Council Pushes “Land Swap” Talks; Are Developers Eyeing Lakefront Park Again?

In the summer of 2016, City Council began taking steps to quietly sell a seven-acre parcel of city-owned land, adjacent to Lakefront Park, to a local developer. The sale was announced in November, causing a public uproar, and then canceled later that fall. In the spring of 2017, the City’s Board of Ethical Review concluded that City Council and former City Manager Matt Horn violated the Code of Ethics by failing to properly notify the public of the sale.

Now, in the summer of 2019, it appears that City Council is again looking to move that parcel.

“The Property We Attempted To Sell In Seneca County”

On July 24th, a Special City Council meeting was held to discuss the 2020 budget. After a short executive session, City Council, along with City Manager Sage Gerling and Assistant City Manager Adam Blowers, began what would be their first formal discussion of the 2020 budget.

During a period when councilors were discussing budget priorities and possible ways to both save or generate money for the city, Ward 2 Councilor Paul D’Amico brought up the Lakefront Park parcel that Council attempted, and failed, to sell back in 2016.

D’Amico’s comment was notable for several reasons.

  • First, in the context of a budget discussion, D’Amico mentioned the parcel because he apparently thinks the city can generate significant revenue (or save a significant amount of money) by selling it.
  • Second, back in 2017, City Council and the City Manager were found to have violated Tenet 7 of the Code of Ethics because they publicly used a few different terms in reference to the parcel (“Waterloo parcel” or “city-owned”), but never sufficiently identified the property as being adjacent to Lakefront Park. And now, D’Amico is calling it the “property we attempted to sell in Seneca County,” obfuscating the actual location of the parcel to anyone reading the minutes from the meeting.
Ward 2 City Councilor Paul D’Amico
  • Third, the city had attempted to complete a “land swap” with Seneca Lake State Park back in 2011, offering to trade a chunk of land around the entrance to the State Park for a strip of land along the shoreline that is highly desirable to private developers. The swap eventually fell through.
  • Fourth, it appears from reading the meeting minutes that the councilors in attendance took little time to discuss D’Amico’s idea, and agreed to have City Manager Sage Gerling act to “accelerate the conversation.”
  • And finally, it’s apparent that a “conversation” with the State Park related to the transfer of a publicly-owned green space was being encouraged by a majority of council, but neither council nor the city manager’s office have said anything else about it publicly over the following six weeks.

Developer$ Want Our Park And Won’t $top Trying To Take It From Us

Lakefront Park, like Central Park in New York City and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, is the jeweled centerpiece of our city, drawing visitors from around the region and even the world to its mile and a half long unobstructed views of Seneca Lake, its open green spaces, and its rare position as one of the last undeveloped lakeside city parks in the country.

The prospect of commercial or residential development in Geneva’s Lakefront Park has been halted by the efforts of a majority of residents, time and again, for years.

The City of Geneva’s Comprehensive Plan, the most detailed study ever done about the goals and priorities of the people of Geneva, identified Lakefront Park as one of the Geneva’s most valued public spaces (along with the public library). The Plan also does not mention commercial or residential development in Lakefront Park as being a priority or even a suggestion, further illustrating the majority’s desire to keep the Park undeveloped.

When city council sneakily tried to sell off a parcel near the lakefront that wasn’t even in the City of Geneva, residents nearly revolted and the sale was cancelled, further illustrating the majority’s desire to keep the Park undeveloped.

Residents who have lived here for decades can recall story after story of unscrupulous development interests trying to cajole, mislead, and even bully the people of Geneva into selling off a piece of the city’s one and only tourist attraction and most valuable public resource, Lakefront Park, so that a select few can enjoy both the financial rewards and the unspoiled Seneca Lake vistas.

This majority of residents, who oppose commercial and residential development in Lakefront Park, don’t necessarily oppose ALL types of “development.” Any discussions about changes to the Park that improve public enjoyment, or increase and improve natural habitats, are generally welcomed.

Election 2019: Let’s Talk About Lakefront Park

It’s an election year, and with only two sitting Councilors running for another four-year term, we will have many new faces on City Council, and many new opportunities for the pro-development forces to hone their messaging, come up with more phony promises of jobs and tax revenue, and take another shot at filling their pockets with short-term profits by developing Lakefront Park.

Currently, the Democratic slate of candidates are reportedly preparing a platform that promises to protect Lakefront Park from developers.

The Geneva Republican Party, generally speaking, has traditionally supported developing Lakefront Park, but their publicly-released platform for the 2019 election doesn’t even acknowledge the issue.

Republican candidate for City Councilor At-Large Frank Gaglianese

At this time, Geneva Believer has confirmed that one candidate for City Council has publicly expressed support for developing Lakefront Park: the Republican At-Large candidate (and current Massa Construction employee) Frank Gaglianese.

It’s unsurprising that Gaglianese would encourage developing Lakefront Park, as his controversial employer would potentially profit from the work that would be necessary to develop Lakefront Park.

It’s also important to note that the next City Council will vote to approve the new zoning map for the city, which will either protect Lakefront Park from developers, or continue to leave the door open for them to sell off our Park.

One Question

Now is the time for every Geneva resident who wants to keep Lakefront Park undeveloped to ask every single Council candidate this question:

“Do you support commercial or residential development in Lakefront Park?”

And when you ask, make sure they give you a clear and decisive answer.

If they try to say that it will create jobs, alleviate poverty, and lower your taxes, ask them for proof.

It’s easy for first-time candidates to say “I’m not sure, I see both sides, I need to learn more.” But if they are running for City Council, then they should have an opinion on this issue.

Lakefront Park is too important to take a chance on a candidate who plans to line the pockets of their developer friends at the expense of the people in our city.

Believe!

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