Home / Blog / West Seneca wants to take nearly half of man's property

West Seneca wants to take nearly half of man's property

Aug 18, 2023Aug 18, 2023

Ken Horton objects to the construction of a 4-foot high mound built for a raised manhole, seen behind him. The Town of West Seneca wants to acquire nearly half of his property around the manhole.

Kate Kotecki points out a 9-foot-tall sewer manhole built on her property by the Town of West Seneca on June 29.

Ken Horton and two other property owners took the Town of West Seneca to court in May to stop the town from raising manholes connected to a sewer line on the rear of their properties by 4 to 9 feet.

In June, the Town Board unanimously voted to take parts of the three parcels by eminent domain, claiming the owners “have objected to the town’s entry onto their land and denied access to an easement that has existed for over 60 years.”

The board will conduct a public hearing to proceed toward eminent domain at 6 p.m. Monday.

If the town succeeds, Horton will lose nearly half his 1-acre property, Kotecki’s Grandview Grove will surrender 2.35 acres of its 13.2-acre parcel and Carol Lauber will end up with roughly one-quarter less of her 1.3 acres of land.

“How can you just take somebody’s property,” said Kate Kotecki, who runs Kotecki’s Grandview Grove. “If they do it to me, they’re going to do it to anybody.”

If approved by the board, the town would pay for the property.

“We don’t want to do this, we’re not happy to do this,” Supervisor Gary Dickson said, adding the town would be willing to negotiate access to the sewer line. “It is our obligation to ensure we have access to our sewer line.”

Dickson said the project came about after ice jam flooding in February 2022 caused sewer backups in homes downstream. He said manhole covers were opened when chunks of ice rushed over them, then water from Cazenovia Creek rushed into the sewer line, causing sewage backups in basements in the neighborhood behind Southgate Plaza.

Ken Horton of West Seneca describes why three residents sued the town over raised manholes in their backyards.

Horton, 78, said he has never seen the manhole in his Creekward Drive backyard off its base.

The cover was recessed from the top and level with the ground, making it easy to mow surrounding grass.

“These manhole covers were solid covers,” he said. “They’re in a recessed receiver. They can’t get pushed off by snow and ice. They never have been pushed off by snow and ice.”

There now are mounds about 4 feet high on his well-manicured lawn.

Two former manholes on the Kotecki property were about 4 feet high and covered in tended grass. After the latest town sewer work, the mounds are 9 feet high and about 40 feet wide, with large boulders.

This isn’t the first time Horton’s manholes have been raised, he said. His grandfather built the house, and sold it to his parents when Horton was about 8 years old. Horton later bought the property.

It started as a disagreement over sewer easements near Cazenovia Creek in West Seneca, where three property owners took the town to State Supreme Court. Now, West Seneca has started to seize the land around the sewer line from them through eminent domain.

He remembers his parents signing the easement about 60 years ago, after being assured the sewer line would not be visible. After the pipe was installed the town began installing manholes, they were 4 feet to 5 feet high, he said.

Irate property owners complained to the town that they did not know the manholes would be raised, and town officials agreed to install at-grade manholes, Horton said.

“If they had just kept them in the proper place, we wouldn’t be in this situation (now),” Dickson said.

He said the town is open to negotiation.

“If we can come to an agreement that will allow us to access our critical infrastructure, i.e. the sewer line, forever, whenever we have to, then this is not necessary,” the supervisor said.

The town raised 12 manholes on the sewer line that runs along Cazenovia Creek. Residents said they were never notified before the work began.

Dickson acknowledged that was a mistake, but he maintained the work was necessary.

The three residents suing the town maintain the work performed was outside the scope of their easements with the town. The property the town is seeking to acquire through eminent domain is larger than the easements.

Town officials maintain the town needs access to the manholes and sewer line for maintenance, including a state mandated $15.5 million project to improve aging sewer lines that serve three-quarters of town sewer customers.

A manhole sits atop of a 4-foot mound near Ken Horton’s home in West Seneca.

“We have a responsibility for the entire town,” Dickson said.

Kotecki has been an outspoken critic of the scope of work to raise the manholes.

“I was fine with them doing that in the beginning but I didn’t understand the extent of the project, because nobody told me,” she said.

Kotecki said she would never want to negatively impact other residents downstream. She suggested the town should clean the tree limbs and debris from the flood protection “fingers” in Cazenovia Creek to prevent flooding.

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