Clearspeak: Wanton destruction

Community Columnist

— The State Environmental Quality Review Act requires that government decisions based on an EIS minimize or avoid adverse environmental impacts. It has long been recognized that, unlike the federal statute, SEQRA imposes on government decision makers a positive duty to minimize environmental harm to the greatest degree possible. An early court decision interpreting this duty characterizes SEQRA as an “alarm bell” whose purpose is to alert responsible public officials to environmental changes before “they have reached ecological points of no return.”

Cazenovia, the alarm bell is ringing. Loudly.

Granted, SEQRA makes clear that environmental factors are not intended to be the sole consideration in decision making. The statute is carefully constructed to balance the benefits of environmental protection against economic development. Builders can build, but SEQRA mandates that they do so in a way that minimizes environmental harm.

And demolition is a long, long way from minimal environmental harm – especially when considered under a statute like SEQRA that defines “objects of historic or aesthetic significance” as part of the “environment.”

This is why my friend, Roger deMuth, got it right when at a recent Town Planning Board meeting he advocated for the adaptive reuse of the Enders property. Muraco, the EIS tells us, doesn’t like this alternative because “it would limit the potential uses of the property.”

Exactly. Limiting development to an extent consistent with minimizing environmental harm is exactly what SEQRA was enacted to do. Adaptive reuse would allow Muraco to make money from his investment while ensuring preservation of the farmhouse and perhaps its outbuildings too. A fair compromise that would strike exactly the sort of balance SEQRA contemplates.

If Muraco doesn’t like the adaptive reuse alternative – an alternative his own EIS characterizes as “reasonable” – here’s some advice for him. Don’t buy properties on which stand irreplaceable historic resources in a community that cherishes its historic heritage.

If you do, don’t be surprised when this community rises up to prevent their wanton destruction.

Disclosure: Some years ago, I was a tenant at one of David Muraco's properties. The relationship was not a happy one and ended amongst mutual bad feelings.

Barry Schreibman is a veteran attorney, long-time Cazenovia resident and columnist for Eagle Newspapers. His legal practice includes general civil litigation and criminal defense work, as well as land-use permitting that involves historic preservation, zoning and environmental issues. He can be reached at 655-5561 or bschreibman@live.com.

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