March 27, 2007

Fire destroys home in Freeville

Five fire departments fight blaze that closes Main Street


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
From the roof of the front porch, Dryden firefighters Dave Cotterill, left, and Mike Hall prepare to extinguish flames shooting from the wall of a house at 34 Main St. in Freeville Monday afternoon. The fire broke out about 2:15 p.m., shutting off traffic through the village for several hours.

Staff Reporter

FREEVILLE — A fire gutted a two-story house on Main Street Monday afternoon, closing off the street and drawing residents out of their homes to watch area volunteers fight the blaze.
Freeville Dept. Chief Brent Hollister said the house is considered a total loss.
The first report of the fire was received by Tompkins County Fire Control at 2:15 p.m., he said. The fire apparently began in the basement and the cause is under investigation.
The wooden-frame, rust-colored house appeared charred on the inside at about 4 p.m. Monday, with water cascading off a side porch as Dryden firefighters poured water into the house from an aerial ladder.
All of the windows had been knocked out and some of the wooden siding had been pulled off the side of the home. The sky was clearly visible where the roof should have been, as seen through a second-story window. One shutter was singed and twisted as firefighters began cutting holes underneath the eves, for ventilation.
The homeowner, Milan Croata, had been in his store at 2-4 Main St., Tile-Tec International, when he heard from friends and neighbors that there was smoke coming from his home of 25 years.
“It didn’t look serious when I came, but I think I lost my house,” Croata said as he sadly looked at the house where he had lived with his wife, Victoria.
Croata said he hoped his wife’s six cats had been able to make it to safety, and then ran off to greet Andrew Pisacano, of Rye, who had rented an upstairs apartment from Croata since August. The two men put their arms around each other’s shoulders as they watched the fire hoses spray water into their former home.
“I was trying to come home, and I had some groceries in the car,” Pisacano said shortly after arriving on the scene. He said he had been angry that the road was closed and he had to drive out of the way to reach home. “Then I’m looking down here and I’m like, ‘Wait, that looks like it’s really close to where I live.’ I’m trying to think if I left any candles lit or anything … but I don’t own any candles.
“Poor Milan, though — this is most of my stuff, probably the most important stuff I had, but it was his life, you know?”
The fire rekindled in the floor joists of the second floor about 9:30 a.m. today and firefighters returned to the scene to extinguish it.
Freeville, Cayuga Heights, Dryden, Groton and Varna fire departments and Dryden Ambulance responded to the fire.



Nursing home employee guilty of neglect

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A jury in County Court on Monday found a certified nurse’s aide guilty of 20 misdemeanor charges, including 11 counts of neglect.
The aide was found innocent of 12 felony counts of falsifying business records as well as four additional misdemeanor charges.
“The jury spoke based on the facts and the evidence,” said prosecutor Ralph Tortora, of the state Attorney General’s Office.
The nurse’s aide, Steven Nadeau, 39, of Cortland, was found guilty of 11 counts of willfully violating health laws and nine counts of second-degree falsifying business records.
The falsifying business records charge was given to the jury as a “lesser included” charge of the original charge — first-degree falsifying business records, a felony — of which Nadeau was acquitted.
Nadeau was arrested after investigators from the Attorney General’s Office placed a hidden camera in the room of a comatose resident at Northwoods Extended Care and Rehabilitation Facility on Kellogg Road during January, February and March 2005.
After the investigation, Nadeau and four other employees were arrested. Investigators said the employees had not provided the patient with proper care, including range of motion exercises, oral care and turning and repositioning treatments to avoid bed sores. The employees are also accused of filling out paperwork in which they lied about performing the duties in order to cover up the neglect.
Tortora explained after the verdict that because the jury found Nadeau guilty of the “lesser included” charges, it found him guilty of falsely filling out the paperwork. But by rejecting the original charge, the jury found Nadeau innocent of trying cover up the fact that he had neglected the patient when he completed that paperwork.
Prior to jury deliberations on Monday, the prosecution dismissed 11 counts of a 35-count indictment, leaving the jurors to decide 12 counts of the felony and 12 counts of the neglect charge.
“I’m disappointed,” said Edward Menkin, Nadeau’s attorney. “However, this case started out with 17 felony charges and ended with a conviction on none.”
Tortora said that based on the conviction, Nadeau will lose his certification and will never be able to work in a nursing home again.
“I have no idea,” he said, when asked if the outcome Nadeau’s case would have an effect on the pending cases of the other four employees.


Public hearings set for four big city projects

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The city Planning Commission is approaching a handful of major projects cautiously, due to the size and scope of the proposals, and the public’s interest.
Public hearings have been scheduled for the clock tower proposal, apartment developments on West Court and North Greenbush streets and a hotel on Locust Avenue. The hearings will be held April 23 before the commission’s regular meeting.
The construction of a four-story, mixed use commercial and residential clock tower building on the corner of Main and Tompkins streets, as proposed by property owner John Scanlon of Cortlandville, still needs several approvals before commissioners will be able to act on the proposal.
Scanlon will need to hear from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation because of the site’s location within the downtown Historic District; curb cuts on Tompkins Street will need state Department of Transportation approval; and the public’s comment also is vital, said commissioners Bill Kline and Tom Terwilliger.
The demolition of the boyhood home of famous inventor Elmer Sperry, to make way for a clock tower parking lot, already has been approved by the city’s Historic District Commission.
Although Kline was concerned about parking near the site, Scanlon pointed out that any off-street parking at all would be an improvement over the original clock tower, the Squires Building, which did not have any parking for tenants. Also, in the Downtown Business zone, off-street parking is not required.
The request for public comment echoed the commission’s earlier decision to hold public hearings for local developer John Del Vecchio’s plans for apartment developments on West Court and North Greenbush streets.
About 30 residents tried to squeeze into the meeting in the Mayor’s Conference Room at City Hall to attend the meeting. They spilled out into the hallway well beyond the limited number of seats.
Most controversial of Del Vecchio’s two projects is his proposal to remodel the former George Brockway home at 19 W. Court St.
Vivian Bosch, a member of the Neighborhood Hill Association, said she had collected 245 signatures of people opposed to the project.
Well aware that there has been public concern, Del Vecchio revisited the plans and made changes that he hoped would make the project more amenable to his neighbors.
However, Terwilliger said he was uncomfortable deliberating on the project because he had only received the site plan shortly before the start of the meeting.
Office space and three apartments already exist in the main house, and Del Vecchio said he would convert the office space into an apartment unit. He then would tear down a garage at the back of the property and build a structure to house six more apartments, for a total of 10 units.
Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Glover, director of Code Enforcement, relayed concerns about firefighter access to the site.
“The access from the east side is problematic because of topography,” and specifically a steep grade and limited space, Glover said.
Del Vecchio said he would do anything he could to please both the neighbors and the Planning Commission, and the commissioners agreed to a tour of the property in small groups.
“It’s a nice property and I paid a lot of money for it, and I want to make it fit right in there,” Del Vecchio said.
On North Greenbush Street, Del Vecchio has proposed building six new structures that would house a total of 30 apartment units. However, Del Vecchio told the commission that the former Saunders Concrete site, on which he has a purchase option, contains problems.
“The problem we have right now is that there’s still a concrete structure on that site, and they’re some pretty big chunks of concrete,” Del Vecchio said. Environmental regulations make it impossible to remove the concrete, Del Vecchio said.
When the original plans were submitted in February, Del Vecchio said, he did not know that these structures were present on the site until tests within the last few weeks. Once he understands the situation better, Del Vecchio said that he would present his conclusions to the commission.
A proposed Holiday Inn Express on Locust Avenue near the Clinton Avenue intersection also drew several concerned residents, and the Planning Board itself seemed wary of the project, which would result in a four-story, 74-room hotel just north of the Denny’s restaurant.
After the meeting, Ron Garcia, of 9 Cherry Lane, said the deck on his home would overlook the project site.
“Two-story is something that seems much more manageable for the area,” Garcia said.
Daniel Homik, president of the project’s developer, Lady Jayne Hotel Corp., said that four stories are necessary to make the project economically feasible.
Drainage was a concern of engineer and commission advisor Chuck Feiszli, and commissioners also questioned the layout of the building on the site. The project’s signs were another concern, and the commission asked to review them at the next meeting.
Homik said after the meeting that he was disappointed that the project was put on hold, and that the hotel would be an improvement to the area.


Cuyler judge suspended

Staff Reporter

CUYLER — The state Court of Appeals announced this morning that Town Justice Jean Marshall is suspended with pay pending her appeal of a state panel’s decision that recommended she be removed from office.
Town Supervisor Steven Breed could not be reached this morning for comment about who will take over Marshall’s responsibilities, and if the town will have to pay two acting judges during Marshall’s suspension.
The number listed for Marshall in the town directory is out of service.
The state Commission on Judicial Conduct recommended to the court on Feb. 15 that Marshall be removed after it found that she dismissed four cases in 2003 based on out-of-court conversations. The commission said Marshal then altered court calendars to cover up the conduct and lied during testimony about the incidents.
Marshall, 56, of 4710 State Route 13, is a Democrat who has been in office since 1999.
Her attorney, Lawrence Knickerbocker, wrote a letter March 1 to the court stating that his client intends to appeal the panel’s recommendation.
Knickerbocker could not be reached for comment this morning.
A commission spokesman said Marshall has 30 days from the March 1 letter to file an official appeal. He said the appeals process could take between four and six months.


Neighbors question Route 281 project

Staff Reporter

Construction on their portion of Route 281 likely won’t begin until 2011, but city residents living along the state highway, primarily between Fisher and Madison avenues, were anxious to hear how the state Department of Transportation’s planned expansion would affect their properties.
About 40 residents packed a small meeting room in the former Wheeler Avenue Armory on Thursday to hear from Gene Cilento, the DOT design engineer heading up the project.
Cilento told those in attendance that plans for phase two of the expansion — which stretches from just north of Luker Road to the Interstate 81 on-ramp in Homer, including the stretch of Route 281 in the city — are about “80 percent finalized,” and have not changed much since public hearings on the project four years ago.
Specifics regarding where the DOT will be looking to acquire property in the city are not yet available, Cilento said, and likely won’t be until the property acquisition begins in late 2008 or early 2009.
The DOT is acquiring land between Lime Hollow and Luker roads in anticipation of phase one of the project.
While he could not offer many specifics, Cilento did answer general questions regarding safety along the road, flood mitigations and other issues brought up by residents.
Regarding water runoff from the Davinci Drive development overlooking Route 281, Cilento said dealing with flooding was the city’s responsibility — DOT will handle all runoff from the road only — but he did say that any ditches or other mitigations already in place would remain, although they might be moved to accommodate the expansion.
“Ultimately we look at it as the city’s problem, and with all the development going on up on that hill, the city and the town (of Cortlandville) are going to have to look at building more detention areas,” Cilento said.
With traffic increasing drastically on Route 281, one of the main issues brought up by residents was safety.
Cilento said increased traffic was unavoidable, but added the DOT was confident that, for instance, turning left onto the highway from city streets such as Lauder or MacGregor would not necessarily be more difficult after the expansion.
“You’re going to be able to turn into that center area before merging into the lane, so you’ll still be turning past two lanes, you’ll just have both lanes coming from the same direction,” he said.
DOT plans to expand Route 281 to five lanes — two lanes going in either direction with a center turning lane — from Lime Hollow Road to Wheeler Avenue, with a brief four-lane section alongside the city waterworks.
From Wheeler Avenue north to the I-81 Exit 12 on-ramp, the road would be tapered down to three lanes.


Residents discuss East End potential

Staff Reporter

Steve Hall, owner of Anecelle’s Pasta and Deli on Port Watson Street recognizes several new businesses have started on the East End over the last couple of years, including his own, but thinks much more could be done to revitalize the neighborhood.
“It’s been very quiet,” he said.
Hall was among the approximately 30 people who attended a dialogue Monday night between business owners in the 6th, 7th and 8th wards, and government and business officials about the future of the neighborhood. It was held at the Holiday Inn on River Street.
The meeting was the first specifically targeted at improving the east side in some time, and follows the city’s focus on Main Street and the South End over the last few years.
Panelists told the crowd about resources available to help businesses to succeed and grow.
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the Cortland County Business Development Corp./Industrial Development Agency, mentioned such resources as the Empire Zone, low interest loans and free business plan help.
Rich Cunningham, program manager for Thoma Development Consultants, mentioned a community block grant available to businesses that invest at least $250,000 and create 13 to 15 jobs, loans available to businesses and $5,000 grants that have been available, and may be available in the future, to businesses with five or fewer employees.
He said companies that promise to create at least one job as a result of the $5,000 grant are most likely to get the money.
Nichoel Adams, owner of All Wired & Bead-Dazzled on Port Watson Street, said during the question-and-answer part of the forum it is hard for small businesses, such as her own, to create a job with such a small amount of money.
“I’m not sure how a $5,000 grant would be in stimulating one full-time position,” she said.
Ann Hotchkin, program manager for Thoma Development Consultants and Dan Dineen, director of the county Planning Department, discussed the city’s upcoming comprehensive plan, urging the business owners to get involved in the process.
Ed Moore, who owns EDL Lawn Service, which is based out of his wife’s business, Consignment Connection on River Street, said after Monday’s meeting he intends to attend some of the meetings to help shape zoning to make the East End a thriving place.
“We’re not there yet so we’re an acting force,” he said.
Some meeting attendees, including Chuck Wilhoit, owner of the Treasure Chest on Pendleton Street, wondered if the city will apply for another grant to conduct a strategic plan for the East End. The city applied for the grant last year and did not receive it.
Bernie Thoma, president of Thoma Development Consultants, said the city cannot apply for the grant again until this summer.
Sue Feiszli, city alderman, said toward the end of the meeting she supports applying again for a strategic plan grant for the East End.