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DeSantis weaves tangled web in Jayne Park cover-up

May 26, 2009

By Frank Parlato Jr.

Actually, it wasn't surprising to learn that every copy of our May 12 edition, which featured the story, "DeSantis plan for Jayne Park targets old trees, waterfowl, anything green," disappeared from City Hall an hour after they were delivered.

They were found later in a City Hall garbage bin not far from City Planner Tom DeSantis' third-floor offices.

It was with interest then that we monitored DeSantis' May 18 appearance at City Hall in front of the Council and a number of concerned Cayuga Island residents to explain to them the topic of our story -- his Jayne Park plan.

"The assumption that something was going to be imminently constructed at this park was not from my office or the city," DeSantis told his audience.

A "local newspaper," he said -- referring to the Reporter, but not by name -- "misinformed" the public. There was nothing to be concerned about, he told Cayuga Island residents.Ê"There was some misinformation that went out," he said. "We have not started any specific work in Jayne Park."ÊÊ

This relieved some in the audience who were alarmed by our report that DeSantis planned to radically alter the only park on Cayuga Island.

For the record, our allegedly misinformation-laden report stated that DeSantis has a plan to convert a quiet neighborhood park on the northern shore of Cayuga Island called Jayne Park into a regional park.

His plan -- as published online -- calls for $290,000 of "improvements" to construct picnic shelters, park furniture, a canoe launch, ribbons of asphalt for walking across the face of the park, portable toilets, and to remove green space to build parking lots and to remove "overgrown" vegetation and trees along the shoreline of the Little Niagara River that Jayne Park fronts.

DeSantis wrote in his plan, "The installation of improved asphalt walking paths will provide pedestrians with better access to the Park. ... Hikers and bicyclists would be able to start or end their outing in the Park where ample parking and comfort stations are provided."

The plan will attract more people to Cayuga Island, which incidentally has no stores or commercial presence.

"This project will increase connectivity and access by installing improved walking paths in close proximity to the existing Niagara River bike and pedestrian trail," DeSantis wrote.

"Connectivity will also be improved through the creation of a blueway trail by installing a canoe launch within the Park to serve as the upstream end of the trail," he continued.

The Reporter piece also pointed out that the plan presents an intriguing example of waste, since about 100 feet away, and directly across the Little Niagara from Jayne Park, is the city's under-utilized Griffon Park, where there is already a canoe launch, paved parking lots and trails, which makes spending $290,000 for a duplication of these questionable at best.

DeSantis also plans to "improve" the park's shoreline by removing trees and vegetation that naturally grow there, disturbing rare resources where there is a federally designated Important Bird Area that is in the center of the Audubon Flyway.

This is essentially the plan DeSantis submitted as his final plan in January 2008 to the Greenway Commission. This was the plan we reported. This is the plan you can read online at www.niagaragreenway.org/JaynePark.pdf.

But this was not the plan DeSantis spoke about at the May 18 Council meeting.

Curiously, DeSantis, while explaining to the Council and public that they had nothing to worry about, presented a drawing or rendering of a plan for Jayne Park that was designed in 2001.

This 2001 plan shows less disturbance of the park than we reported. At first blush, it did appear the Reporter got it wrong. The only problem with this, however, is that the 2001 design does not represent the latest plan.

DeSantis should have based his presentation to the Council on the plan he authored and submitted to the Greenway Commission in 2008.

Instead, he used an obsolete 2001 plan. What would motivate him to do that?

Either he forgot about the new plan he submitted last year, or couldn't tell the old one from the new, or perhaps he deliberately misled the Council to quell the rising tide of Cayuga Island residents' dissatisfaction with his plan to convert their quiet, pavement-less, neighborhood park into a paved regional park with a wholly unnecessary canoe launch.

The finalized 2008 Jayne Park plan reveals much that DeSantis chose not to reveal to the Council.ÊDeSantis wrote in his 2008 plan, "The proposed project will expand opportunities for passive recreation and improve access to the Little River by providing (asphalt) walking paths, a canoe launch and off-street parking. As a result, the neighborhood of Cayuga Island will be a more attractive area with greater access to the Little River.

"An application to the New York State Environmental Protection fund has been submitted seeking funding in the amount of $145,000. The remaining 50 percent will be provided by the City of Niagara Falls through Seneca Niagara Casino funds.

"The improvements planned for Jayne Park will improve ease of access to all park patrons on an equal basis."

In short, DeSantis calls for Jayne Park -- with the installation of parking lots where presently there are none -- to become a regional park, attracting visitors who can park their cars there and have "ease of access" on "an equal basis" with the people who live on Cayuga Island who walk there.

The plan calls for construction to start in autumn 2009 -- about 120 days from now. Yet DeSantis spoke before the City Council as if the plan hadn't been finalized, funding was up in the air and the construction start wasn't in sight.

He said repeatedly that the Jayne Park "restoration" had been on the planning table for years, but was forced to admit he never held a meeting with residents of Cayuga Island.

One wonders why a city planner worked quietly to secure nearly $300,000, created extensive documents for the spending of those dollars, yet never sought the input of local residents.

There are 350 homes in Cayuga Island. How difficult would it have been for DeSantis to hold a meeting and discuss this with them?

Mayor Paul Dyster's wife, Becky Dyster, is the Democratic committeewoman who represents Cayuga Island. She could have gone door to door to get the feelings of her constituents. She didn't.

It appears suspiciously like the "real plan" was to avoid public input, get the funding, and one day move heavy equipment into the park and begin construction before residents caught on.

Because of our story, the residents of Cayuga Island gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition asking the Jayne Park plan be stopped.

At the Council meeting, however, the Council never heard the real plan and never asked DeSantis, "Are you building parking lots? Are you removing trees? Did you talk to neighbors? Is that plan you are showing your final plan? Did you survey to see how many city residents use canoes? Did you do a traffic study on Cayuga Island?"

Only Councilman Sam Fruscione held DeSantis' feet to the fire. "But Tom, you've got to meet with the residents of Cayuga Island and not just the people in the surrounding areas," he said.

Fruscione, showing further interest in Islanders' welfare, called for a review of city flood plain maps, something Mayor Dyster could have called for last year, but failed to pursue.

Odd, too, since this could save each homeowner $1,000 annually by getting rid of the FEMA flood insurance the way Wheatfield, Tonawanda, Amherst and the Town of Lockport are doing.

But the mayor and DeSantis don't seem to care about trivial things. They want $290,000 canoe launches 100 feet from another one, $500,000 artwork in an undersized traffic circle and a $40 million train station in an era when passenger trains are nearly obsolete.

Instead of concentrating on fixing roads that are in deplorable condition, the mayor wants to build grandiose railway stations while ignoring the airport, actually allowing the defunding of Buffalo Avenue pavement plans, and forgetting to ask for federal stimulus money. He is chattering about an imaginary $100 million Experience Center, fighting to create a midget height downtown and spending hundreds of thousands on plans to change parks that don't need to be changed -- with the aid of hisÊplanner, Tom DeSantis.

How about doing basic governance first? Like fixing the roads.

Then we can talk about train stations and canoe launches that few use and none of us need.

DeSantis' Jayne Park plan will probably increase traffic on an island where there is only one route on and off, increase pedestrian safety concerns for children and adults, increase litter and noise, open the island community to all manner of visitors, create an attractive nuisance and hang-out for youths at night, create another "park" that must be maintained when the city now has trouble simply mowing the grass there, change the dynamic of adjacent properties along the length of Joliet Avenue, which abuts the southern boundary of the park, and ultimately alter the uniqueness of Jayne Park and its environs to make it resemble any other park.

 

 

 
 
 
  Copyright © 2008 Frank Parlato Jr.