February 13, 2008


Ithaca Conifer project —

Similar in design, public opposition

Developer’s proposal to build in Cortland raises related concerns


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer  
Mallorie Morse of Linderman Creek Apartments walks her dog, Hunter, Tuesday on Conifer Circle off Route 79 in Ithaca. Morse has lived at the apartments since 2000. Conifer Reality wants to build 56 low- to moderate-income apartments like those at Linderman Creek on almost 7 acres of land at 111-115 Pendleton St. in Cortland.

Staff Reporter

ITHACA — When Conifer Realty came to the town of Ithaca in 1999 with a plan to build a 56-unit low- to moderate-income housing complex, the town encountered numerous public concerns, opposition and a lawsuit.
After the lawsuit was settled, the apartments were built. Since 2000, the complex has expanded to more than 150 units and slowly gained acceptance by some neighboring residents.
The public concerns mirror those of Cortland residents who have strongly opposed a project on Pendleton Street planned by the same developer.
“I think the public always fears the worst when something is going to happen in their neighborhood,” said Catherine Valentino, former supervisor of the town of Ithaca. “They will be skeptical and have to live with it for a while ... It’s hard for folks to realize it (their neighborhood) won’t always be like when they moved there.”
Valentino, who retired at the end 2007 after 12 years as town supervisor, said the major concerns in Ithaca included traffic, congestion and drainage. She added that several residents filed a lawsuit against the town because of the project. The residents lost in court.
“The end of that (lawsuit) really turned out to be interesting because that project is on the line of the town and the city,” Valentino said. “What actually happened was we improved the drainage for those people and as a few years went by, most of the people that engaged in the lawsuit came around and said they were wrong. But even as I left office, I had people complaining.”
From 2000 to 2004, a total of 152 apartment units were built at 201 Cypress Court, Ithaca, which is known as Linderman Creek Apartments.
Randall Hubbell, who lives at 1308 Mecklenberg Road, can see the complex from his front porch.
“It was more quiet before it was built and there is so much traffic,” the 47-year-old said. “It’s not a bad complex it’s just that they can look out the window and monitor anything I do. They got a view of me and I got a view of them.”
Monica Prichard, property manager of Linderman Creek Apartments, said she was aware of residents who border the property being concerned with what type of tenants would move into the neighborhood, being low- to moderate-income housing.
“Two residents that originally spoke out against the project came to me and said how wonderful it is and how it didn’t turn out the way they thought it would,” she said.
Prichard said 85 percent of those who live at Linderman Creek Apartments work; 10 percent are retired and 5 percent are disabled.
She added that only 10 percent of the residents came from outside the Ithaca area and there are 111 children under the age of 18.
“To process the applications we need two landlord references and do a credit and criminal background check,” Prichard said. “Then we income qualify them because of the federal tax credits.”
Conifer Realty specializes in the development and management of affordable housing, and by establishing income qualifications the company receives federal tax credits.
Conifer concentrates its business in New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania and owns and manages more than 7,500 apartment units throughout those regions.
Retired Ithaca resident Bill Kelly, 78, has lived in Linderman Creek Apartments for nearly four years.
“I like the complex here. Rent is good, apartments are nice,” he said. “When I retired, my wife and I decided to come in to someplace where I wouldn’t have to mow the lawn. They keep the place up. I live by the playground and the kids are good. It’s quiet. From what I hear, there was opposition but now people are accepting it.”
Sarah Kelley, 27, said she moved into the apartments in September because of the look and atmosphere.
“It’s brighter here,” she said. “I had mold issues at my previous apartment that my landlord wasn’t willing to help with. I don’t have to worry about that here.”
Valentino conceded that the addition of the apartment complex in the town resulted in additional costs for highway, sewer and water maintenance, but said the property tax collected from the development covers those costs.
Hubbell said the apartment complex is getting better but he still has some noise issues.
“Development’s got to happen somewhere. You get the good and you get the bad,” he said. “If they have the money, they are going to build.”

Local project delayed amid residents’ objections

Progress of Conifer’s proposal for the 56-unit complex on a vacant 6.9-acre lot at 111-115 Pendleton St. has been delayed because of the amount of the public opposition.
The city Common Council delayed the vote on a $150,000 loan for the company and the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency also delayed a vote for potential payment in lieu of taxes agreement in the beginning of February.
The IDA is looking for the council’s position on the project before voting on the PILOT. Under the tax agreement on the $10 million project, Conifer would pay $21,000 per year for 15 years in city, county and school taxes.
The company says that agreement will help keep rents low and secure $900,000 in annual federal income tax credits.
Without a PILOT agreement, the company would be paying about $24,000 a year in annual property taxes on the project near the east end of Huntington Street.
Mayor Tom Gallagher and Andy Damiano, city director of administration and finance, requested city department heads evaluate whether any extraordinary demands will be placed on the departments as a result of the proposed project.
The administration at the city school district was also asked whether it could handle more children at nearby Randall Elementary School.
Additionally, city Assessor David Briggs has been asked to clarify his assessment of the property and the IDA has been asked for comments relating to the PILOT.
Gallagher said Tuesday that the city report has been completed and showed no additional costs or demands would be placed on the city departments as a result of the planned apartment complex.
The Common Council has scheduled a public work session for the proposed Conifer Realty LLC apartment complex before its next meeting at 6 p.m. Feb. 19. That would be followed by a vote on a $150,000 low-interest loan the city is considering granting Conifer.
“I think it takes a lot of courage on the part of elected officials if they feel they are doing the right thing even if it’s not what the neighborhood wants,” said Catherine Valentino, former Ithaca town supervisor, who dealt with a similar Conifer project in Ithaca. “The people that live around it (Linderman Creek Apartments) now are not unhappy about it at all. It’s quiet and peaceful.”
Gallagher said Conifer would be paying $310,000 for the property, which is nearly $50,000 an acre.
Currently, the city is paying $7,500 in annual taxes to the county and school for the property because Howard F. “Fritz” Brown, who owns the site of the proposed project, has not paid his taxes since 1986.
The property has an assessed value of $110,000 and a delinquent tax bill of $107,185, plus an undetermined amount of interest and penalties that increase with each day the taxes remain unpaid.
Gallagher said the city would be receiving $124,000 in back taxes if Conifer bought the property and would then receive $7,000 or more in property taxes annually.
Conifer Realty LLC, a Rochester-based company, was founded in 1975 and has since built nearly 8,000 apartments.
Andy Bodewes, a project director with Conifer, said the proposed Cortland project is similar to the Linderman Creek Apartments in Ithaca.
There would be eight units per building, with a total of 16 one-bedroom apartments, 24 two-bedroom apartments and 16 three-bedroom apartments.
Each apartment would have exterior bulk storage, a patio or balcony, individual access and would be energy efficient.
The income levels to be qualified to live in the complex would be between $19,080 and $24,480 for a one-bedroom apartment; between $22,920 and $30,600 for a two-bedroom; and $26,480 to $33,060 for a three-bedroom.
— Aimee Milks




Voters give go-ahead to $41.6M school project

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Voters approved by a ratio of three to one a $41.6 million building project Tuesday that will renovate all district buildings and convert Moiseichik Field to artificial turf.
The vote was 348 to 120.
Design work will start immediately, said Superintendent of Schools Laurence Spring, and he expects designs to be submitted to the state Education Department within three to five months.
Projects being submitted to SED now face at least a 25-week wait for approval.
Construction could start in spring 2009, Spring said. He expects the project would take two summers to complete.
Spring said the high margin of voter approval allows the district to waive its debt ceiling and complete the project in one phase.
The district needed at least 60 percent approval to waive the debt ceiling, the maximum the district is allowed to borrow, said Director of Business Services Art _Martignetti.
The debt ceiling is around $38 million, said Spring, who also said the project would have had to be around $30 million or $31 million to have fallen within that ceiling.
The project is being paid by taking $2 million from a capital reserve account and with $1.9 million in Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning aid.
The remaining $37.7 million is coming from state aid, but the district would have to borrow this money and be repaid through state aid. There is no property tax impact.
Spring said the district will have to petition the state Board of Regents with the request to waive the debt ceiling. He said he had no idea how long the process would take, but expected it would not be nearly as lengthy as approval from the state Education Department.
“This is going to be nice. We will not have to borrow twice,” said Martignetti.
Garry Herbert, project manager with Bovis Lend Lease, of Ithaca, the construction management firm for Cortland’s project, said he has not seen a supermajority vote for a project in a long time. He said he knows that turf fields can be difficult to get passed.
The project includes district-wide safety and technology updates and roofing projects are included at all the school buildings. At both Virgil and Randall elementary schools the entire heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems will be replaced.
Most of the schools also include accessibility upgrades, including entrances and bathrooms.



Sheriff: New jail  should be in city

Staff Reporter

Cortland County Sheriff Lee Price suggested Tuesday that a new jail should be built in the city.
“I’m not prepared to give you a recommendation. I don’t want to shock you,” Price told the county Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.
Price said if the county remodeled or expanded the current jail on Greenbush Street in the city, a big cost would be for personnel. He explained that inmates would have to be moved if the jail was remodeled for better efficiency and they would have to be transported back and forth for court.
Price said the biggest ongoing expense in a jail is personnel so an efficient design is necessary in building a new jail.
Capt. Bud Rigg, jail administrator, said with a more efficient design the number of inmates could be nearly doubled without changing the staffing. He said the most efficiency the current county jail can obtain is one correctional officer to 24 inmates (providing there are no females) but the design would allow one officer to oversee 40 inmates.
The cost of a new jail could reach $30 million.
“I think we need to build for the future,” Price said, noting the jail should be attached to a county facility that also includes a common booking area for city and county police. He said the county does not have enough holding cells to handle city cases. Price suggested extra meetings about the jail be held outside committee meetings because discussions could become lengthy.
Committee Chairman Tom Williams (R-Homer) said judges, courts, probation and jail officials would all have input on how they impact the jail and projections for the future.
Price said a notebook each legislator on the committee had been given had all the studies from the last five years including one done by the National Institute for Corrections and a local one that included input from former District Attorney Tom Jewett, former Probation Director James Cunningham and Roy Lewis, former jail administrator.




Elections office may go in new DMV site

Commissioners say current space in the County Office Building is cramped

Staff Reporter

Election commissioners urged the county Tuesday to move the Board of Elections office into a planned Department of Motor Vehicles Office on River Street.
As a result, the county’s General Services Committee requested two cost estimates and project timelines for a DMV with and without an elections office.
Engineering firm Barton & Loguidice will complete the work.
County Administrator Scott Schrader estimated the cost without the elections office between $400,000 and $600,000, while the cost with it would be between $600,000 and $900,000.
The cost will be paid out of the county’s $2.8 million share of state settlement funds from tobacco companies.
The new DMV building would be about 4,000 square feet without the Board of Elections office, while having the Board of Elections within it would require about 6,000 square feet, Schrader said.
Once the cost estimates and project timelines are complete, which should be within the next few months, the committee will vote on which option it prefers, committee Chairman Chad Loomis (D-8th ward) said Tuesday afternoon.
The full Legislature will also have to approve the plan.
During Tuesday’s General Services meeting, county Election Commissioners Bill Wood and Bob Howe said they need more space.
Wood said one of the commissioners has a very small office with no air conditioning or heat. Howe said after the meeting that the office referred to was Wood’s.
Howe added that moving the Board of Elections office into the new building would allow an additional room for absentee voters coming in to vote.
Many absentee voters come into the office to fill out a voting form, Howe said, as opposed to filling it out at home and sending it by mail.
Those people must go into Wood’s office, Howe said.