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February 10, 2010

 

County parking lot project in doubt

Committee rescinds proposal to buy Elm St. property near County Office Building

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

A long-standing proposal to expand parking at the Cortland County Office Building took a step backward Tuesday.
Legislators on the county Buildings and Grounds Committee voted 4-3 to approve a resolution to withdraw from eminent domain proceedings to acquire a vacant and condemned apartment complex at 13-15 Elm St.
Legislators cited difficult economic times, saying they do not want to spend money on property acquisition.
The full Legislature will vote on the resolution at the Feb. 25 session.
In 2007 the county authorized a purchase price of $70,000.
The property, owned by Cypress Point Investments Inc., is assessed at $150,000, according to the county Real Property Tax Services Office.
The property, roughly 80 by 156 feet, consists of the two abutting apartment houses, which contain a total of 11 apartments, and a garage.
The buildings were condemned in 2006 when Pierre Beaudry was the owner, said city Code Enforcement Officer Charles Glover. In July, Glover said, the office notified Beaudry the structures were still deficient.
Cypress Point Investments, a subsidiary of Eastern Savings Bank in Maryland, acquired the property for $10,000 at a foreclosure auction in February, according to documents filed in the Cortland County Clerk’s Office.
County Attorney Ed Purser said he has been dealing with local attorney James Baranello, who represents the bank and did not return phone calls for comment.
Legislator Don Spaulding (D-6th Ward) said he was not in favor of rescinding the eminent domain proceedings because the county has been working on acquiring the property for so long it does not make sense to stop now.
Legislator Eugene Waldbauer (R-Cortlandville) agreed.
“That piece of property has always been ... a piece of that plan,” Waldbauer said, mentioning the county’s past space studies that examined adding about 25 to 30 parking spaces at the site.
Parking at the County Office Building has been an issue because the building houses the gym, the Area Agency on the Aging as well as many other departments which are visited by many members of the public as well as county employees.
According to Maintenance Supervisor Brian Parker, the County Office Building parking lot has 257 parking spaces.
“The fact is that piece of property is in a perfect location and there will probably never be a lower price,” Waldbauer said.
Waldbauer cited the fact that money is available for the purchase and demolition. A portion of the county’s share of state tobacco settlement funds, which the county received in 2005, could be used for this project.
Buildings and Grounds Committee Chairman Newell Willcox (R-Homer) said approximately $300,000 is left in that fund and he did not want to use that money now.
“In these economic times we have to approach with caution,” Willcox said.
Legislator Michael Park (R-Homer) was concerned demolishing the structure and paving the land would become too costly.
Park was also unclear what the future use of the site would be, saying although parking was the initial purpose, other uses had been mentioned since then, such as building additional office space.
Park, who is new to the Legislature, said legislators had told him of this plan, which he described as a “dream” for the future, not something that was clearly planned.
“I didn’t want to see our resources going that way. I am concerned New York state is going to keep pulling funding from us ... and I am trying to do everything I can not to increase spending,” Park said.
Discussions about the site have been closed to the public since the eminent domain proceedings were authorized in 2007. Purser said since eminent domain is involved, he considers the matter an issue of pending litigation.
But according to Bob Freeman, executive director of the state Committee on Open Government, eminent domain would not have to be protected by executive discussion.
Freeman said the reason for discussing litigation matters behind closed doors is to prevent an adversary from knowing the legal strategy that will be taken. Freeman said that since eminent domain involves the taking of property by the government, there “doesn’t seem to be an adversary.”

 

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