April 9, 2024 – Clean Air Coalition Rallies with Drag Performer to Alert Public About Deficiencies in the Town of Tonawanda Draft Zoning Code

Last night, Clean Air rallied with drag performer Freddie Hercury to raise public awareness of deficiencies we have identified with the draft zoning amendment, as well as to drive attendance at the public hearing on the draft.

While the town board did vote to move forward with the draft as written, members of the Town’s staff, board, and the consultant team did concede that there needs to be immediate follow-up to address issues we and members of the public raised. In particular, definition of “Adult Cabaret Entertainment” that was carried over from the former draft was identified by town staff as “antiquated and illegal wording” in their response to the public comments.

All agreed that this is a living document that will be built on, so our work continues, in the Town and beyond. Town staff also noted that the Comprehensive Plan will be revised this year, so many of our larger policy asks could also be codified as part of that process. If you are interested in joining our advocacy work for equitable and just development in our membership area, particularly the Tonawandas, please reach out to Bridge about our Tonawanda Tomorrow Team.

The audio recording of last night’s hearing and meeting is available by clicking here, and video of our rally is below, as are photos from the entire evening. Further down is the text from our press release.

Press Release, April 9, 2024

Clean Air Coalition Rallies with Drag Performer to Alert Public About Deficiencies in the Town of Tonawanda Draft Zoning Code

Town to Hold Public Comment Hearing Tonight on Draft Code After Rally

Kenmore, NY: The Clean Air Coalition of WNY rallied today, April 9, 2024, prior to the Town of Tonawanda Town Board meeting to alert the general public of a public comment hearing the Town held on the draft Comprehensive Zoning Law Amendment, as well as to flag some deficiencies in the draft zoning code that they found.

Clean Air highlighted how this is a prime opportunity passing by to add protections in the zoning code for residents who live in areas currently zoned for industry, such as residents who live adjacent to the former Tonawanda Coke facility. 

Adding these protections would also bring the code into alignment with recent state legislation, such as the Cumulative Impacts bill which was signed into law in December 2022 and which requires municipalities and regulatory agencies to consider whether a neighborhood is bearing a disproportionate pollution burden due to inequitable siting of industrial facilities, such as census tracts 83 and 84, which are home to six Title V facilities that lie within 2000 feet of residential areas, such as the Sheridan-Parkside neighborhood.

As Clean Air’s Board Chair and former Tonawanda Town Engineer James Jones (he/him) noted,

“Opportunities like this to rewrite and update our zoning codes extensively only come along once in a generation for the most part. We should take advantage as fully and completely as possible to instill best practices related to our environment, our mobility and our economic future together as a community. This draft falls short on many of the recommendations our organization has put forth with respect to these metrics.”

Clean Air also noted that some discriminatory language from the prior version of the zoning ordinance, originally written in the 1940s, has been carried forward into this version. Of note, the definition of “Adult Entertainment Cabaret” largely bans drag performances in all areas of the Town except those zoned Industrial. Clean Air invited local drag performer, Freddie Hercury (he/they), to join the rally and hold a drag story hour to protest the continued restrictions. Freddie Hercury said

Drag is so much more than the sterile wording of long outdated laws would have people believe. Drag is hope, drag is joy, drag is art, and drag, quite literally, saves lives.

Clean Air is also extremely concerned about the shortcomings in the town’s public outreach and engagement process to date. As Tonawanda resident Melissa Hubbard (she/her) noted, 

“I’m here tonight because I care about Tonawanda, but I know that there are many residents who care just as deeply but could not be here. I call on our Town Board to create more opportunities for residents to talk with one another about zoning and how it impacts the Town. Everyone who lives in Tonawanda should have an opportunity to participate in this process. To me, that’s what democracy looks like.”

The Clean Air Coalition of WNY calls on the Town of Tonawanda Town Board to work in partnership to continue to amend the code with a focus on environmental justice and equity, and to take swift action through separate legislation to address the deficiencies identified.

For more information, please contact Clean Air’s Environmental Justice Organizer for our Tonawanda-area campaigns, Bridge Rauch, (they/them) at bridge@cacwny.org

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