A group of Westsiders wants more time for member input before the Seven Lakes West Landowners Association [SLWLA] Board of Directors finalizes its vote to permanently close Longleaf Drive over Lake Auman dam.
With only a day's notice, a meeting on the dam road closure drew nearly fifty people to the office of attorney Mike Gorenflo, a longtime Westside resident, on Tuesday night, September 21. [The Times did not have a reporter present at the meeting, but interviewed several attendees afterwards.]
Based on conversation at the meeting, the group agreed to turn out in force at the Tuesday, September 28 SLWLA Board Work Session, in support of a statement, currently being drafted, that will ask the Board to deem the dam road closure a "material matter" and allow an additional sixty days for public comment before taking any final action on closing the road.
"Material matter" has come to be the standard shorthand for the exercise of a relatively new option in the Westside bylaws (Article V, Section 3) which allows the Board to "deem the matter to be one of significant interest to the membership," thereby giving the membership "an opportunity to comment thereon at two duly held meetings of the Board prior to the final approval of the matter by the Directors." The standard interpretation of the clause is that designation of a "material matter" triggers a sixty-day public input period.
The Board voted six-to-two in its Tuesday, September 14 Work Session to permanently close the dam, subject to ratification at the September 28 Work Session. At the time, several Board members spoke in favor of designating the road closure a "material matter."
Dick Osborne, who, along with Gorenflo and Phil Castaldi, is responsible for drafting the group's statement, told The Times on Thursday: "We don't plan to take up a lot of the Board's time, because it's a work session and they have other things to do. We feel that the Board should forego the vote on closing the dam and look at this as a material matter."
"We understand that the Board has designated the issue of a new mail house as a material matter," Castaldi said. "If that's a material matter, then this has to be. This is a big deal, as far as I am concerned -- and as far as a lot of people are concerned."
Osborne told The Times that a significant number of Westsiders are very concerned about the permanent closure of the roadway over the dam, for a variety of reasons, including its impact on property values in the part of the community that lies to the west of the dam and has been, as a result of the closure, effectively cut off from the back gate.
"There are more houses up for sale in that area than any other part of the community," Osborne said. "Property values have been hurt. When we bought our property, it was an enticement to be able to have a loop around the lake. That helped the realtors sell us on moving here."
He said the group is concerned that the Board would make a decision with such profound impact "without our voice even being heard . . . We're going to be asking the Board to give us the 60 days and listen to us during that period of time."
Castaldi told The Times that he expected the extra sixty days would be used to collect additional data that might result in a decision to close the dam road or might involve investigating -- and putting a price on -- other options.
"I don't think we have seen enough engineering data to be convinced that the road must be closed permanently," he told The Times.
"We believe the Board is very, very sincere about what they do," Castaldi added. "But we are concerned that they aren't listening to the heartbeat of the community, so we are trying to get them to do a right turn and not vote on that Tuesday night."
"So many who turned out at Tuesday's meeting feel disenfranchised," Gorenflo told The Times. "They feel like the Board is taking action on big issues and doesn't seem to care what the opinion of the landowners is."
Noting that he had copied Board members on all his communications before and after the gathering at his office, Gorenflo said, "We haven't tried to organize this in a clandestine manner. It's not 'us' against 'them.' This is about us trying to convince them to let us mean more."
Gorenflo added that he has no way of knowing whether a majority of the membership supports closing the road or reopening it -- and neither, he suspects, does the Board.
"There are certain decisions that should require a careful testing of the will of the membership," Gorenflo added. "Just because it's not required that the Board take the extra step, doesn't mean it's not appropriate. The Board members should want to gather all the input they can before a substantial decision like this one."