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No sitting allowed in Lancaster

   Will the recent removal of benches from downtown Lancaster stem the problem of teenage loitering?

   Police will be stepping up their walking and bike patrols this summer in Lancaster and asking parents to be more vigilant about where their kids hang out with friends — as well as about what they're doing to pass the time.

   Drug use is definitely a factor, as evidenced by used hypodermic needles found by police and residents.

Do Lancaster teens have an adequate, safe places to "hang out" with their friends? Why, as the police have reported, do they taunt and intimidate seniors strolling Central Avenue? Why do parents allow them to stay out unsupervised past 11 p.m. on weeknights roaming the village?

  And this can't be a problem only in Lancaster. What's the solution?

-- Irene Liguori

Freedom of speech - some of it anyway

   You wouldn't want to invite someone stand up at a public meeting and incite violence. You wouldn't want to encourage a speaker to use profane or offensive language. There are limitations to free speech. As George Costanza would say, we're living in a society here.

   But should speaking in favor of an idea that some people don't think is any of your business warrant expulsion from the building or the threat of it?

   The latest controversy involving Kevin Gaughan begs that question. In Blasdell, the mayor told him he and the Village Board decided they didn't want to hear him talk about dissolving the village so they forbid him from doing so.

   Are you OK with that?

   --- Bruce Andriatch

Bagels and (traffic) jam

   When the Beatles first rose to popularity, the band's name would generally evoke the image of an insect. Five years later, if someone said, "I think I just stepped on a beetle," the response might be, "I hope it wasn't Ringo."

   Something similar happened to Tim Horton, once bringing to mind a legendary hockey player, now a coffee and doughnut shop.

   Around here, the name also evokes images of morning traffic jams, which is the focus of my column in today's paper.

   I mentioned a couple of the spots that seem to draw the most attention. Where are some of the others? And are you satisfied with the company's response - bigger parcels of land, more space for longer lines of vehicles - or should local governments be doing more?

   --- Bruce Andriatch


Hurting their cause?

   You can't always have what you want.

   For months, neighborhood opponents of the $44 million Amherst Town Centre project proposed by Benderson Development have criticized the developer for not being more forthcoming with information. The fact that Benderson significantly changed the project's design since it was unveiled last year only fueled that criticism.

   But when Benderson finally held an open house for any interested residents Wednesday and made all its project engineers, architects, lawyers and top officials available to answer questions, Fairways Group opponents urged their members to boycott the "propaganda session."

   "Fragmenting people as they come in, where they are at different tables at different rooms, is not an open, public meeting," said Fairways Group spokeswoman Judy Ferraro earlier this week. "And at this point, this is what we deserve to have."

   Benderson Vice President Eric Recoon and Todd Benderson, head of Benderson Development's Buffalo office, said Wednesday they were resentful of pressure from the Fairways Group and some town officials to change their Open House format.

   "I feel like I'm inviting you to my house for a dinner party and you're telling me what to serve," Recoon said.

   Clearly, Fairways Group members had hoped Benderson officials would be forced to field and defend public criticism of their project in public-hearing type format. When they didn't get their way, most chose to stay home rather than challenge Benderson officials on their turf.

   That meant that while every major media outlet covered Benderson's Open House, not a single Fairways Group representative made it on the air or in the newspaper. Given that the opposition has accused the broader media of a pro-Benderson bias, they didn't help their own cause Wednesday night.

   Benderson Development put up a special Web page Wednesday so residents can view and print copies of Amherst Town Centre information provided at the Open House event. There is also a site to get the Fairways Group's perspective on Benderson's project.

   --- Sandra Tan

Here comes the bus

   "At least I don't drive an SUV."

   I'd been saying that to myself for weeks as I watched gasoline prices climb higher and higher. The tales of people spending $75 or $80 to fill their tanks once a week were chilling, but I felt OK at $40 or $45.

   Then $50. Then $55.

   When it hit the big 6-0 this weekend, I decided I had had enough and, as I explained in my column today, I'm about to get better acquainted with the bus.

   I might be one of the lucky ones; I live near a bus stop and commute to downtown. What about the people who have no choice because their house is in Newstead and their job is in Elma? What of the folks who absolutely have to get home as soon as possible or have no choice but to drive because they have to get the kids to school or day care?

   And what about you? Will I be seeing you on the bus or the train one of these mornings?

   --- Bruce Andriatch

Back to nature

   Amherst might not be the hotbed of development that it was in the 1970s and 1980s, but you would think that 1,254 acres with access to four heavily traveled thoroughfares on the open market might get the attention of someone.

   But the people who fought to keep Nature View Park undeveloped, some of whom I spoke with for my column today, say that loss of potential property tax revenue is well worth the cost.

   There's no question that the park is a treasure, especially for people who like activities such as birding or hiking. But is that the best use for it? And the larger question is: Should municipalities be taking land and barring it from ever being developed?

   --- Bruce Andriatch

Will gun club survey sway Amherst officials?

  On Tuesday, Benderson Development released a survey by the respected, Buffalo-based Barry Zeplowitz and Associates showing that 58 percent of Amherst voters polled support the $44 million Amherst Town Centre project, while 26 percent were opposed.

   The results were immediately assailed by critics of the gun club project as being biased since Benderson commissioned the survey, even though Zeplowitz said the survey followed sound, polling principles.

   Zeplowitz said he was impressed with the fact that 75 percent of those surveyed were aware of the gun club development.

   "It's one of those projects that had caught the attention of voters," he said.

   Zeplowitz pointed out that over the past five years, voter concerns about high taxes have overtaken development as the biggest issue in Amherst. The fact that this project would generate new tax revenue for the region appears to make the project more attractive to voters, he said.

   Monday's much-awaited rezoning decision on the project will tell whether this poll carries any weight with the people who matter most - the members of the Amherst Town Board.

  --- Sandra Tan