Jayne Park

DeSantis plan for Jayne Park targets old trees, waterfowl, anything green

Niagara Falls Reporter

By Frank Parlato Jr.

May 12, 2009

Timing is everything.

Or it will be for the mainly unsuspecting residents of Cayuga Island in Niagara Falls.

They are about to get a peculiar lesson in planning, delivered in classic Niagara Falls style, courtesy of our city planner Tom DeSantis.

DeSantis has a plan to develop a small waterfront park, on the northern shore of Cayuga Island, called Jayne Park. The project is to be paid for with Greenway and casino money.

The DeSantis plan calls for a conversion of this quiet, little-known neighborhood park on Joliet Avenue into a public canoe launch with paved walking trails and a paved parking lot.

To hear him tell it, the plan sounds good.

Jayne Park

It calls for $290,000 of "improvements" to the park to construct picnic shelters and install park furniture, build a canoe launch, lay ribbons of asphalt for walking across the face of the park, install portable toilets, remove green space and build a 40-car parking lot, and remove "overgrown" vegetation along the shoreline to make clearer the view of the Little Niagara River that Jayne Park fronts, which will involve chopping down many trees.

DeSantis is presenting his Jayne Park proposal as part of "the Olmsted vision," referring to legendary parks designer Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed the Niagara Falls Reservation almost 130 years ago. Olmsted has become one of the most misused names to conjure with in our community. Almost certainly Olmsted would have opposed much of DeSantis' plan.

But for DeSantis, Olmsted has become in effect a term of Orwellian doublespeak.

One can pretty much conclude that as soon as the name Olmsted drops from DeSantis' parsing lips, it's a sure sign that bulldozers, chainsaws and asphalt aren't far behind.

Today, Jayne Park is mainly a large grassy area with perhaps more than 100 large-girth, older-growth trees such as sycamore, maple, oak and ash. It serves as a gathering place for local residents for family outings, community functions and other outdoor recreation.

The park hosts a thriving Little League baseball presence. It also accommodates daily walkers, joggers, dog-walkers, kite-flyers and waterfowl observers in this pavementless 20-acre park along about a mile of shoreline on the Little Niagara.

In season, a small snow-sledding hill at the west end entertains children. There is also a football field, playground, basketball court, picnic area and a comfort station.

Dedicated in 1937, Jayne Park has functioned ever since as a neighborhood park in a quiet residential neighborhood. There is no parking lot within the park, and visitors who do not walk there must park on nearby streets.

The plan, however, calls for Jayne Park's new asphalt trails to connect with existing trails and parks in the city and region.

DeSantis wrote, "The installation of improved asphalt walking paths will provide pedestrians with better access to the Park. ... Hikers and bicyclists would be able to start or end their outing in the Park where ample parking and comfort stations arc provided."

DeSantis' new plan will probably attract many people to Cayuga Island, which incidentally has no stores or commercial presence.

"This project will increase connectivity and access by installing improved walking paths in close proximity to the existing Niagara River bike and pedestrian trail," DeSantis wrote.

"Connectivity will also be improved through the creation of a blueway trail by installing a canoe launch within the Park to serve as the upstream end of the trail," he continued.

DeSantis also offers an example of planning that includes an intriguing expenditure of money, since, about 100 feet away and directly across the Little Niagara River from Jayne Park, is the city's underutilized Griffon Park, where there is already a boat and canoe launch, which makes spending $290,000 on a second one questionable at best.

Griffon Park is accessible from River Road and also boasts fishing piers, picnic areas, paved walking trails and a parking lot to accommodate both cars and the largest of boat trailers or recreation vehicles.

In short, Griffon Park does everything DeSantis plans for Jayne Park, and more. Whether for good or ill, the DeSantis plan will make this small residential island and its neighborhood park more public. It will also make it less green and perhaps less environmentally friendly.

For while DeSantis plans to "improve" the shoreline by removing some dead and some giant still-living trees -- clearing out a variety of living vegetation that naturally grows along the shoreline -- and plans to plant in their stead a number of 3-inch caliper trees and flowering plants and bushes, a botanist might well inform us that much will be disturbed that may affect the biological resources of the shoreline.

Across the narrow Little Niagara River from Jayne Park is a shoreline occupied by homes and boat docks. There is little or nothing left of the original natural vegetation.

But the shore of the river at Jayne Park is composed of what remains from an ancient marsh. The rim of marsh that lines the north shore contains the same rare species of plant life that is mirrored in the Niagara gorge, adjacent to the falls. In fact, the vegetation in Jayne Park exists below the falls because the plant seeds traveled down river, hundreds or perhaps thousands of years ago, to take up root beneath the falls.

Much of this rare vegetation left anywhere above the falls is found in Jayne Park.

Consequently, the Jayne Park shoreline has become home to all manner of waterfowl: gulls, Canada geese, mallards, canvasbacks, redheads, herons, swans, white geese and more. The park is in the center of the Audubon Flyway and rests in the heart of a federally designated Important Bird Area.

Jayne Park is a one-of-a-kind waterfowl refuge in the center of a Great Lakes metropolitan area, something that the real Olmsted, as opposed to the "DeSantisized" version, might actually cherish.

Remove irreplaceable flora, disrupting almost the last undisturbed riverbank on the Little Niagara River, and change a small neighborhood park into public pavement, and call it Olmsted?

It is not unlike how at the Niagara Falls State Park they put in parking lots, restaurants and souvenir stores and call it an "Olmsted park," when Olmsted specifically decried all these things in his carefully drawn Niagara Falls Reservation plan.

Naturally, the Jayne Park plan wasn't conceived in a vacuum. In fact, it stands as an example of DeSantis' style of planning.

His is the same intrepid brain that initiated a plan to create a midget, 80-foot maximum height for downtown buildings, as if the city had so many developers chomping to build that we had to limit the floors of their buildings.

DeSantis recently gifted us with a nearly $500,000 piece of artwork scheduled to go in the undersized Rainbow Boulevard traffic circle, on a road where, while trying to get to the street to enjoy the DeSantis art, one has to be careful to dodge car-ruining potholes.

This is the city planner who has given us a proposed $40 million train station at a time when the rest of the world is expanding their airports. His zeal to get the funding for this boondoggle train station may have de-funded and delayed by years the federal funding for the road repairs on Buffalo Avenue in LaSalle.

DeSantis, as planning director of Niagara Falls, is also a staunch and important supporter of the "Niagara Experience Center." At a proposed cost of more than $100 million, the Niagara Experience Center will remove acres of taxable land from downtown and, in effect, create a virtual falls to try to compete with the real one.

But most importantly, DeSantis has brought not one new project, not one new tax-paying development into the city in decades. In fact, if any came, it was in spite of DeSantis, not because of him.

While he pontificates about the heights of buildings and writes studies to sit on dusty shelves in a dysfunctional City Hall, to date he has accomplished literally nothing.

Although there are some independent members, because he controls the planning board and stacked it with his minions, he has made Niagara Falls a very hard place to develop in.

Cayuga Island is made up of about 350 homes. The average home is probably valued at around $150,000 or more. Cayuga Island generates many tax dollars, and its residents turn out in large numbers to vote.

Some of these residents have already gotten wind of the DeSantis plan for Jayne Park and are livid, to say the least.

There has in fact been some talk among them of hanging DeSantis to one of Jayne Park's soon to be removed White Oak trees.

But timing is everything in planning, they say, and they'll have to plan it fast before DeSantis, in the name of Olmsted, chops down all of Jayne Park's trees and ruins the quiet, natural preserve for generations to come.


DeSantis weaves tangled web in Jayne Park cover-up

By Frank Parlato Jr.

May 26, 2009

Actually, it wasn't surprising to learn that every copy of our May 12 edition, which featured the story, "DeSantis plan for Jayne Park targets old trees, waterfowl, anything green," disappeared from City Hall an hour after they were delivered.

They were found later in a City Hall garbage bin not far from City Planner Tom DeSantis' third-floor offices.

It was with interest then that we monitored DeSantis' May 18 appearance at City Hall in front of the Council and a number of concerned Cayuga Island residents to explain to them the topic of our story -- his Jayne Park plan.

Map of Cayuga

"The assumption that something was going to be imminently constructed at this park was not from my office or the city," DeSantis told his audience.

A "local newspaper," he said -- referring to the Reporter, but not by name -- "misinformed" the public. There was nothing to be concerned about, he told Cayuga Island residents.Ê"There was some misinformation that went out," he said. "We have not started any specific work in Jayne Park."ÊÊ

This relieved some in the audience who were alarmed by our report that DeSantis planned to radically alter the only park on Cayuga Island.

For the record, our allegedly misinformation-laden report stated that DeSantis has a plan to convert a quiet neighborhood park on the northern shore of Cayuga Island called Jayne Park into a regional park.

His plan -- as published online -- calls for $290,000 of "improvements" to construct picnic shelters, park furniture, a canoe launch, ribbons of asphalt for walking across the face of the park, portable toilets, and to remove green space to build parking lots and to remove "overgrown" vegetation and trees along the shoreline of the Little Niagara River that Jayne Park fronts.

DeSantis wrote in his plan, "The installation of improved asphalt walking paths will provide pedestrians with better access to the Park. ... Hikers and bicyclists would be able to start or end their outing in the Park where ample parking and comfort stations are provided."

The plan will attract more people to Cayuga Island, which incidentally has no stores or commercial presence.

"This project will increase connectivity and access by installing improved walking paths in close proximity to the existing Niagara River bike and pedestrian trail," DeSantis wrote.

"Connectivity will also be improved through the creation of a blueway trail by installing a canoe launch within the Park to serve as the upstream end of the trail," he continued.

The Reporter piece also pointed out that the plan presents an intriguing example of waste, since about 100 feet away, and directly across the Little Niagara from Jayne Park, is the city's under-utilized Griffon Park, where there is already a canoe launch, paved parking lots and trails, which makes spending $290,000 for a duplication of these questionable at best.

DeSantis also plans to "improve" the park's shoreline by removing trees and vegetation that naturally grow there, disturbing rare resources where there is a federally designated Important Bird Area that is in the center of the Audubon Flyway.

This is essentially the plan DeSantis submitted as his final plan in January 2008 to the Greenway Commission. This was the plan we reported. This is the plan you can read online at www.niagaragreenway.org/JaynePark.pdf.

But this was not the plan DeSantis spoke about at the May 18 Council meeting.

Curiously, DeSantis, while explaining to the Council and public that they had nothing to worry about, presented a drawing or rendering of a plan for Jayne Park that was designed in 2001.

This 2001 plan shows less disturbance of the park than we reported. At first blush, it did appear the Reporter got it wrong. The only problem with this, however, is that the 2001 design does not represent the latest plan.

DeSantis should have based his presentation to the Council on the plan he authored and submitted to the Greenway Commission in 2008.

Instead, he used an obsolete 2001 plan. What would motivate him to do that?

Either he forgot about the new plan he submitted last year, or couldn't tell the old one from the new, or perhaps he deliberately misled the Council to quell the rising tide of Cayuga Island residents' dissatisfaction with his plan to convert their quiet, pavement-less, neighborhood park into a paved regional park with a wholly unnecessary canoe launch.

The finalized 2008 Jayne Park plan reveals much that DeSantis chose not to reveal to the Council.ÊDeSantis wrote in his 2008 plan, "The proposed project will expand opportunities for passive recreation and improve access to the Little River by providing (asphalt) walking paths, a canoe launch and off-street parking. As a result, the neighborhood of Cayuga Island will be a more attractive area with greater access to the Little River.

"An application to the New York State Environmental Protection fund has been submitted seeking funding in the amount of $145,000. The remaining 50 percent will be provided by the City of Niagara Falls through Seneca Niagara Casino funds.

"The improvements planned for Jayne Park will improve ease of access to all park patrons on an equal basis."

In short, DeSantis calls for Jayne Park -- with the installation of parking lots where presently there are none -- to become a regional park, attracting visitors who can park their cars there and have "ease of access" on "an equal basis" with the people who live on Cayuga Island who walk there.

The plan calls for construction to start in autumn 2009 -- about 120 days from now. Yet DeSantis spoke before the City Council as if the plan hadn't been finalized, funding was up in the air and the construction start wasn't in sight.

He said repeatedly that the Jayne Park "restoration" had been on the planning table for years, but was forced to admit he never held a meeting with residents of Cayuga Island.

One wonders why a city planner worked quietly to secure nearly $300,000, created extensive documents for the spending of those dollars, yet never sought the input of local residents.

There are 350 homes in Cayuga Island. How difficult would it have been for DeSantis to hold a meeting and discuss this with them?

Mayor Paul Dyster's wife, Becky Dyster, is the Democratic committeewoman who represents Cayuga Island. She could have gone door to door to get the feelings of her constituents. She didn't.

It appears suspiciously like the "real plan" was to avoid public input, get the funding, and one day move heavy equipment into the park and begin construction before residents caught on.

Because of our story, the residents of Cayuga Island gathered hundreds of signatures on a petition asking the Jayne Park plan be stopped.

At the Council meeting, however, the Council never heard the real plan and never asked DeSantis, "Are you building parking lots? Are you removing trees? Did you talk to neighbors? Is that plan you are showing your final plan? Did you survey to see how many city residents use canoes? Did you do a traffic study on Cayuga Island?"

Only Councilman Sam Fruscione held DeSantis' feet to the fire. "But Tom, you've got to meet with the residents of Cayuga Island and not just the people in the surrounding areas," he said.

Fruscione, showing further interest in Islanders' welfare, called for a review of city flood plain maps, something Mayor Dyster could have called for last year, but failed to pursue.

Odd, too, since this could save each homeowner $1,000 annually by getting rid of the FEMA flood insurance the way Wheatfield, Tonawanda, Amherst and the Town of Lockport are doing.

But the mayor and DeSantis don't seem to care about trivial things. They want $290,000 canoe launches 100 feet from another one, $500,000 artwork in an undersized traffic circle and a $40 million train station in an era when passenger trains are nearly obsolete.

Instead of concentrating on fixing roads that are in deplorable condition, the mayor wants to build grandiose railway stations while ignoring the airport, actually allowing the defunding of Buffalo Avenue pavement plans, and forgetting to ask for federal stimulus money. He is chattering about an imaginary $100 million Experience Center, fighting to create a midget height downtown and spending hundreds of thousands on plans to change parks that don't need to be changed -- with the aid of hisÊplanner, Tom DeSantis.

How about doing basic governance first? Like fixing the roads.

Then we can talk about train stations and canoe launches that few use and none of us need.

DeSantis' Jayne Park plan will probably increase traffic on an island where there is only one route on and off, increase pedestrian safety concerns for children and adults, increase litter and noise, open the island community to all manner of visitors, create an attractive nuisance and hang-out for youths at night, create another "park" that must be maintained when the city now has trouble simply mowing the grass there, change the dynamic of adjacent properties along the length of Joliet Avenue, which abuts the southern boundary of the park, and ultimately alter the uniqueness of Jayne Park and its environs to make it resemble any other park.


From the publisher: Jayne Park still on drawing board as Mayor strives to preserve grant

Niagara Falls Reporter

By Frank Parlato Jr.

January 11, 2011

Back in May of 2009, we let the public know there was a plan to change Jayne Park on Cayuga Island in the city of Niagara Falls.

The news unsettled many of the residents of Cayuga Island.

Dedicated in 1937, Jayne Park has functioned as a neighborhood park in a quiet residential neighborhood. It serves as a gathering place for local walkers, joggers, dog-walkers, fishermen and birdwatchers in this pavementless 22 acres along about a half-mile of shoreline on the Little Niagara River.

City Planner Tom DeSantis had a long-cherished plan to develop this small waterfront park on the northern shore of the island into a regional park that more people would use.

He made a grant application to the New York State Environmental Protection fund initially around 2001. The state finally approved a matching grant in 2008 for $145,000. The city's matching $145,000 contribution would come from Seneca Niagara Casino funds.

Although the grant was approved, nothing was said to the residents, and DeSantis' plan crept forward to convert this quiet, little-known neighborhood park into a regional park, with $290,000 worth of "improvements," including a canoe launch, paved walking trails, picnic shelters, park furniture, portable toilets and a 40-car parking lot, and the removal of what was called "overgrown" vegetation along the shoreline, to make clearer the view of the Little Niagara River.

After learning about it from the Reporter, the reaction by Cayuga Island residents was anything but tepid. A petition drive aimed at putting a stop to the proposed park changes netted more than 370 signatures. Residents directed hundreds of calls and e-mails to the Council asking them to halt the plan.

At first, the reaction of the Dyster administration seemed aimed more at trying to find supporters of the plan than to assess what neighbors wanted. Councilmember Sam Fruscione led a charge -- in response to the protests -- to make sure the administration heard the voices of Cayuga Island residents. Fruscione went so far as to accuse DeSantis and Dyster of moving the plan forward stealthily -- going out of their way to reach out to known supporters -- as if they were trying to build up momentum outside the Island to counteract neighbors' objections.

Fruscione literally admonished DeSantis at a public meeting, saying, "Tom, you've got to meet with the residents of Cayuga Island and not just the people in the surrounding areas."

Finally the mayor and DeSantis met about a hundred of the Cayuga Island residents when they stormed into the LaSalle Public Library and condemned the idea of inviting the world to use their neighborhood park. Here the rights of a neighborhood to what it has enjoyed for decades -- Jayne Park being a neighborhood park -- collided against the concept that the park belongs to all people in Niagara Falls.

Were the DeSantis plan followed, the park could become an intriguing small park -- perhaps even a jewel -- attracting many outsiders to commence outdoor activities there. And while there are no stores on Cayuga Island, increased visitation might help nearby stores on Buffalo Avenue.

But Mayor Dyster, seeking re-election this year, admitted to the Reporter in an interview last week that people living closest to the park should be the dominant voice for what happens there. Cayuga Island is made up of about 350 above-average-priced homes, and its residents vote. Dyster, you might say, has veered from his chief planner's plan. His administration still wants to proceed with something.

Dyster told the Reporter, "State (grant) dollars are going to be harder to get our hands on in the future."

He hopes to preserve the grant with a modified plan acceptable to the residents.

It might be, however, appropriate to remind the reader that this is a matching grant. The city will spend casino money if an altered plan is approved.

Now some say casino money is not taxpayer money, therefore it can be spent liberally and painlessly. This, I think, is a fallacy.

The Seneca, with their tax-free status, their right to use property that was once part of Niagara Falls and, unlike everyone else, use it to open businesses without paying a dime in taxes, is costly to the people. Besides their monopoly on gaming, Seneca operates a tax-free, 604-room hotel and a dozen tax-free restaurants, bars and other retail operations -- all without paying property or sales tax.

In 2010, Seneca added new restaurant and retail offerings, including the Koi Noodle Bar, a Tim Horton's coffee shop, and Swarovski Crystal, a store that sells crystal jewelry, stemware and other items. All of these compete tax-free with other similar restaurants, coffee shops and stores in our overtaxed city.

The only revenue that the city gets for cutting a swath of 50 acres in the heart of downtown -- given by New York state to a foreign nation to compete against us tax-free -- is the casino revenue.

It is in effect tax money.

To illustrate how sweet it is to live tax-free, the Seneca $25 million Hickory Stick Golf Course opened in July and has since been named the sixth-best new course in America by Golf magazine. It's easy to get big when you pay no taxes.

It's like America in the old days, when success rose out of nowhere. But in this case, it is not offered to Americans but to a tribe who are by their own acclamation a sovereign nation.

Regardless, Dyster told the Reporter that even if Jayne Park remains a neighborhood park, he thinks the same money -- $290,000 -- might still be spent.

Which raises another point apropos of the ongoing criticism of the mayor: that he shills for his campaign contributors -- seeking out even unnecessary projects in order to reward them for their contributions -- a mainly Buffalo crowd of designers, architects, consultants and engineers who have poured tens of thousands into his war chest and have in turn gotten hundreds of thousands in work and grants. The question then -- for Jayne Park, at least -- is, who will get the work for the scaled-down plan, and why will it cost so much?

As to the criticism that Dyster shills for his contributors, Dyster says he never personally recommends consultants.

"All the recommendations are made by professional staff (engineering, planning, etc.), and I certainly never tried to influence or overrule their recommendations. When there is a relationship, when somebody is politically tied to me in any way, I recuse myself and make the public aware of the relationship.

"Naturally, every politician solicits campaign donations. Your hope is that the people who donate won't expect special favors from you, but (will donate) to get good government," he said.

Sources at City Hall say that it can't be a coincidence that contributors consistently emerge with work and that Dyster makes calls on behalf of certain consultants.

Dyster, however, said the consultant for Jayne Park, if the project proceeds, will be Peter J. Smith, with offices in the United States and Canada. He says he doesn't know of anyone in that firm having ever contributed to his campaign.

"My job is to listen to what the people want," Dyster said. "I try to get it for them. ... The majority of the people at the meetings don't want (a parking lot and canoe launch), so that's off the table."

As to DeSantis' plan to "improve" the shoreline by clearing out vegetation -- that too seems off the table.

Jayne Park's shoreline -- which to a casual observer might appear to be overgrown weeds -- contains, according to a study by Patricia M. Eckel of the Missouri Botanical Garden, rare species of plant life. It is part of an ancient marsh and is a current flyway for many species of waterfowl.

"Neither I nor Tom DeSantis are hard and fast on what we want to do," Dyster said. "We should be able to use the money on the grant pretty easily (to make it) a passive recreation park.

"We could put some (paved) trails, so there could be handicap access and so you can walk around; maybe put some benches, some trash receptacles, some native plant restoration, something very minimal. Even that will cost more than people think."

In any event, Jayne Park is on the table. The argument that "we have the grant, so let's spend the money" is debatable. But the mayor has committed to listening to the people most affected by the plan. If these are not vigilant, one day they may wake up and find other voices have spoken for them.