extent of the efforts already made by village officials in addressing them. I am respectful and appreciative of those efforts. But I entertain the hope that by putting more heads together, perhaps an idea or two may emerge that would make the project more affordable, and make it more feasible for the village to retain ownership of the building.

Additionally, if Aurora does experience increased tourism because of the LLC's activities, it might make more sense financially for the village to keep a building on that property. Increased tourism would enhance the building's commercial appeal, so even if the USPO does not renew its lease, it should not be difficult to find a new commercial tenant. And, of no small importance, it would be the only building in our downtown that could offer someone an opportunity to establish a non-LLC business, adding some much needed diversity to our local business environment.

Intangibles such as the trusting nature and the cooperative spirit of people in Aurora help to explain why I so enjoy living in this small town. But at this point in the village's metamorphosis, I think that the LLC has exploited these precious attributes of ours in order to execute its agenda, the full scope of which has never been satisfactorily explained to me. I am troubled by recent actions taken by the Aurora LLC, [online version stops here] and I now think it is time that we regard it with a much more critical and wary eye. It is my hope that you consider trustworthiness, integrity, and respect for this community when you determine with whom you care to do business.

For reasons both pragmatic and principled, I request you vote against surrendering our Post Office building to the Aurora LLC.

Thank you.

Jay O’Hearn
Aurora

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Syracuse Post-Standard, 8 September 2005; Cayuga Neighbors, p. 23

Trustee Lost Touch With Reality

To the Editor:

I would like to address the August 11, 2005 article written by “Guest Columnist” George Farenthold. If you had identified the characters of this saga correctly, your readers would have understood the context of his remarks with a clearer light.

Mr. Farenthold is married to Ms. Lisa Marsh Ryerson, who is President of Wells College and a Board Member of the Aurora Foundation, LLC. In my opinion, Mr. Farenthold now has to recuse himself from any vote on this Building due to “Conflict of Interest” as stated in the NYS General Municipal Law § 809.

Mr. Farenthold’s remarks about how the Village Board should tear down the building that houses our Post Office were done in poor taste. He assaulted the Village residents for their opinions, but is his own form of “mudslinging” in his article proper?

He failed to mention:

• A July 22, 2005 meeting with United States Postal (USPS), Manager Real Estate; Mr. Paul Senk, resulted in the announcement by Mayor Thomas Gunderson that the USPS will not be making a rush decision on moving anywhere for several years.

The public was informed of this at their regular monthly Village Board meeting on August 17, 2005, by the Mayor.

With the vast amount of mail that passes through our local facility on a daily bases, our community will not lose its’ Post office any time soon.

• The USPS Rental agreement runs to March 2009 and that they pay rent in the amount of $ 8,400 which increases slightly each year. This amount may not seem like a lot, but it does keep the Village property taxes the residents pay lower.

• As the “Trustee” assigned to maintaining our Buildings & Grounds by the Mayor, he hasn’t done anything to fix the roof leaks in this building because he assumes it will be torn down. How can you assume this when the USPS representative has stated they are not ready to move and we have a lease agreement through 2009?

• His price to repair the building’s roof, at $ 30,000, is a figure off the top of his head. As someone who attends meetings regularly, I know that there have not been any estimates gathered by the Village Board from potential contractors. I doubt very seriously that the price would be that high for the size of the building.

• That the Village Board did a Village survey in April 2005 on the proposed move of the Postal Facility to the Aurora Place building which is owned by Wells College, with results showing that many did not care where the PO was located, but they wanted to save their building for other uses in this community. How can you get rid of a structure we need when our Village Office currently is located in the rear of our firehouse in a small storage room?

• That seven businesses were told to move out by Wells College through the Aurora Foundation, LLC. The Foundation now has this space tied up with their four eateries, one market and a flower shop. All of these are very expensive and employs only a handful of local residents. This figure should not reflect the transient workers who have rented places in the Village thus the LLC calls them “locals”. As one of those “lost” businesses, I find it insulting to have him say that there will be space available when that hasn’t happened.

• That the so-called view to be gotten from demolishing our building will be that of the back yard of a local resident and the plantings the LLC have put in have taken away from our view shed already.

• That the supposed “renovation” work has taken away much of our historical heritage due to the loss of the excellent workmanship inside the buildings created by hand labors of days long gone. I feel that Trustee Farenthold has lost touch with the reality of how much the “residents” have had to put up with over the past three years.

There is a major divide in our community and for him to voice his opinion in such a biased way really shows which side his bread is buttered.

Deborah M. Brooks
Aurora

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Local letter makes the main section of the Syracuse paper, 4/22/05.

Will they pave Aurora to put up a parking lot?

To the Editor:

Aside from the events with the Fargo restaurant, the village of Aurora residents have been placed into another dilemma pertaining to the Aurora Foundation LLC and Wells College. The developer has decided that the residents of this community must once again make a sacrifice by demolishing a building to make way for a parking lot to accommodate the LLC's employees.

The villagers did not create the parking problem, so why should we give up a useful building? Let Wells College give up some of their property for parking.

Some say that this building doesn't fit into the decor of Pleasant Rowland. So what? The community is made up of a wide variety of architecture. The village currently rents to the U.S. Postal Service, which helps to keep our taxes reasonable.

If the USPS decides to move out, shouldn't the community have the right to decide how to use this building? We need a proper office for our village clerk! The location is ideal, being handicapped-accessible, centrally located and, most important, larger than the storage room currently being used in the firehouse.

It is about time the village board members listened to the needs of the community and not to the developer.

Deborah M. Brooks
Aurora

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MANY PUBLIC COMMENT LETTERS
for the project's first Section 106 Review

Page updated June 17, 2007

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