City Council OKs church group to use Washington Park, not pier

The city of Dunkirk pier has been the site of city-sponsored events featuring music, vendors and adult beverages since 2009. Most of the Common Council, along with city departments, wants to keep use of the pier for special events limited to those sponsored by the city.

The issue of what groups can use the pier arose during this week’s council meeting as requests from groups for city equipment, services and use of Washington Park and the pier were being considered. The requests from two churches for approval of services on city property, along with requests for use of picnic tables and trash barrels from other groups, fueled the conversation.

Councilwoman-at-Large Stephanie Kiyak said she had a “problem and concern” about the picnic tables and trash cans the city supplies.

“I was told that we’ve had 22 requests this year so far, 18 of those requests were approved to waive the fee, four of them were denied, so I just want to point out that I think that we should be looking at the rules in general,” she explained, adding her concern was who gives approval and who approves fee waivers. “We charge for picnic tables but I verified with DPW today that trash can delivery and removal incurs the same manpower costs, and in addition, there’s even trash fees connected to it.”

She called for a charge to cover the city’s costs.

With council set to consider the use of Washington Park by Iglesia Pentecostal Unidas en Savzidad on July 11, 12 and 13 from 6 to 9:30 p.m. for church services, Kiyak read a statement from yet-to-arrive Councilwoman Stacy Szukala pointing out that in the past neighbors had been asked to sign off on the requests prior to council approval. Kiyak said she tended to agree with Szukala’s statement about the neighbors signing off.

Councilman Adelino Gonzalez lives across the street from the park and said he had no problems with the event.

“I don’t see problems with it at all since we’re always granting different events at Washington Park. … We have enough music in the parks but having a religious thing they’re going to have … they’ve been going on in Washington Park in the past and I love that I can state that,” he added.

The request was approved pending the OK from Washington Park neighbors.

The request from Family Church of Fredonia to hold services on the city pier met a different fate.

Councilman Michael Michalski said he couldn’t support the request as it would set a precedent for future use of the pier.

“I can’t approve this. I feel we have our parks like Point Gratiot and Washington Park. They’re more than welcome to use those facilities there,” he added. “I don’t think we should be closing up the pier for church services.”

Gonzalez had a different opinion.

“I feel that we shouldn’t be discriminating. … We have music at the pier all the time, what’s the difference with music for religion?” he asked. “We’re discriminating against people because they might have this function at the pier. I don’t see a problem with that at all and I support it.”

Kiyak read a statement from Szukala saying she was against closing the pier for an event the city didn’t sponsor. Kiyak said she agreed with Michalski about use of the pier.

“If set the precedent of closing off the pier for one group then it would be discrimination if we didn’t close it off for other groups that requested the same location,” Kiyak added. “That pier is open for only a few months for fishermen and families and bicyclists and I don’t believe we should be taking any days away from the general community at large for anything.”

Gonzalez said he had something to add.

“We shouldn’t have exclusivity of the pier when it belongs to the city and the city people, not just to the city officials, to the city in general. We shouldn’t discriminate either way,” he stated, adding other groups “should be allowed to use that as needed.”

DPW Director Tony Gugino was next to speak, saying the city has plenty of green space to offer but it was also a matter of practicality, citing a recent incident when a man jumped off the end of the pier to save his dog with police and fire coming to his aid.

“If that end of the pier is blocked off that would have been a very big challenge. That pier is used by the Coast Guard, Homeland Security, Border Patrol. I think we should minimize the closure of that pier for private events,” Gugino added. “Music on the Pier is tough enough to coordinate as police and fire will tell you. We pull it off beautifully but I think of all the other beautiful venues we offer to the world to use … that’s enough.”

Building and Zoning Officer Al Zurawski is a member of the Harbor Commission and noted that group’s opposition to closing the pier.

Councilman William J. Rivera said he wished the group would find a different location before joining Michalski and Kiyak in voting down the request.

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