Mayor Robert Mezzo explained, during the Board of Mayor and Burgesses’ July 3, the commission would be an advisory board for what the town should do with undeveloped property that it either buys or receives.
The commission would be for the preservation, inventory and maintaining of open space, Mezzo said.
“Our Parks Commission has never done that until Gunntown [Passive Park and Nature Preserve],” Mezzo said.
Mezzo said the Parks Commission has been very good about trying to get sports fields for the borough and did not believe that the duties of the commission and the conservation commission would overlap.
“The focus of Parks Commission is usually very different than open space conservation,” Mezzo said.
Burgess Robert Neth was concerned about the power that the conservation commission would wield.
“I don’t want an advisory commission to tie our hands on what the future possible uses could be of a piece of land,” Neth said.
Mezzo said even if the commission advised that a piece of land be used only passively, it would still have to come before the board before any decision could be made.
Burgess Ronald San Angelo voiced concerns about the formation of the Conservation Commission. He was worried that by forming this commission the town was giving voice to people who had a very specific agenda.
“I’m not sure I want a board arguing with town leaders as to should we move forward with using the land differently than they might deem beneficial,” San Angelo said.
Mezzo was not troubled by having to deal with people on a conservation commission.
“I’m not threatened by that because I don’t feel that’s a bad public policy,” Mezzo said. “It’s not going to be staffed by people from the state, it’s going to be staffed by citizens who, but for an organized structure to advocate for those issues, are going to do that here [at a Board of Mayor and Burgesses meeting].”
Mezzo explained such a commission could help bring out a diverse group of people who are interested in fighting for the same cause.
“We can have people on a commission that have diverse opinions but value the fact having open space is an asset,” Mezzo said.
Neth also expressed concerns about how strong of a role commissioners would play in the borough’s decision on what to do with various pieces of property.
“I just don’t want us to get handcuffed on property we just purchased when we want to start doing something and, boom, now we have litigation for five, six, seven years because somebody want a baseball field or football field and wants to keep it open space,” Neth said.
However, Neth conceded that these people would voice their concerns whether they were on a commission or just coming to meetings to speak as individuals.
Mezzo agreed that people interested in conservation of land will voice their opinion one way or another, but felt that it was important to allow them to do so through a commission.
“I think this puts people at the table to discuss those issues,” Mezzo said.
Mezzo told the board that once the conservation commission had been formed it was up to the members of that commission to maintain its credibility.
“The way it functions in other communities is that it is as effective as the volunteers on it. If you get people who have a very narrow view of the world and are only concerned with not developing anything, then the credibility of that advisory board happens not to be as effective as the original intent was,” Mezzo said.
The board put off a vote on the issue until its Aug. 7 meeting.