March 07, 2007

Wal-Mart gains zoning approval

Supercenter project still needs OKs from state agencies, as well as a town aquifer permit.


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortlandville Town Supervisor Dick Tupper gives his thoughts on Walmart’s Planned Unit Development application just before the Town Board voted to allow the designation Tuesday night.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — A special zoning designation for a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on Route 13 received unanimous approval from the Town Board at a rescheduled meeting Tuesday night.
Board member John Proud did not attend the meeting, but after town attorney John Folmer read a lengthy resolution on the subject and a letter written by Proud, board members passed the measure with several recommendations and conditions attached to it.
In addition to receiving the necessary approvals from the state Department of Transportation and Department of Environmental Conservation, the project still needs to undergo site plan review by the town Planning Board. The Planning Board also will have to provide a recommendation to the Town Board regarding an Aquifer Protection Permit. The Town Board will decide whether to issue the permit to Wal-Mart, which will involve at least one more public hearing.
The Planned Unit Development designation for the 33.7-acre parcel of land — which would hold a 205,000-square-foot store and two accompanying parcels for subdivision — had been in the works since July 2004, and significant public comment and criticism during the State Environmental Quality Review process has only improved the project, Town Supervisor Dick Tupper said before the vote.
“The project as it stands today is significantly better than when it was started five years ago,” Tupper said. “As much as it drives us nuts sometimes to listen to the citizen input, it was positive input.”
Public concern, most notably from the environmental group Citizens for Aquifer Protection and Employment, resulted in major changes during the process.
The elimination of an on-site Tire and Lube Express service station and a restaurant inside the store, a two-tier storm water management system, and changes to the site plan to provide better buffers between the project’s neighbors and Dry Creek all were lauded as the positive result of working within the PUD framework.
The PUD designation allows for more town oversight of the planning process, but also requires that the project provide a direct community benefit and an “appropriate mix of uses.”
Despite CAPE’s past protests, the board seemed to think that these two requirements had been satisfied.
In his letter, Proud said he was able to find no specific-enough definition of a community benefit or “appropriate” mix of uses, but that he felt that the requirements had been fulfilled.
“We’ve got something here that we think we can deal with,” board member Ed O’Donnell said before the vote.
At the recommendation of Folmer, the board included the condition that Wal-Mart submit a groundwater monitoring well review plan and long-term maintenance plan for the storm water management system to the town Planning Board.
The location of a bus shelter on the site, the format of the buffers on the edge of the development and whether a sidewalk along Route 13 would be provided were also left to the Planning Board’s discretion during the site plan review process.
Board member Ted Testa suggested, and the Town Board decided to include, a provision requesting that Wal-Mart leave the two out parcels in the project free of development, instead turning the plots over to the town for a picnic or park area.
“We can’t be turning down growth, any kind of growth. And even growth that we don’t necessarily want,” Tupper said, pointing out that the days of large manufacturing operations are over. “This Town Board is probably as strict as anyone in this state for aquifer protection.”
But CAPE executive board member Jamie Dangler said after the meeting that the Town Board had not adequately addressed these concerns during the SEQR process, and that the board’s decision to leave certain decisions to the town Planning Board was inappropriate.
“This is a critical area. There should not be a development of this size on this site,” Dangler said. “They seemed to assume that this is like any other in terms of aquifer protection.”
Dangler said “it was disheartening to hear” Tupper’s comments about how a chemical leak or spill can happen at any time over the aquifer and that there was no way to guard against these accidents.
Although she was unsure of where CAPE would take the issue in the future, Dangler said the group certainly would participate during the site plan review and aquifer protection permit process.
About 40 people were in the audience, and CAPE executive board member Arnold Talentino spoke during the privilege of the floor section of the meeting before the Wal-Mart issue was raised, responding to board member Ron Rocco’s citation of a study by Clough Harbour & Associates, the town’s engineering firm, at the Feb. 21 board meeting.
The report — which had concluded that danger to the aquifer had been minimized to the greatest extent practicable and that Wal-Mart’s groundwater would not reach any of the town’s municipal wells — had been based on a U.S. Geological Survey study that Talentino said CAPE’s firm, Carpenter Environmental Associates, had determined was outdated.
In fact, Talentino said, “the scientific evidence is clear that groundwater pollution will eventually reach the municipal well.”
Although she had requested privilege of the floor in advance in order to make a statement, Philomena Curley of Walden Oaks missed her opportunity during this section of the meeting and did not speak until after the board had made its decision. She chose not to read from her prepared statement.
She was concerned that Wal-Mart’s apparent promise to refrain from requesting any tax abatements was not included in writing outside of its acknowledgement in the town’s State Environmental Quality Review Findings Statement, as well as by the lack of a specific agenda item for Tuesday’s meeting for Wal-Mart.
The issue was only discussed in the “Town Attorney” section of the meeting, which was a single line on the agenda. The rest of agenda did not include any mention of Wal-Mart.
Tupper contended that between the local news media’s coverage of the story and the discussion at the Town Board’s last meeting, the action had been sufficiently publicized.



Homer OKs $16.5M school district renovation project

Staff Reporter

HOMER — School district residents Tuesday overwhelmingly approved a $16.5 million project to renovate the district’s buildings.
Four-hundred and fifty-one people voted in favor of the project, while 78 voted against it.
“I think that’s a great percentage,” school board member Scott Ochs said of the ratio.
School board President Forrest Earl said he thought the project’s no-tax impact played a large role in the community supporting it. Ninety-four percent of the project’s cost will be covered through state aid.
“I think the best strategy for us is to maximize state aid,” Earl said.
As long as the state approves the project, the school will receive about $730,000 in state Expanding our Children’s Education and Learning (EXCEL) aid for the project. The school’s reserve fund will pay for about $920,000 of the project, while regular state building aid will cover the remaining approximately _$14.9 million.
Kelli Yacavone, clerk for the school district, said the voter turnout was slightly below what it normally is for a district vote. Nonetheless, the turnout out was high given that the weather was cold and school had been canceled.
Bill Wright, of Cortlandville, said the project’s no-tax impact along with the specific proposed renovations prompted him to vote in favor of it.
“They are all things that were needed,” he said.
Therese McDonald and Rob Rumsey, of Homer, agreed. McDonald said the schools, especially the elementary schools, always seemed to be running out of space, while Rumsey, who graduated from the district 2000, said the elementary school needed to be modernized.
“Last time I was there it definitely seemed rather old,” Rumsey said.
The project calls for spending the largest chunk of money — $5.5 million — on the elementary school, which was built in 1927. Six classrooms will be added, the main office and nurse’s suite will be configured, and a new cafeteria and kitchen will be constructed, among other work.
Overall the project will improve security at all of the district’s school buildings, make the buildings more wheelchair-accessible and make facilities more modern and useful, board members say.
Earl said he expects construction on the project will begin in the spring of 2008, and take two years to complete. In the meantime, the district’s architect — Horseheads-based Hunt Engineers — must finalize design drawings, the state must approve the project and the project must be sent out to bid, he said.
Earl said the Homer school district is lucky to have completed its vote, as it puts it ahead of many other local schools that are planning capital projects. He said the earlier the state Department of Education gets the finalized designs, the greater the change it will approve the project quicker.
“I think we’re ahead of the curve statewide,” Earl said.


Rochester man pleads not guilty to robbery at Tompkins Trust

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A Rochester teacher who police caught coming out of the Tompkins Trust Company on Clinton Avenue with a bag of money and a loaded gun was indicted on robbery charges Tuesday.
Michael Bohn, 41, of 232 Cobb Terrace, was arraigned on the indictment in Cortland County Court, where he pleaded not guilty to three counts of first-degree robbery, one count of second-degree criminal possession of a weapon and one count of third-degree grand larceny, all felonies, as well as one count of endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor.
During the proceeding County Court Judge William Ames agreed to set a bail for Bohn, who has been in County Jail without bail since his arrest on Feb. 1.
“Obviously something out of the ordinary happened,” Randolph Kruman, Bohn’s attorney, told the court when he requested bail be set.
Kruman said Bohn is an upstanding member of his community, saying that his client attends church on a regular basis, is highly educated and has no criminal history.
District Attorney David Hartnett opposed any bail being set in the case. He told the court that because of the severity of the crimes of which Bohn is accused, and the calculated way in which he allegedly attempted to carry those crimes out, he feels Bohn is a flight risk.
Hartnett said Bohn has a girlfriend in Canada and that when he was arrested he had maps of Canada in his car.
“The defendant has a passport and he has some relation with a woman in Canada,” Hartnett said.
Bohn also had buckets of water in his car, which he planned to use to clean the money of any dye that bank tellers may have stained it with during the robbery, he said.
Additionally, Bohn bought a four-hour lift ticket for Feb. 1 at Bristol Mountain, a Rochester-area ski resort, in order to provide an alibi, Hartnett said.
Kruman declined to comment on what was found in Bohn’s car after his arrest or whether he has a girlfriend in Canada.
Ames set bail for Bohn at $100,000 cash or $200,000 bond. As of this morning Bohn had not made bail.
Bohn was arrested on Feb. 1 after a witness told police that he saw a man go into the bank wearing a ski mask. According to court records, Bohn had a loaded .44 Magnum handgun when he entered the bank at around 5:10 p.m. He told bank tellers to put money in a bag and threatened to shoot anyone who moved, one witness said.
Bohn came out of the bank with a paper shopping bag containing nearly $16,000 as police officers arrived in the parking lot and took him into custody without incident.
At the time of his arrest Bohn was employed as a sixth-grade teacher at Allendale Columbia in Pittsford, a suburb of Rochester. After initially being placed on paid suspension Allendale Columbia officials announced on Feb. 13 that Bohn was fired.
Bohn’s father, Hermann Bohn of Pennfield, said after the arrest that his son was going through a costly divorce.
Bohn is scheduled to appear in County Court again on April 6.


Homer village open to consolidation of services with town

Staff Reporter

HOMER — Town Supervisor Fred Forbes shared some of his ideas about consolidating village and town services at Tuesday’s Village Board meeting, and board members said they were willing to consider them.
Forbes, who had first brought up the idea at the town’s Feb. 7 board meeting, said now is the right time to look into it.
Gov. Eliot Spitzer is pushing it, he said, and at least $25 million in grant money is available to municipalities who start the process first.
“It just makes sense to me when we can have less government,” Forbes said.
He estimated last month that consolidation would shave tens of thousands of dollars off the current $3 million village budget and the current $1.5 million town budget.
Forbes said specific consolidations could be village and town boards, including the positions of mayor and town supervisor, and village and town clerk positions.
The Town Board budgeted $58,000 for those salaries for this year, while the village budgeted $130,000 for those services this year.
Merging positions would bring down that overall cost, he said.
Another area where consolidation could take place would be within the highway department, he said. The village budgeted $500,000 for the highway department this year, while the town budgeted $944,000.
Trustee Ray Crandall said after the meeting he supports Forbes’ push for consolidation. He said any town and village savings could be translated into lower taxes.
Crandall said not only does he support merging village and town boards and services, but also Forbes’ idea to make the leader of a combined board Homer’s one county legislator.
Forbes is proposing that Homer have one county legislator, instead of the three it currently has. He said if that happened, he would not run for the position, nor would he run to be leader of Homer if the village and town boards merged.
Village Mayor Mike McDermott told the Cortland Standard last month he does not support that particular idea.
McDermott said after Tuesday’s meeting the Village Board supports looking into consolidating the village and town boards and more of the municipalities’ services.
The idea of consolidation is not   a new one, he said, as the village and town have already combined such services as local courts.
McDermott is interested in having consolidation experts come to board meetings, and looking at other counties that have done it extensively.
“Broome County is in the process of doing a lot of that right now,” he said during the meeting.
Also during Tuesday’s meeting, Dan Mack, police chief for the village, asked if the village police department would be affected by a potential consolidation.
He wondered if it would be responsible for the part of the town outside the village in addition to the village.