Portland’s ‘ridiculous’ welcome

It is just one more example of why it is so tough to do business in Chautauqua County. Jerry Speelberg, Dunkirk businessman and potential developer in the town of Portland, has finally received his building permits after more than 16 months of bickering with the Planning Board in the town.

Left in the aftermath is plenty of frustration, hurt feelings, head scratching and more than $20,000 spent by the town and Speelberg.

There is no reason it needs to be this difficult. Development-starved Portland should be welcoming, not putting up a fight against someone who wants to invest in its community. Questions add up even more when you learn Speelberg’s cabin proposal for Woleben Road has the support of Portland town Supervisor Dan Schrantz, the Chautauqua County Planning and Economic Department and state Sen. Catharine Young.

Regrettably, however, this is exactly what happens when inefficient local Planning Board members and area building code enforcement officers get involved.

Speelberg purchased the property in December 2011 and has since proposed a rustic campground with cabins that caters to conservationists, outdoor recreationalists and families. Speelberg also expected the development, currently five cabins, would add to the jobs and the tax base of the town.

But instead of seeing minor progress, the town Planning Board and its attorney would rather battle it.

One of the requirements – and waste of time – sought by the board were pictures of a stream every 20 feet that runs through the property. The board also demanded photos every 100 feet of existing roads on property.

“I have never seen anything more ridiculous in all my life,” Speelberg said.

He quizzically complied with the request. But the photos, all taken without any form of reference, are not being justified at this time by any town official.

Robert Patterson, Portland Planning Board chairman, admits the photo requests were out of line. He also apologized and admitted in a phone interview this week the board made the approval for Speelberg much tougher than it needed to be.

“I don’t feel the town is anti-business,” Patterson said.

But one has to wonder just why the Speelberg project had more road blocks placed in front of it than a summer construction season. Thomas Gould, state certified code enforcement officer, wrote the most indicting comments regarding the hoops Speelberg had to go through for the permits in Portland.

“The landowner/developer appears to have been required to address issues only mandated for a project many times the magnitude of this one,” Gould wrote. “Having reviewed the list of documents provided in other town of Portland special-use permit applications, I noticed that no other landowner has ever been required to produce even one-third the documentation Speelberg Enterprises has already provided.”

These comments also point to the town’s code enforcement officer in Signe Rominger. Each one of our county’s two cities, 15 villages and 27 towns has its own officer and many play favorites by employing selective enforcement, which is what Rominger did.

For Speelberg, however, this leaves a sour taste when it comes to dealing with area officials.

“It’s not just unfriendly to me, it’s unfriendly to anybody who wants to do anything in New York state,” he said.

And after spending more than $15,000 before even beginning the building process, he may look across the border in Pennsylvania.

“On my desk right now is a contract for purchasing a building in Harborcreek. … When I went to the Harborcreek Town Hall, they were welcoming us with open arms if we would buy that building,” he said. “Unlike New York state.”

John D’Agostino is the OBSERVER publisher. Send comments to jdagostino@observertoday.com or call 366-3000, ext. 401.