Voters in the Cuba Lake District chose overwhelmingly Saturday to allow the district to pursue negotiations

Voters in the Cuba Lake District chose overwhelmingly Saturday to allow the district to pursue negotiations with the state over buying the 276 leased lots surrounding Cuba Lake.

CUBA — Talks with the state on buying Cuba Lake will move forward after cottage and homeowners overwhelmingly passed a referendum Saturday.

More than 85 percent of voters, 183-32, approved continuing talks with the state regarding buying the land surrounding the lake.

The referendum, as printed on the ballot, asked voters, "Should the Cuba Lake District, through its Commissioners, be authorized to engage with the Office of General Service to frame a proposal (including price determination, payment terms and related attendant issues) which shall be satisfactory to OGS and CLD for the sale directly to cottage owners of the real property they currently lease?"

The lake was constructed in 1858 as a reservoir to fill the upper portions of the Genesee Valley Canal, which once reached from the Erie Canal in Rochester to the Allegheny River at Olean. Never turning a profit, the canal shut down in the 1870s, replaced by a railroad along the route. At that time, the state took over ownership of the lake, and by 1900 many cottages had sprung up along the shore.

After more than 100 years, however, state officials decided it was time to divest of the lake. In 1980, the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation chose to end its commitment, leading to the creation of the Cuba Lake District in 1981.

But despite several efforts — an attempt in the mid-1990s put a price at better than $7 million — no moves have been formalized in almost 40 years. The 1990s effort ended when the state attorney general’s office froze the deal during a legal dispute with the Seneca Nation of Indians over several cottages on the Oil Springs Territory.

The 276 leaseholders around the lake pay an average of $590 a year to lease their lots, officials reported, based primarily on lake frontage with lot depth and other factors playing a role. The same system would likely be used to calculate the purchase price for each lot. The lease fees are collected by the district, which pays rent for the property to the state and helps with lake maintenance.

Along with the specifics of the deal, a price will also be negotiated.

The negotiations in the 1990s centered on a value around $7 million, while two appraisals by the state in 2015 pegged the value at $10.8 million. Using those later assessments as a base, the average purchase price would be around $39,000 for the 276 leased lots. Real property taxes would also be levied on the lots.

Once a price is set and other agreements are ironed out, it will take an act of the State Legislature to allow the sales.

The state will still be involved with the lake. The dam and spillway will still be under state jurisdiction, with Albany responsible for repairs. In addition, the Department of Environmental Conservation boat launch on the former Taylor Farm at the west end of the lake will remain under state control. To cover those costs, funds from the sales will be directed to the district’s lake fund, and will not go directly to Albany for use in the general state budget.

IN ADDITION TO the referendum, voters also tapped Byron Long for a five-year commissioner’s post, defeating Steve Kane 124-83. Andrew Linquest also received a new three-year term as district treasurer, with 198 votes in the unopposed election.

(Contact reporter-editor Bob Clark at bclark@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @OTHBob)

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