SOUTH DAYTON – It’s an “example of smalltown politics at its worst,” said one attendee of Wednesday night’s special meeting of the Villenova Town Board.
Many residents turned out for the much-anticipated meeting, where board members were expected to discuss, and possibly vote on, the proposed amendments to the Ball Hill Wind Energy Project. The standing-room only crowd was shocked at the resignation of Councilman Wesley Tessey and the board’s appointment of former Town Supervisor Yvonne Park to his seat.
The town board, which met in private before the special meeting began at 7 p.m., was expected to discuss wind company RES’ proposed amendments to the wind project. The amendments request multiple changes including an unprecedented maximum turbine height of 599 feet, the conversion of portions of overhead lines to underground lines, and increased setbacks from roads but no increases to setbacks from homes, despite the increase in turbine height.Instead of a vote taking place, Tessley announced his resignation, citing work responsibilities and a significant amount of stress and pressure related to the pending vote. Tessley has been a part of the board since wind project discussions began a few years ago, and his resignation was a surprise. The board discussed the names of a few individuals who could be appointed to fill Tessley’s seat in the interim period before fall elections. Former Councilman Angelo Graziano was in attendance and volunteered to fill the seat but was not considered by the board.
The board decided to appoint Yvonne Park, who served as town supervisor when the wind park project was initially voted on and known by many to be a leading proponent of the project when the process began more than 10 years ago. Park served four consecutive terms as town supervisor before retiring in 2015; she served on the board as a councilperson and then town supervisor for a combined total of almost 32 years.
Upon her retirement from the board, Park was quoted in a December 29, 2015 article of the OBSERVER saying, “It is time the new blood came through. We are in a good place for the new board to take over and however they want to do things will be completely up to them.” It was then that current Town Supervisor Richard Ardillo took over, and current board members Sarah LoMonto and Keith Butcher joined the board.
“This was a well-orchestrated plan by the board to get what they want,” stated Joni Riggle, who attended Wednesday night’s meeting. According to Riggle and other attendees, the majority of the crowd was against the proposed amendments, and only a scant few sported green T-shirts in support of the wind company. Members of the public were not invited to speak during the meeting.
Because the proposed amendments were not approved by the Chautauqua County Planning Board last month, the Villenova Town Board must have a supermajority approval to pass them. LoMonto, has recused herself from the vote, as she has a lease agreement with RES. All four remaining board members must vote “yes” in order to pass the amendments, as a supermajority is based on the total number of board members, not the number of voting members.
The OBSERVER reached out to Ardillo, Mark Lyons, RES project manager, and newly appointed Councilwoman Park for comments but did not hear back as of late Thursday afternoon.
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