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Questions linger over private lots and whether Bills fans may flock to those this fall

WBFO file photo

Buffalo Bills fans, along with fans of other New York-based pro and college sports teams, won't be allowed to attend home games this season, nor are they permitted by state health guidelines to congregate outside the stadium. But what about private lots near the Bills' home stadium?

New York State’s guidelines for sports teams to operate while curtailing COVID-19 infection risks include a ban on fans inside their home venues. Tailgating parties in the lots outside are also banned this season.

But the traditional parties outside Bills home games usually extend beyond the official lots on the stadium property.

"There are two different types of lots around the stadium. There are some that are zoned business, B-2,for which you have to get a permit through the Town of Orchard Park. The rules and regulations, building inspector, town board, and the police have to all approve that," said Eric Matwijow, owner of the Hammers Lot, a popular choice for many Bills fans prior to games.

The other type of lots are on private properties near the stadium, including homes. Those, Matwijow notes, are not subject to the same permit requirements as business lots like his.

That's what concerns Town of Orchard Park leaders, who discussed them during a work session last week and are expected to discuss it again at their July 29 meeting. Matwijow, based on his understanding of last week's meeting, believes the town does not appear ready to issue permits to commercial lots, though he told WBFO "it's still a little bit early."

WBFO placed a call to Orchard Park Town Hall Thursday requesting comments, but the call was not returned.

Matwijow points to drive-in theaters and their strategy for enforcing social distancing. He believes he can do the same successfully at Hammers Lot.

"Obviously, we have to do the where the masks. Every other car spot is 10 feet, so we have safe social distancing. I enforce the rules," he said.

Matwijow, if allowed to open, would not anticipate large crowds, given the ban inside the stadium. But he told WBFO even before COVID, he was running a stricter lot to encourage mature fans to enjoy themselves. Table slamming, beer funneling and dizzy bat games are not allowed on his lot.

"Trust me, I have no problem taking people off my property if they don't listen to my voice," he said.

Michael Mroziak is an experienced, award-winning reporter whose career includes work in broadcast and print media. When he joined the WBFO news staff in April 2015, it was a return to both the radio station and to Horizons Plaza.
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