April 25, 2007

County adds a four-way stop sign at site of fatal crash

A grandmother and teen granddaughter died at the Homer intersection in March.

Stop Sign

Bob Ellis/staff photographer    
A vehicle proceeds along Kinney Gulf Road after stopping at a new stop sign at the intersection of Kinney Gulf and Bond roads in Homer. Sally Churchill and her granddaughter Alissa were killed at the intersection in March. Flowers and crosses, visible at lower right, still stand in their memory.    

Staff Reporter

HOMER — The Cortland County Highway Department has added a four-way stop to an intersection that was the scene of a two-car crash that killed a grandmother and her teenage granddaughter in March.
The county installed two stop signs on Kinney Gulf Road at its intersection with Bond Road. Two stop signs already existed on Bond Road at the intersection.
County Administrator Scott Schrader said the decision to install the stop signs was made by county Superintendent of Highways Don Chambers and no state approvals were necessary, although the county did notify the state Department of Transportation.
Schrader said the signs were installed April 16.
Chambers was unavailable for comment Monday and Tuesday.
“Really, there was a deep concern over the severity of the accidents that were occurring,” Schrader said midday Tuesday. “Speed is a contributing factor to the severity of the accidents, so we had to do something to reduce the speed at the intersection.”
Sally Churchill, 69, of Kinney Gulf Road, Cortlandville, and her granddaughter, Alissa Churchill, 17, of Little York Crossing Road, Homer, were killed March 15 as they turned left onto Kinney Gulf Road off Bond Road and were struck in the side by a pickup truck. Alissa was driving at the time.
Bob Churchill, Sally Churchill’s husband and Alissa’s grandfather, said the new stop signs at the intersection should be a lot safer as long as drivers comply with them.
County Police Officer Lt. Mark Helms said that although the new signs are clearly marked, the department has been writing tickets since it became aware of the change Thursday.
Flags hang from cautionary signs leading up to the stop signs and the stop signs themselves, and two sets of temporary rumble strips are also on the road.
“We went out Thursday evening and we sat at it for the first 24 hours warning people, and then after that we started writing tickets,” Helms said Monday afternoon. “I personally stopped a vehicle today that went through it driving the speed limit, and they still didn’t see it.”
Helms said an officer has been watching the intersection when the road patrol has the opportunity.
“We monitor every stop sign, but when you’ve got one like this that’s a concern right now because it’s new and everything, then obviously we’ll keep an eye on it,” Helms said.
Angie Wyatt, executive director of the county’s Traffic Safety Board, said the intersection was going to be a topic of discussion at the board’s next meeting, tentatively scheduled for May 10.
“We were going to force the issue. We were going to look at the area and see what we can do,” Wyatt said Tuesday. “We are still going to look at it and see if there’s anything else we can do.”
Concerns have been expressed about a slight knoll in the road that leads up to the intersection and hampers visibility for northbound drivers.
Chambers said, during an interview in March, that the road had been reconstructed in the 1970s.
“They weren’t so much concerned about that being a dangerous intersection, because the accident history doesn’t support such a claim,” Schrader said. “The stop sign was put up because of the severity of the accidents that have occurred there.”
A Fulton man was injured in an accident at the intersection in May 2005 and later filed a lawsuit against the county and the other driver.
David Maloney claimed the county was responsible for the intersection. Cortland County Supreme Court Justice Phillip Rumsey dismissed the case in May 2006, ruling Maloney was at fault for running the stop sign on Bond Road.
“I have personal lifelong injuries because of that accident,” including a third-degree shoulder separation and foot injuries, Maloney said Tuesday morning. “He (Rumsey) didn’t even have a hearing — he decided that I was lying. I think that should have been up to a jury.”
Although he believes the new four-way stop is a solution to the problem, Maloney believes it’s also an admission of guilt by the county, and said he would be contacting his attorney about further action.
“His court case has been resolved, so he’s going to be hard-pressed to resurrect it,” Schrader said when told of Maloney’s comments.
Staff reporter Corey Preston contributed to this article.


Walden Place raises concerns about Wal-Mart

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — Walden Place administrators laid out measures Tuesday that they feel would minimize the impact of a proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter on their nearby Bennie Road senior living facility.
While they cited truck traffic, lighting and trash facilities at a town Planning Board meeting, their main concern focused on the closing of the Bennie Road intersection with Route 13.
The Planning Board is reviewing the Supercenter’s site plan in sections over the course of several meetings, and Walden Place officials were invited to Tuesday’s review.
Walden Place and its parent company, Senior Lifestyle Corp., are concerned emergency access to the site would be severely hampered if the Bennie Road intersection is closed, and the road diverted prior to reaching Walden Place.
The state Department of Transportation has said that now or in the future, the proximity of Bennie and South Cortland Virgil roads’ intersections with Route 13 to one another will require the Bennie Road intersection to be closed.
Scott Smith, an engineer with the town’s engineering consulting firm, Clough Harbour & Associates, said that in his meetings with the state, he had been told emergency vehicles would be able to pass through the current Bennie Road intersection even after it’s closed to regular traffic. There’s also the possibility the new Wal-Mart access road could be connected to Walden Place’s parking lot.
“I don’t see emergency response being a problem,” Smith told the Walden Place officials.
“Our primary concern is that probably 20 percent of our business comes from drive-bys,” said Roth Weaver, regional director of operations for the Senior Lifestyle Corp. “We don’t have a lot of drive-by anyways; if this road is closed, it eliminates all of that drive-by around the front of our building and brings it around back.”
Board members stressed that either now or later, Bennie Road would be closed and that the decision had already been made by the state.
But board Chair Kathy Wickwire suggested that although the town eventually might be required to close the Bennie Road intersection, the Planning Board is not required to address the problem at this time.


Quail urges action on South End plan

Staff Reporter

The cleanup of run-down properties, an emphasis on code enforcement and more homeowner-occupied properties were among the issues most important to about 30 5th Ward residents at a meeting Tuesday on the South End Strategic Plan.
The challenge is ensuring the ideas brought up in the plan are brought to fruition, said Alderman Dan Quail (R-5th Ward).
He asked residents on hand to consider being part of a neighborhood association or community task force to carry out the suggestions.
“I’d really like to see a core group of people emerge to make sure it doesn’t just wind up collecting dust somewhere,” Quail said.
Quail said he hoped to get some further feedback from residents over the next couple of weeks, but he wanted to have the plan, which is currently just in draft form, adopted by the Common Council by June, if not sooner.
The draft plan, which was finalized in early April, outlines long-term ideas and hopes for the development of the South End.
A study done by building inspectors for the plan found that just 19 percent of the residential properties in the area were considered standard housing, with 42 percent moderately substandard, 38 percent severely substandard and 1 percent dilapidated.
Seventy-eight percent of 106 respondents to a survey by Thoma Development named poor housing a concern, and those in attendance backed that number up.
“What we have there now is a disgrace … (an) egregiously poor housing situation,” said Ann Gebhard, referring to a number of properties that are poorly maintained.
Quail said the $8 million investment of Housing Visions should help revitalize the area, ideally prompting other nearby property owners to invest in their properties. Housing Visions recently completed its purchase of a number of properties in the area and will renovate them into low-income housing, he said.


Group: Remove Cuyler board member

Staff Reporter

Several outraged Cuyler residents formed a community action group last week in an attempt to remove a Town Board member from office.
The group plans to speak at the Cortland County Legislature meeting Thursday night with the hope of gaining support from county officials.
Citizens of Cuyler was formed on April 16 and is in the beginning stages of organizing fundraisers and obtaining legal counsel in order to have John Van Dee removed from his position on the board, group spokesman Lee Smith said Tuesday.
“He shouldn’t be on there living in Homer,” Smith said.
The group contends that Van Dee filed his 2006 state STAR tax exemption for a property at 1760 White Bridge Circle Drive, Homer, even though he is listed with the election commission as living at 6368 Van Dee Road, Cuyler.
A STAR exemption is only available for a person’s primary residence.
Smith’s group believes Van Dee lied about living in the town of Cuyler in order to maintain his position on the Town Board.
Smith said around 30 people attended the group’s first meeting, and he believes more people will continue to join.
Citizens of Cuyler wants the Legislature and Election Commissioner Bill Wood to step in and remove Van Dee from his position because Cuyler Town Supervisor Steven Breed refuses to discuss the issue.
Wood said Tuesday he cannot remove Van Dee from office if Van Dee does not live in the town.
“It’s not our responsibility,” he said. “It’s the town’s.”