Referendum Hangs Over Busti Town Hall Move

BUSTI- The threat of a public referendum is still hanging over the sale of Busti’s town hall at 121 Chautauqua Ave.

Residents who are in disagreement with the board’s decision to sell the town hall can go to Bag and String Wine Merchants at 119 Chautauqua Ave. to sign a permissive referendum and pick up a copy to collect signatures to bring the decision to a popular vote to overturn the motion. The deadline for the referendum is March 14.

The town in recent months was approached by the Jamestown Credit Union, which has an expired lease on its current location. The credit union has offered $300,000 for Busti’s current town hall. Due to their expired lease, Jamestown Credit Union is under some urgency to move, and the offer is not open-ended.

Even if the referendum votes against the sale, the town will be able to make a motion to sell the building again the very next day. There is no limit on how many times they can do this.

Dr. Rudy Mueller, former Chautauqua County legislator, expressed disappointment in Busti’s choice to move forward with the purchase of the former Tordella’s building at 125 Chautauqua Ave. Mueller urged the board to slow down the process at a meeting last week, saying many residents aren’t happy about it.

“I think you should give it more time,” Mueller said. “The village taxpayers and the village of Lakewood are getting the shaft on this thing.”

He urged the board to step away from the purchase, move into Lakewood’s village hall and think about all options. He said that Samuel Whitmore, of Bag and String Wine Merchants, had offered to buy the building at 125 Chautauqua Ave. for $400,000. He also said the board could stay in the current location and apply for Consolidated Funding Application grants with the village to get money to put the court on the first floor. Jesse Robbins, Busti supervisor, said that CFA requirements are extremely stringent, and even though it is promoted, obtaining the money is a different matter.

The board had previously presented estimates for four possible town hall options.

The first was to construct a single-floor addition behind Lakewood’s Anthony C. Caprino Municipal Building, which would include a court and office but not a recreation center.

The second option was renovating the second floor of the Caprino building, including an entrance lobby, a stair tower, an elevator and sprinkler system – which also wouldn’t have a community building.

The third option was tearing down the Recreational Center to build one building for Lakewood and Busti excluding a court.

The final option was purchasing the Tordella’s building – which would include the Recreation Center plus space to grow.

In a Feb. 23 commentary in The Post-Journal, Robbins explained the reason for the move, citing the court is inadequate, the Busti-Lakewood Recreation Center is no longer viable with winter gas bills reaching $1,000 per month, and finally the current town building at 121 Chautauqua Ave. is not an ideal space for town offices.

He said a new facility would require the town to take on significant debt, and renovation of the village building would cost $150 per square foot, depending on the configuration and location of the new space. Demolishing the Recreation Center would require changing a deed restriction – which requires the space to be used either for a Recreation Center or revert back to green space. If that could be accomplished, it would cost $160 per square foot for new construction.

The empty Tordella’s building at 125 Chautauqua Ave. is available for purchase at $330,000 and has 11,500 square feet. Conservative estimates to renovate this space are $250,000 or around $51 per square foot, but Robbins said he believes the work can be done for less by using town forces for some of the work.

“All of the costs beyond the $300,000 received from the sale of the current building could be paid for by surplus funds and grants that we are assured would be available, including, for example, a $30,000 grant from the court system for the courtroom,” Robbins wrote. “This new facility would be more energy efficient than the current buildings so the town would spend less on utilities each month. Also, there is an existing tenant in the rear of the building that would pay approximately $900 per month in rent.”

The Busti Town Board previously authorized Robbins to sign paperwork to purchase the Tordella’s building at 125 Chautauqua Ave. contingent on the sale of the town hall. It was approved with only Kenneth Lawton, councilman, voting against it. The entire board voted in favor of the sale of the town hall.

At Monday’s meeting, Bill Evans, of Lakewood, asked the board about the permissive referendum, use of reserve funds and why the town rejected Whitmore’s offer.

The board said it would not use reserve funds – which are assets set aside for specific purposes that are unavailable for any other use – but surplus funds – funds generated year to year based on monies not used – in the purchase of Tordella’s.

There is a contingency clause pending the result of the potential referendum for the contracts of the 121 Chautauqua Ave. sale and the purchase of 125 Chautauqua Ave. Busti, however, can close the contingency on the 125 Chautauqua Ave. purchase.

“Like any real estate contract, the buyer can always remove the contingency,” said Joel Seachrist, town attorney. “So, if we chose to go forward with the purchase of that building, we can do that using surplus funds. (The current town hall) would still be up in the air on whether people would want to sell it.”

“The offer we received to purchase that building was $400,000,” Robbins said in relation to why he turned down Whitmore’s offer. “We need 7,000 to 8,000 square feet to do this, roughly. We can’t build without borrowing money, without borrowing a lot of money, a 7,000 to 8,000 square foot building that can cure both problems that we have and house our town office for $370,000.”

REC CENTER CONCERNS

Cara Birrittieri, of Lakewood, voiced other concerns over the recreational center and the court being in the same building at 125 Chautauqua Ave.

“I don’t think that those two belong in the same building, and as a parent who would like to use the future recreation center with my children … if you put the recreation center in the same building as the court, which I just found has at least 10 court sessions a month, it is just a very poor use of a single building,” Birrittieri said. “I whole heartedly agree that yes, we need a new court, and yes, we need a public recreational center for this wonderful community that is better than the current one we have. However, I think they need to be in two separate buildings. The court is an awesome asset to this community, a new recreation center would be as well, but I just can’t see lots of people utilizing a recreation center with people in handcuffs coming and going at any particular day.”

The board explained it would be two different entrances and the recreation center wouldn’t be open on the evenings the court is in session.

Currently the court is not compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are no chambers for the judges, no attorney-client conference rooms, no separate entrances for prisoners, no prisoner holding rooms and no places to store court records.