To my knowledge no one on the Nelsonville Village Board opposes a conservation easement on the 4-acre, village-owned Secor Street parcel (Nelsonville Debates Proposed Secor Easement, Feb. 22).
As mayor, I assigned Trustee Michael Bowman to explore with the Open Space Institute how an easement might be created that would still permit village use of the property for certain municipal purposes. He presented to the board a proposal prepared by OSI’s lawyers. I told him to have our village attorney, Robert Lusardi, review the proposal. He failed to do so.
When I discovered this, I sent the proposal to Mr. Lusardi, whose opinion was that the easement proposal presented serious state constitutional issues. Further legal research, he said, was needed. He also observed that the easement would significantly reduce the financial value of a village asset.
I arranged a special board session with Mr. Lusardi so that board members could hear his opinions unfiltered by me. The discussion was — how shall I say it? — spirited. At our regular board meeting on Feb. 19, the issue was raised again. While attacking our village attorney, who has faithfully served the village for 35 years, Trustee Bowman argued OSI’s legal position, though he is not a lawyer. He said that if conservation easements on Nelsonville Woods and Nelsonville Park did not violate the state constitution, why should the Secor easement?
I’m not a lawyer and can’t argue law. But I can lay out a few facts. The Nelsonville Woods was created by a gift from Ginsberg Development to the village. The gift was contingent on an OSI easement restricting its uses. Nelsonville Park was a gift from OSI (it had been a home site where the house burned down) to Nelsonville with an easement restricting its uses. Both easements were created before Nelsonville took ownership.
The 4-acre Secor parcel was a gift to Nelsonville from Lone Star Industries in 1971. No restrictions were imposed on the use of this parcel, meaning Nelsonville could sell the property for a single family home. For how much? Two hundred thousand dollars? Three hundred thousand dollars? That’s almost our entire annual budget. Suppose in 20 years Nelsonville needs a new water supply? Former boards contemplated siting wells here to create a source of drinking water. Would OSI allow this use? Perhaps. But a future board would have to get OSI permission for any proposed use.
My strong opinion — shared by other board members — is that before we make so fateful and permanent a decision this easement must be thoroughly legally vetted and subjected to broad input from village residents, either through public hearings or, better yet, a referendum. We owe that to all Nelsonville residents, current and future.
Trustee Bowman — a Secor area resident — seems hell-bent to plunge ahead with the easement, so much so that he is apparently leading an insurgency in our upcoming elections. He is campaigning for two other Secor-area residents for trustees. In my opinion this is a blatant attempt to hijack the board and create a pro-easement voting bloc.
These candidates say they have a vision for Nelsonville. They sure do, but it’s not the welfare of the whole village. Trustee Bowman wants to paint their opposition as anti-OSI. False. He and his insurgent candidates are whispering that I am pro-development and pro-cell tower. Shameful. A volunteer Planning Board head for many years, I stopped a 150-plus condo unit development in Nelsonville. I was personally sued in state and federal court. Now I’m back again in federal court defending our village against suits filed by two telecom giants.
Bill O’Neill, Nelsonville