by Jeremy Moule
The Monroe County Fair and Recreation Association wants the annual county fair to get back to its agricultural roots. The association, along with county officials, have their sights set on 25 acres of Northampton Park in Ogden to build new grounds for the event.
Association officials say the revamped event will not be like the county fairs of years past, which were held at the Dome Arena in Henrietta. They say they don't want the carnival atmosphere, the midway, or the demolition derby. What they want, they say, is a place for local youth to show their animals and to educate their peers about agriculture.
"What you saw in Henrietta is not what I want," said Bob Colby, a Republican county legislator and member of the Fair Association's board. Colby is also a well-known farmer in the Town of Ogden.
But many of the park's neighbors aren't buying it. They packed the park's ski lodge last night for a meeting set up by Legislature Dems to listen to comments on the fair's relocation plan. Speakers tore into the process, calling it a backroom deal. They said they're angry that they've just learned about the proposal and said that it already appears to be a done deal.
And they said that while this year's plans may be for a small agricultural festival, they fear that in future years it'll grow to resemble the fairs at the Dome Arena. (The fair association sold the dome last year.)
"This is not right and I'm going to fight this," said Dennis Kindred, a neighbor who has retained a lawyer to fight the plan.
On Tuesday, June 11, the County Legislature will vote on a measure to allow construction of fair facilities at Northampton, including lodges, sewer system work, a riding horse area, and a tractor pull area (the proposed site layout is posted below). The legislation says the Fair Association will fund the design and construction and then gift it to the county. The legislation was submitted by County Executive Maggie Brooks.
During last night's meeting, Democratic Leader Carrie Andrews said she'd move to table the legislation so more review can take place. But Democrats are in the minority in the Lej, and Republicans probably won't support the motion — although Colby said at the meeting that he'd consider it.
After the meeting, I asked Colby what sort of assurances he could offer residents that the fair wouldn't morph into the kind of overblown event that the dome fair became. He said that his family's been farming in the community for a long time, that his daughter's taking over his farm, and that he'll continue living in the area. The fair will not grow to include a midway and demolition derby, he said.
"I have a personal stake in making sure this doesn't turn into something beyond an agricultural youth fair," he said.