Talk of intimidation led to the defeat Monday of a concrete-paving petition that’s dominated Amherst city council discussion for weeks.
A 2-3 vote killed hopes of a concrete “upgrade” for residents of Meadowbrook Drive and Quail and Killdeer courts, many of whom rallied against plans to overlay their streets this summer with asphalt.
Council members David Goodell, Jennifer Wasilk, and Chuck Winiarski sided against the measure, while Steve Bukovac and Phil Van Treuren supported it.
David Janik, who lives in the affected neighborhood, was required to abstain.
Some on council were swayed by reports that several residents only lent their signatures to the petition under pressure. The claim included an anonymous letter circulated at Monday’s meeting.
“It is very difficult not to sign when you are told everyone wants concrete and we only need your signature to complete the process,” the letter said.
“Is this the only person we have that signed, basically, unwillingly?” asked a concerned Wasilk, who said “the statement creates a dilemma for all of us.”
Van Treuren found it difficult to accept such an accusation from a mystery letter-writer, a position echoed by law director Tony Pecora: “I would hate for any legislation to be swayed one way or the other by an anonymous letter,” Pecora said.
In a normal election, ballots are secret and voters are free to vote their conscience without repercussions from neighbors, Wasilk said. That’s not the case with a public petition.
“I did not feel pressured,” said Killdeer resident James Anderson, who is willing to pay extra for concrete. Over the years, his street has been repaired in ways that led it to deteriorate, Anderson said. “This gives us an opportunity to upgrade the road back to where it was 25, 30 years ago.”
Other factors weighed in the council decision.
One couple that did sign the petition has since sold their home and moved to Florida. The buyers were unaware of the 20-year tax lien proposed for their new house.
There were also questions on how to verify the authenticity of signatures on the petition. Bukovac asked whether those who signed were the deed-holders with authority to incur assessments and mayor Mark Costilow replied that the names on the petition all match the names on the deeds held by the county auditor’s office.
Residents August and Josie Tornabene, who have led the anti-asphalt push in recent months, bristled at the possible insinuation of forgery — but Bukovac said that wasn’t what he was implying. He wanted to make sure the signatories had a legal right to request a tax hike.
Goodell said he objected to the concrete plan because it would force those who didn’t sign the petition to also face a tax increase.
“My biggest problem is there are people who don’t want it. This is a 20-year assessment on the property for people who can’t guarantee they’re going to be there in 20 years,” he said, later adding, “The city’s making repairs to your streets. I guess I just fail to see why it is crucial to have concrete.”
If it were a citywide effort to make all streets concrete, Goodell said he would likely support it. But he does not feel a stand-alone concrete upgrade for Meadowview/Quail/Killdeer would be in the best interest of the entire city.
Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.