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February 17, 2009

 

Judge: City properly reviewed housing plan

The Tompkins Street project will create 17 apartments for students

housingBob Ellis/staff photographer
A state Supreme Court justice ruled Friday that the city acted properly when it approved construction of student housing apartments on Tompkins Street.

By ELAINE HUGHES
Staff reporter
ehughes@cortlandstandard.net

Local developer Jim Reeners said Monday that he is pleased a state Supreme Court justice dismissed a lawsuit Friday that sought to annul approval of his student housing project at 50 Tompkins St.
“We felt the city had done the proper actions and were pleased that the judge agreed with us,” Reeners said of his project at 50 Tompkins St. “We just kept going with the construction of the project.”
Reeners said the lawsuit caused no delays in the construction of the project’s first building, which will be completed by August.
Construction on the second building will begin sometime later this year, with the building scheduled to be completed by August 2010. The buildings will contain a total of 17 apartments.
City Planning Commission Chair Nancy Hansen said she had not seen Justice Michael Coccoma’s decision yet and could not offer a lot of comment on it.
“But I’m glad that it’s resolved,” she added.
Filed on Nov. 13 by Henry and Lilliane Knabe, the owners of the 7 Valley Motel next to Reeners’ property, the lawsuit alleged the Planning Commission failed to take “a hard look” at the project’s environmental impacts by approving the demolition of a carriage house on the property without waiting for a recommendation from the state.
Henry Knabe did not wish to comment Monday on the ruling or whether he and his wife plan to pursue further legal action against the project.
Coccoma, who is from Otsego County, ruled the city properly approved the site plans.
If the ruling had repealed the city’s approval of the project, Reeners would have needed to present the site plans again, and the commission would have conducted another review of the environmental impacts.
This process would have taken at least 60 days, said city attorney Larry Knickerbocker.
In his ruling, Coccoma said the commission relied on the city historian and city’s Historic Review Board for reviewing the carriage house’s historical significance, which was “unequivocally more prudent than deferring to a state agency with limited knowledge of facts and circumstances locally.”
The lawsuit also alleged the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals improperly approved variances for the project in August and then reaffirmed its decision in October without reexamining the entire variance application.
In his ruling, Coccoma said the ZBA’s reapproving the variances was “redundant, unnecessary, and nothing more than a confirmation of their prior approval.”
ZBA Chair Brian Dailey could not be reached for comment.
Coccoma further stated the city “gave due consideration to all relevant potential environmental impact of this project,” so the court “will not second guess its determination.”
On Oct. 27, the Planning Commission approved Reeners’ plan to construct a two-building project totaling 19,000 square feet on a 0.9-acre site once occupied by a mansion used as a fraternity house, which burned down in 2002.
The commission also allowed Reeners to tear down a vacant carriage house at the back of the property after taking photographs of the brick building.
During public hearings, the Knabes opposed the project, saying the new buildings would be too close to the motel and the street.

 

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