Together In Cedargrove. Together In Our Homes!
By Debbie Kubiak
On February 3, 2005, the New York town of Cheektowaga and developer Dominic Piestrak presented my community of Cedargrove Heights with a slideshow and colorful map layout of a development called Renaissance Village. They envisioned replacing our 300 homes, 700 rental units and church with an upscale community of new homes, brownstones, a hotel, offices and retail space. By night’s end this presentation—with all its promise—left us without one thing: a choice.
They mentioned “eminent domain” and I had no idea what that meant. After the meeting, I searched eminent domain online and found the Institute for Justice and the Castle Coalition. The wealth of information on the website was astounding, as were the many stories about eminent domain abuse. Most impressive of all was the Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Guide, which has become a bible to me. Without this, we would have been completely lost during our nine-month fight to stop this madness.
“Most impressive of all was the Eminent Domain Abuse Survival Guide, which has become a bible to me. Without this, we would have been completely lost during our nine-month fight to stop this madness.”
Following the advice of the Castle Coalition, we started networking and uniting with others in the community opposed to this project. We led petition drives and presented them before the Town Board. We staged a protest and continued to attend every Town Board meeting, wearing our now well-recognized red shirts. We found out there was no written proposal or funding for the project. We hit the local media for coverage and found allies in politicians and other community groups. Our Assemblyman, Paul Tokasz, even came to our area to announce his sponsorship of legislation against eminent domain abuse. Our actions were getting results.
In July, five of us attended the Castle Coalition’s national Eminent Domain Conference. I found there was much more to learn about fighting eminent domain abuse and was in awe of the strength and creativity of the diverse group in attendance. After meeting Susette Kelo, I wondered how she had the determination to continue on—but then realized that we, too, believe in our hearts that justice will be served and our homes will not be taken. I left the conference with two goals: to stop the project before it passed a vote, and to have a plan to follow to secure our homes for good once we did.
Upon returning, we found ourselves more and more involved in community activities—not just in Cedargrove, but all over Cheektowaga. We began attending political fundraisers and started a plan to take back our neighborhood with regular clean-ups and meetings with the Town on code enforcements, all the while creating more allies.
At an August work session with our Town Board, the developer was asked to show his progress on the project. The proposal had not moved an inch. In response to our complaints, the Board gave the developer until October 1 to submit a proposal and show consensus of the community. Prior to the deadline, the developer asked for an extension, as he had once again made no progress. The frustrated Town Board drew up a resolution to halt consideration of Renaissance Village, and struck the clause “at this time” at our recommendation. It passed unanimously.
At this point we feel victorious, but as we have all learned from this experience, at another time there could be another project. We will continue to attend all board meetings and have become increasingly involved in our community and its politics. This experience brought our community closer together, and we are working to make it the best it can be. Together is how we won. Our red shirts have not been retired. The words printed on them say “Together In Cedargrove.” Together in our homes!
Debbie Kubiak is a new activist for liberty trained by the Castle Coalition.