Lots of confusion remains regarding the truck stop project, especially after the Love's presentation last night at the Planning Board meeting where they promised heaven on earth. Please let me try and clear it up. I want to tell you how we can stop this, but first we need to understand the law.
Now this is not legal advice (disclaimer). It's me, as your Supervisor, trying to break things down simply for everyone who wants to protect our environment and keep Grand Island safe and beautiful.
Understand the risks of a "taking"
A "taking" is when you deprive a property owner of all their reasonable investment expectations in a piece of property. In other words, you can't change the rules on someone in an unreasonable manner halfway through the game.
For example, if a place is zoned for business (like the location where Love's wants to put their truck stop) you might get yourself into trouble if you take away something that is reasonably associated with business operations—like sewers—just to stop the the proposed use. Even if we did block sewers, please remember that Love's truck stops exist all over the country; even in the middle of nowhere where there are no sewers. These things are goldmines for the operators, and they could put in septic tanks.
It's hard to prove a taking. Generally, courts do not recognize partial takings. But you can't pass laws willy-nilly to prohibit things you don't like. Please remember, in this town we've been sued before (long before I was Supervisor) for spot zoning and unjustified restrictions on business (e.g., clay lawsuit), and we lost millions of dollars of taxpayer money. We do not want to repeat past mistakes.
Not entitled to highest and best use
Property owners and investors, however, are not entitled to the "highest and best use" of a piece of property. For example, if you buy a swamp for 200 bucks and want to put up an office building, you can't complain if you are unable to do so.
There is a famous precedent that helps explain what I'm talking about. Jacqueline Kennedy once sued to prevent a group of investors from tearing down Penn Station in New York and putting up a skyscraper. She argued that Penn Station had historic significance, and that the investors who wanted to put up a skyscraper were not wronged because they were prevented from achieving what they felt was their "highest and best use" of the property. She won, because the place was a great train station, and that's what they purchased.
Let me give you one more example. Fracking is illegal in New York State. Some of the farmers who wanted to sell their land to fracking companies sued and claimed that this prohibition was a "taking" of their property rights. They lost. You see, they were not entitled to the windfall that would have come from turning farmland into fracking land. Other good options were available to them, consistent with past use.
Now some people are trying to confuse the issue of the Welcome Center with the Love's truck stop. First, and for the millionth time, there is no connection between the two projects. Love’s wants you to think that. They want you to be confused. And sadly, some people in local leadership have proven over and over again that they like conspiracies and confusion. In the words of our wise councilperson Bev Kinney, "If you shoot in the dark long enough, you will end up hitting the target, but everyone will be dead." So instead, please stay with me, and we can work together in the world of facts.
The Thruway Authority controls the land on which they are putting the Welcome Center. I support it. I fought for it to come here. I think it will promote business and celebrate our history. We sometimes forget that we live within minutes of one of the world's greatest natural attractions. If we can get just a couple of the 8 million annual visitors to Niagara Falls to stay a few minutes longer in Western New York and Grand Island, it will be an absolute shot of vitality to our economy.
But what if we wanted to stop the Welcome Center? Good luck. There's another legal principle called the "turned dirt" rule. Once you start turning dirt on project (physically start a project) it's difficult if not impossible to stop. The entire structure of the Welcome Center is up. Even if we could make a case, there is another legal principle that would stop us. It's called the "Monroe County Test." Under that test, local interests are balanced against state interests. Even in the most lopsided cases the state usually wins. Here, where there are good and decent reasons to build the Welcome Center, we would never have a chance.
So how do we stop Loves?
Now you have all the rules, so let me stop hiding the ball. I'm going to introduce a new law this Friday. It will create a definition of "travel plazas." It will say that motor vehicle service stations are not the same as travel plazas. Then it will say that travel plazas are not allowed in the Town of Grand Island.
Might we be subject to a taking claim? They might try, but remember: they are not entitled to the highest and best use. They can build a restaurant, or basket weaving center or whatever. But just not a travel plaza.
Does that get us totally out of the woods? No. This Love's group is strong. They fight and fight for years to get what they want. But we are stronger. And here's what you can do. Pressure the Town Board. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. I'll pass these emails on to the Town Board. I warned against infighting and conspiracy theories before, but I have a sneaking suspicion that some of them may have mixed feelings about this Love's project.
You can also sign the petition that's online here:
Hundreds have signed. And you can come out in support of the new law and all of our efforts to stop this project that will hurt Grand Island. We need to keep this place green. Remember, once it's gone, it's gone forever. There are plenty of empty office parks and other more suitable pieces of property on the other side of the bridge near the thruway where this thing could go. Just not here, not at the heart of the Heart of the Niagara.