THE P.O. Chronicles

Chronnology and documentation of Rowland's campaign to:
2001

In the early spring, Pleasant Rowland's representatives proposed to terrace and expand the parking lot in the center of the Aurora as part of her Inn / Market project. (The lot is located between the Post Office and a small wooden building that was moved a bit south in order to errect Rowland’s large new Market. That move, along with her new delivery drives to the Inn and Market, would shrink the parking lot. So the original parking lot "improvement" was planned to off-set the loss of parking spaces caused by the Inn / Market project.)

At a subsequent Planning Board meeting attended by Rowland’s representative Jay Woolford, Aurora resident Helen Theimer pointed out that the proposed changes in the parking lot would necessitate a renegotiation of a lease agreement with the United States Postal Service, since the USPS rented some of the lot’s parking spaces. Such a negotiation with a federal agency would trigger a Section 106 Review of the Inn / Market project in our National Historic Register District by the State Historic Preservation Office.

When Woolford learned about the USPS lease, the plan to expand and terrace the parking lot was withdrawn from Rowland’s proposal to totally gut and partially demolish the remarkably intact 1833 Aurora Inn and completely destroy the 1926 Market. The destruction of those historic properties was then able to move ahead without a Section 106 Review.

The full Environmental Assessment Form for the Inn / Market project submitted by the Rowland's representatives in May states that the lot had been segmented from the rest of the development, saying "parking to be provided in another project."

(On June 1st of 2001, Rowland purchased the village's Old School House for $350,000, reportedly for theAurora Foundation LLC. Originally, this commercial development corporation was presented to the public as a "partnership" between Rowland and Wells College, but later it was described to the Internal Revenue Service as a "wholly owned subsidiary" of Rowland's privately owned foundation.)

2002

During the winter of 2002, Rowland’s devastation of irreplaceable historic buildings in our National Register Historic District proceeded without a Section 106 Review or any accountability to the National Historic Preservation Act. The State Historic Preservation Office determined that the Inn / Market project would have a significant, irreversible and extreme adverse impact. But, in the absence of a Section 106 Review, the SHPO was unable to modify the project in any way, and the developer repeatedly refused to consult with state and national preservation groups.

2003

After opening a new hotel in 5/03 which preserved nothing but part of the front facade of the 1833 Aurora Inn, Rowland turned her attention again to the parking lot. An expanded green-space next to the neighboring wooden building which she moved towards the lot encroached more than originally planned on the parking lot. So she re-introduced her original proposal to terrace and expand the parking lot, but this time the lot's "improvement" would require the demolition of our village-owned post office building to provide more room for the parking lot. Our postal facility, she insisted, would be moved into the Old 1901 School House (which she had purchased for her development corporation).

2004

In January, representatives of the USPS Northeast Regional Office came to Aurora at the invitation of the Village Board to hear from Rowland's representatives about her proposal for a new post office location. The USPS was apparently under the mistaken impression that the plan originated with the Village Board, and did not seem to fully understand Rowland’s role as the project’s commercial developer and promoter. At that time, the USPS determined that our current facility was perfectly adequate. The USPS might consider relocation at the village’s request, they said, but relocation would not be required by the USPS.

In fact, according to Aurora Planning Board Minutes of February 2004, the Mayor reported that the USPS "expressed surprise" at the Village’s inquiry about relocation.

But in the first of a series of mixed signals from the USPS, Aurora Postmaster Dave Kulakowski soon thereafter told the local newspaper that the USPS Northeast Office had given "preliminary approval" of the relocation.

The paper also reported in that same March 23, 2004 article that the Old School Building was being gutted by Rowland’s development corporation in anticipation of it being used for a new Post Office. Locals watched in dismay as a dumpster filled with historic architectural artifacts from the Old School's interior. Workmen on the job cheerfully announced they were making space for a new post office. Important: interior elements of the Old School were destroyed before a Section 106 Review by the State Historic Preservation Office.

In June, Paul Senk, Real Estate Manager for the USPS Northeast Region, asserted that no approval had been given for relocation. But in October 2004, the USPS unexpectedly called a public hearing in Aurora, during which USPS Real Estate Specialist William Moncrief strenuously promoted Pleasant Rowland's relocation plan, and gave residents the distinct impression the project was a "done deal." There was some confusion as to whether he intended this hearing to begin a 30-day public comment period. Nevertheless a few days later he initiated a Section 106 Review with the State Historic Preservation Office.

On November 19, 2004, the State Historic Preservation Office provided official comments for the Section 106, concluding that the developer had quite probably engaged in foreclosure, segmentation and anticipatory demolition under Section 110(K) the National Historic Preservation Act (by the anticipatory gutting of the Old School and the avoidance of a Section 106 Review of the Inn / Market project). Such activity would prohibit the USPS from collaborating with the developer without the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

About a week later, the National Trust for Historic Preservation asked the USPS to include the Trust in the Section 106 Review for the Aurora Post Office relocation project. Paul Senk, the USPS Real Estate Manager for the Northeast Region responded in December indicating that there was no Section 106 Review underway! He promised to include the Trust "if and when" one was undertaken.

(Only one Section 106 Review can be undertaken for a project. The official 30-day P.O. review was completed in November 2004. But the following month, the USPS essentially denied it had taken place. Was this because the USPS disliked the findings of the State Historic Preservation Office?)

2005

Although the Section 106 Review he initiated had been disavowed by Senk, Moncrief spoke with Aurora’s Mayor in February. According to the Mayor's report to the Village Board, Moncrief told the Mayor that the USPS would make a decision on relocation in the next three to four weeks. Numerous attempts to ascertain the status of the USPS approval process failed to get a any response. The public continued to express concern thoughout the spring and summer.

In July, USPS officials met privately with Village Trustees. As was the case in January 2004, the public was not notified of or invited to attend this meeting.

Then, in September, Senk tried to accelerate the process. He wrote our Mayor on 9/13/05 -- and copied none of the interested parties -- that he had decided to relocate our post office based on previously undisclosed but newly asserted USPS requirements, and disavowed the need for a previously promised public hearing and denied the public's right to comment on the project under Section 106. Many saw this as evidence that the USPS had caved to an ultimatum from billionaire Rowland. Senk said he would advertise for a new location immediately. Residents protested vigorously, as did the State Historic Preservation Office.

During the fall of 2005, the Village Board went into closed executive session several times without giving a reason -- which is a violation of the NYS Open Government Law.

In December 2005, the Village Board held a special meeting special meeting to approve a "Memorandum of Understanding" which had been the subject of its illegally closed meetings.

It turns out that Rowland so desperately wants our village-owned P.O. building destroyed to expand her corporation's parking lot that she made our Village Trustees an offer they (foolishly) felt they could not refuse. She convinced Wells College to offer some lovely but useless lakefront to the Village if and when we demolish our post office building. In exchange for the pledge of this undevelopable land, the Village Board -- which had not yet approved the relocation scheme -- voted on 12/29/05 to demolish our P.O. under the "M.O.U." if the USPS agreed to the relocation, in the hope that someday this promised land could somehow be turned into a lakefront park.

2006

In February, Aurora Postmaster Dave Kulakowski continued to push for the relocation, while Senk apparently had put on the brakes. (Senk had not moved ahead with the promised solicitation for a new location the previous September.) Kulakowski then suddenly departed for another USPS position.

In March, in order to meet a deadline set by Rowland in the M.O.U., our Planning Board and Community Preservation Panel approved her parking lot and Post Office plans, even though Rowland's designs had not been accepted by the USPS and very serious concerns were raised about handicapped accessibility.

In April 2006, Senk wrote an open letter to the community offering both straightforward and disingeuous answers to a long list of questions raised by residents about the Post Office relocation project. He also called a public hearing and reinitiated (?) the Section 106 Review.

At the May 17, 2006 public hearing, many comments from residents focused on handicapped accessibility concerns, some of which Senk seemed to share. The National Trust for Historic Preservation submitted comments, but Senk deflected most preservation questions by saying they would be addressed in a future (!?) Section 106 Review.

During this second public hearing, Rowland’s supporters behaved with such vicious rudeness towards anyone questioning her plan that several residents said they would submit written comments afterwards rather than speak in public. As always, the Village Trustees tolerated the rude interruptions, but this time some said, in their subsequent meeting, that they deplored the behavior.

In September 2006, the USPS moved forward and advertised for a new location for the Aurora Post Office. It was clear that only Rowland could meet the requirements, and sure enough, hers was the only property offered.


On February 7, 2007, Senk sent a mesage to some of the interested parties announcing a third public hearing in Aurora set for February 21 (Ash Wednesday), saying there had been "developments of interest" and promising an "update." When asked to explain in advance the nature of these developments, he named those listed in the paragraph above, and nothing more. It seems odd that he would travel from Connecticut to tell us what we already know.

But that's exactly what he did. Although he did answer some interesting questions regarding new design requirements, handicapped access, parking safety, historic preservation review, and time frame for the project. See a summary here.

In March 2007, Aurora Trustee Farenthold tried to pressure the USPS to speed up the approval process by involving newly elected U.S. Congressman Michael Arcuri in promoting a new Rowland ultimatum asserting a bogus deadline of June 1st for a phony municipal "grant." In April, Arcuri had the sense to back away from mis-informed statement after recieving information from other residents; see one of his responses at the bottom of the page here.

In May 2007, USPS official Paul Senk informed Mayor Gunderson of a radical reduction in the size requirement for the proposed new Aurora Post Office, and told a resident he would issue a new solicitation for another location while continuing to work with the currently selected location (Heary Building). Senk admitted he had not received any desgins for review from developer Wells-Rowland, and that the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation would be involved along with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in our long-delayed Section 106 Review. See details, along with the e-mail exhange and additional information here.

Later that month, Wells College withdrew the Heary Building from consideration as a new venue for our postal facility! And the USPS asked the Mayor if the Village might renew the lease for the current facility -- a fact which the Mayor has kept from the public.

The majority of villagers hope for a reasonable resolution to the problem created by our Village Board's ill-advised support of Rowland's unrealistic plan. The Village really must consider renovating the current structure. Otherwise, as of March 2009, the USPS will have no home in Aurora.

Nevertheless, Trustee Farenthold wants to play a blame game and prolong the prospect Rowland's failed project -- no matter what the public wants or needs.

But at its July 18 meeting, the Village Board responded responsibly -- Farenthold was absent! -- and authorized an engineer's condition report on our current Post Office, to determine what steps would need to be taken to make the building acceptable for a renewed USPS lease.

At the September 2007 Village Board meeting, the condition report with cost estimates was reviewed by the board. Unrealistic, irresponsible and obstructionist -- Farenthold still refuses to replace the P.O. roof that he has allowed to rot while he has been the Trustee in charge Village Buildings and Grounds.


2008

Paul Senk of the USPS returned to Aurora for fourth (!) Public Hearing in February.  Little was resolved, and the minutes have not been posted on the Village web site. 

As June begins, and nine months remain on the existing lease, Farenthold again tries to promote Rowland's plan, in clear opposition to the will of the Village Board and the citizens of Aurora.


And so it goes...



Page updated June 2, 2008

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