More than 100 residents packed Elma Town Hall Wednesday night as the Town Board held a public hearing on its decision to establish a one-year moratorium on the construction of new multifamily housing units.
Several residents spoke and all said they supported the move.
The board decided on the moratorium during a work session Jan. 9, after learning that developer Bryan A. Young had applied to build 14 four-unit apartment buildings on the site of the former Camp Centerland.
Young late last year bought the 80-acre property along Bullis Road, which included a century-old mansion he demolished before preservationists in the town had a chance to tour, and try to protect, the historic structure visited more than once by auto maker Henry Ford.
Town Board members officially, and unanimously, passed the moratorium Wednesday night. The crowd applauded, long and hard.
The measure will prevent approval or construction of any residential dwelling in the town with more than two units while the town updates its building and construction codes.
Supervisor Dennis Powers cautioned those who spoke during the public hearing to remember that their comments had to focus on the topic of updating the town building code when it came to multiple-family dwellings.
Marlene Baumgartner, president of the Elma Historical Society, said she favored the moratorium and hoped, if possible, that new codes will include references to historic homes and properties, and accountability measures, including heavy fines and penalties, for those who ignore them.
She also told Town Board members she feared Elma’s rural charm is being diminished.
“I moved to Elma 44 years ago because I loved the rural charm of Elma,” Baumgartner said. “It was a safe community and the school system was a good one. I didn’t ask the town for sewers or sidewalks, a big box store that doesn’t fit a rural community or an apartment complex that takes up the entire space of the property, leaving no green space.
“I didn’t ask the Board to stop the farmer up the road from spreading manure on his land. Elma is a 'Right To Farm’ community, and I was happy for the quiet and peace and to be able to see the stars at night.”
She pointed out that Elma has some excellent businesses, including Moog, Steuben, the Made in America Store and smaller businesses that fit well in the community. She said more apartment buildings “will drastically change our landscape.”
William Skinner, a 47-year resident of Elma, said he was against tax breaks and write-offs for developers, and pointed out that there already were plenty of available apartments in other towns. Several other speakers echoed his remarks.
When Powers asked if anyone wanted to speak in opposition to the moratorium, nobody came forward.
The supervisor then closed the hearing and asked those attending to take a minute to view the wall-sized mural on the back wall of the Town Hall that was carefully removed from the old municipal building and brought to the new one. It is a constant reminder of Elma’s rural history, he said.
“There will be growth,” he said, “but we have committed ourselves to smart growth.”
Bullis Road resident Chuck Cichon said he and other town resident wondered whether the application Young filed for his project two days before the moratorium first was discussed would be impacted by Wednesday night’s vote.
Powers replied: “The resolution and moratorium stops all construction.”