Wetmore's Battle of the Turn of the Century
How Zoning was Defeated in Wetmore Township
Property owners in the area of the Allegheny National Forest have a lot in common with rural New Yorkers
Featuring recollections by Andy Rakiecki
Here and there across Pennsylvania, New York, and the Northeast, town officials try to foist zoning on property owners as the "answer" to economic aspirations of local people and the "solution" to land use conflicts. That is exactly what happened in 1998 in Wetmore Township, which is near the border of New York in the Allegheny forest and in the oil-producing region that straddles the Pennsylvania-New York border.
Over the next two years, local citizens organized. In October 2000, the town government held a referendum to gauge the citizen opinion about instituting zoning. The vote was non-binding, but the populace made such a forceful anti-zoning statement that zoning was quashed.
Andy Rakiecki of Kane, Pennsylvania, one of the leaders of the anti-zoning campaign, shared his memories about how the citizens discredited and defeated zoning, along with a touch of realism:
"Wetmore Township is the second largest in McKean County, Pennsylvania, with most of its 80.2 square miles in the Allegheny National Forest.
"The current population is 1,600. Most of these are retired or long-time residents who came here for the rural lifestyle.
"Recently there has been an infestation of elitists. While few in number they are affluent and want to bring their "progressive" ideas to the country. Foremost of these is zoning. They are counting on the local hayseeds not being able to mount organized opposition to their elitist vision of control.
"They started pressing the three township supervisors for zoning in '97 '98. At a township planning meeting on August 20, 1998, it was obvious to George Bledsoe and me that it was time to fight them city-style.
"We set up an ad hoc group to give the impression that there were more than us. Large ads were then run in this group's name. Anti-zoning letters began showing up in the local paper. We called the authors of these letters. They joined us and the resistance grew.
"After several ads and letters, on February 11, 1999, a giant crowd in a very ugly anti-zoning mood showed up at a township meeting. The ignorant hayseeds were rebelling against the elitist yuppies and their township stooges! We couldn't believe it. Neither could they.
"In the May '99 Republican Primary, an anti-zoning citizen almost beat the incumbent pro-zoning supervisor. Our man lost by 12 votes, but did get a write-in Democratic nomination for the November General Election. Faced with this threat and growing resistance, the town fathers now said they would hold a non-binding referendum on zoning.
"During the summer of '99, we quietly spread the anti-zoning message. When the public vote was held in November, zoning was defeated 399 to 47!
"But Republicans voted a party ticket and our man lost by a measly 30 votes. Another anti-zoning Democrat ran in the primary in May 2001. But the electorate again voted the party line and the incumbent won."
Footnote: Andy Rakiecki reports in April 2002 that Wetmore now has one anti-zoning supervisor and that the other pro-zoning supervisors will be challenged in the future.