April 07, 2007

South End’s future takes shape

Strategic plan lays out area development ideas


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
The roofline of the former railroad station frames South Avenue in Cortland.

Staff Reporter

Sitting in his office Wednesday, Mayor Tom Gallagher looked over a rendering of what the South Avenue area of the future could look like.
It shows trees and sidewalks that state grant money would help fund, a sprawling community garden and a housing development with a private road that would connect Crawford and Pine streets on the former site of Potter Paint.
The proposals are part of a strategic plan that lays out development ideas for much of the city’s South End.
A draft of the plan will be reviewed at 6:30 p.m. April 24 in the Randall Elementary School library.
“We were going to sit down and go over the draft. There is some tweaking that needs to be done,” Alderman Dan Quail (R-5th Ward) said. “We’ve been tossing out ideas; we didn’t really come to anything conclusive yet.”
As they roasted green coffee beans Wednesday in a large industrial-size roaster at Coffee Depot — the former freight depot on South Avenue — Craig and Michelle Brooks, the owners of the Coffee Mania drive-through stores, were excited at the prospects in the neighborhood.
“We are interested in doing everything we can — what that is, we don’t know,” Craig Brooks said.
“We’re in the infancy stages of figuring out what we’re doing,” Michelle Brooks added.
They already rent space inside their building to a dog grooming business and a massage business; they hope that by sometime in the fall, they will have opened a retail shop of their own in the depot.
“Not like a café, though. Our focus would be on home equipment and educating people about the roasting process,” Michelle Brooks said.
But in addition to their business plans, the Brooks also hope to use a roughly 1.6-acre lot next to their South Avenue building in some capacity to benefit the community.
“I have dreams of it being a farmer’s market. That’s my hope,” Michelle Brooks said, her husband stressing that the farmers are probably the one group that has not been queried about their interest.
Craig Brooks wants to see the remainder of the empty lot given over to plantings, picnic tables and playgrounds.
They’re looking forward to working with Thoma Development Consultants, which prepared the strategic plan and a $650,000 grant application for state Community Development Block Grant funds for the South End.
The grant funding would go toward single-unit and multi-family housing rehabilitation, multi-family homeownership, small-business assistance, overtime hours for the code enforcement office, and water, sewer, sidewalk and street improvements.
The city expects to hear back about the grant sometime in the summer or early fall.
The neighbors seem pleased with the strategic plan draft, said Ann Hotchkin, project manager for Thoma Development.
“There’s a lot of money going into the South End already — if it’s not there already, it’s on its way,” Hotchkin said.
A $7 million streetscape project that repaved south Main Street and added lights and trees, and improved sidewalks was completed in August 2006.
In addition, Housing Visions Inc., a Syracuse-based nonprofit, has recently closed on a total of nine properties, in anticipation of an $8.2 million project that will demolish some crowded and run-down buildings and rehabilitate those that can be saved. Thirty apartments will be available to low-income tenants by fall 2008.
Gallagher sees potential for industrial development of the 23-acre Noss Industrial Park. The city’s engineering firm, C&S Engineers, is working with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, and Gallagher said he hopes the cleanup of some remaining contaminated areas would begin this year.
Gallagher said the city wants to obtain the former Cobako plant on Huntington Street from its current owner, Acorn Products, which would allow it to be developed in conjunction with the Noss site.
In the strategic plan, the vacant Wickwire warehouse property has a small grocery store sketched in. The landowner, David McNeil, has said that one such business has shown interest in developing on that site, but he was unavailable for comment as of Friday.
Also included is the demolition of several buildings that are double-stacked on lots — one of the main goals of the strategic plan is to reduce density, particularly along South Avenue.
“This is going to take some hard work, with the city and Thoma, to make this an amicable situation that will encourage people to work with us for the improvement of that area,” Gallagher said.



Dryden farmer rejected for ag district

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — A farmer’s plea to be included in an agricultural district in the village was rejected by the Tompkins County Legislature on Wednesday.
Legislature Chairman Tim Joseph said that although the county rejected Ken Miller’s request in the village, he was granted the designation in the town.
Village Mayor Reba Taylor said she asked the county to reject the designation because farming is restricted in the village. She said if Miller’s farm were included in the district he could bring in livestock and trailers, which are not allowed in the village.
Miller said he was not looking to add livestock or trailers to the farmland.
“I want protection from rules and laws that can hamper my ability to make a profit,” Miller said.
Taylor said the land is between the villages of Dryden and Freeville on Route 38 off Spring House Road. She said the land was designated as a green space in the village’s comprehensive plan.
Henry Slater, the town’s code enforcement officer, said the farm covers 60 acres with 25 in the village and the other 35 in the town.
Slater said the town supported the agricultural designation.
“We not only allow farming, we encourage it,” Slater said. “It is a very important asset to the town and its makeup.”
Slater said among the benefits of being included in the agricultural district is paying half the taxes on the land. He said a farmer would also receive both state and federal governmental support if ever there were a right of way dispute with the municipality.
Joseph said an agricultural district allows farms to operate, even though they may have objections from neighbors about the spreading of manure and noise caused by animals or equipment.
He said Miller’s only recourse was to wait until next year and apply for the designation again.
Miller, who lives in Richford, said he would most likely try to get the agricultural designation next year.
Joseph said land does not have to be in an agricultural district to be eligible to pay lower tax on farms. He said Miller was already paying a lower assessment on his farm. 
Miller said to be eligible for the tax break a farmer must produce at least $10,000 in agricultural product and 10 percent of the acreage must be devoted to agriculture.
He said the village wrote letters to the county Legislature that had “ridiculous” accusations about a cemetery being on his land.
Reba Taylor said that the cemetery housing the founders of Dryden is buried somewhere on the land.
Joseph said some legislators voted no for the designation because Miller said he would only grow hay on the land, which he currently does, and he does not need an agricultural designation to continue doing that.
Miller said he hoped the village would be able to work with him.


Homer library patron in a jam

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The Phillips Free Library is seeking the public’s help after one of its patrons racked up $425 in fees by returning his books to the wrong place.
He dropped them off in February to the David Harum Senior Center on Water Street, which is down the street from the library’s temporary location at 11 Water St, said Kathy Hughes, the library’s director.
The main library on South Main Street has been closed while it undergoes renovations.
The senior center, not knowing what to do with the books, included them in its rummage sale during the Homer Winterfest, Hughes said.
He now has a bill of $425 to replace all the books, she said, unless he can get them back.
“He offered to pay out of pocket, but you know …,” Hughes said. “I haven’t told him how much it is, but I feel really bad.”
The library patron did not want to be identified or interviewed by the Cortland Standard.
To help out the patron, the library is asking people who bought children’s books at the sale to see if the books are stamped with the name of a library within the Finger Lakes Library System.
If they are, the library would appreciate people returning the books to their nearest library in the Finger Lakes Library System.
Hughes said if people want to be reimbursed they can bring the book to the Phillips Library. The library will pay up to $2.50 for each of the missing items, Hughes said.
Sylvia Hammond, the senior center’s in-house librarian, said no books were sold for more than 50 cents, so people returning the books would definitely get their money back.
Hammond said she feels horrible about what happened. The senior center just assumed the books were intended for the book sale, not thinking to check inside for a library stamp.
“In the future when they drop them off we’ll be much more careful,” she said.
A list of the books sought by the library system is as follows:

  • “A Picture Book of Helen Keller,” by David Adler (two copies);
  • “A Weekend With Wendell,” by Kevin Henkes (two copies);
  • “All I See,” by Cynthia Rylant (two copies);
  • “Barnyard Lullaby,” by Frank Asch (two copies);
  • “Bear Shadow,” by Frank Asch;
  • “Josie Smith and Eileen,” by Magdalen Nabb (two copies);
  • “Ruby the Copycat,” by Peggy Rathmann (two copies);
    l “Skyfire,” by Frank Asch; and
  • “Three Cheers for Tacky,” by Helen Lester (two copies).


Prank empties shelves of library at city high school

In an apparent senior prank, someone entered the Cortland Junior-Senior High School library late Thursday and removed many books from shelves, city police said Friday.
It occurred after 11 p.m. when custodians finished cleaning the library and hundreds of books were moved, said Lt. Jon Gesin, of the city Police Department.
Gesin said police investigated and found no forced entry and no damage to library property.
He said school officials chose to handle the situation in-house and no criminal charges are expected.
Police do not know who was involved in the incident, he said.
Librarian Luann Rottmann declined to comment and referred questions to school administrators, who could not be reached for comment by this morning.