May 2 , 2007

City looks for lawyer to study moratorium

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Signs such as this one are cropping up on West Court Street in support of a temporary halt to development of multi-family housing projects in the city. The proposed conversion of the former home of George Brockway, in background, into student housing has spurred discussion of the moratorium.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The Common Council directed the city attorney Tuesday to hire a land-use attorney to review the possibility, legality and mechanics of a temporary stop to development of multi-family housing in residential areas.
The council also decided to ask for a recommendation regarding the moratorium from the city Planning Commission.
Signs in support of the moratorium proposal have appeared throughout the city, reading “Moratorium Now! Protect our neighborhoods.”
Vivian Bosch, a West Court Street member of the Hill Neighborhood Association, said the idea and funding for the signs had come from two of the association’s members, Ric Van Donsel and Mary Leonard.
Van Donsel had no comment on the subject after Tuesday night’s Common Council meeting.
The Hill Neighborhood Association and the Lincoln and Maple Association distributed the signs, Bosch said.
The two neighborhood associations presented the Common Council with almost 500 signatures on a petition supporting the moratorium.
An agenda item addressing the moratorium question had been requested by Alderman Sue Feiszli (D-6th Ward) Tuesday, and the council had to vote to address it at the meeting — only Alderman Jim Partigianoni (D-7th Ward) voted against adding the issue to the meeting agenda.
Corporation Counsel Larry Knickerbocker said he already had been directed to seek outside counsel, but he asked the Common Council to give him an outline of what a land use attorney would be studying. The question was whether the attorney would be studying the feasibility of the moratorium, or larger zoning issues related to the zoning map, zoning ordinances and housing density.
“When I’m talking to attorneys, I want to make sure they have the experience in the issues we’re asking them to look into,” Knickerbocker told the council, adding that the first step would be addressing the need and workings of a moratorium.
“An overall plan is what I think the issue is here.”
Although much of the discussion of the moratorium had been spurred by local developer John Del Vecchio’s proposal to build a second apartment building on the lot of the former George Brockway house at 19 W. Court St., both Feiszli and residents speaking during the public comment period stressed that the moratorium was not aimed at addressing that specific project.
The Del Vecchio project will be discussed at the city Planning Commission meeting on May 29.
The current draft of the moratorium would halt approvals and permits for the development of any multi-unit properties, whether new construction or the conversion of existing homes.
The proposed law would include an initial 180-day moratorium that could be repealed at any time by the council.
When Feiszli first presented the idea to the Common Council in March, it was targeted at the 2nd, 3rd and 4th wards because of the higher concentration of student housing in that area.
However, the city was cautioned against using the political boundaries of the wards to delineate the moratorium target area, and in the current proposal the moratorium is targeted at the R1, R2, R3 and R4 residential zoning districts.
Knickerbocker and the outside counsel would work to provide an opinion and recommendation on the legality of the moratorium, and how the moratorium would work and whom it would affect.
Although Feiszli had requested a deadline of May 12, Knickerbocker said that timeline was a bit too tight to research and hire a land use attorney, who then would have to review the city’s master plan, zoning map and ordinances before offering an opinion.
The council will receive the recommendations of the attorneys as soon as possible, Knickerbocker said, and that should be before the June meeting.
Alderman Shannon Terwilliger (D-2nd Ward) asked that Mayor Tom Gallagher’s proposed rental permitting system, whereby rental property owners would have to request a special permit from the city to operate and would be subject to inspections, be included as one of the topics of study for the land use attorney.
The council decided to add this to Knickerbocker’s tasks, as well as a request by Alderman Dan Quail (R-5th Ward) to address the construction of a second building on a single lot.


Animal neglect trial begins

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — In the first day of the animal neglect trial of a local cat shelter, several people who lived near and worked at the house and clinic on 7 Wheeler Ave. testified about odors coming from the buildings.
“The first year they were there it wasn’t that bad, but as the years went on there were unbearable odors,” said John Perrine, of 9 Wheeler Ave.
Both Perrine and Lynn Barone, of 3 Wheeler Ave., said that for two years, from 2004 through 2006, they smelled cat urine coming from the 5 and 7 Wheeler Ave. property owned by Purr Fect World Inc. They said the odors were particularly bad in the summer.
Barone said that as time went on, the odor went from just urine to a “decaying” smell.
Purr Fect World Inc., a nonprofit organization, is charged with 49 counts of failure to provide proper food and water to an impounded animal, an unclassified misdemeanor.
City police, firefighters and the Cortland County SPCA raided the two buildings on Sept. 1 and removed nearly 300 cats.
Eugenia Cute, 54, who was living at the house at the time of the raid, was the only board member for the corporation present for first day of the non-jury trial. Lisa Alderman, 43, of 503 Third St., Liverpool, the clinic’s founder, was not present Tuesday.
Cute and Alderman originally were charged with the same charges the corporation is facing but those charges were later amended in City Court to only pertain to Purr Fect World.
If the corporation is found guilty of neglecting the animals, it could face up to a $1,000 fine for each count.
Assistant District Attorney Jevon Garrett called eight witnesses Tuesday, including two Cornell University veterinarians and three former Purr Fect World employees.
Dr. Sean McDonough, of Cornell, told the court he tested the remains of the 21 dead cats that police and SPCA officers found in a freezer in the house. He said most of the cats died of malnutrition while one kitten was so far decomposed that doctors could not determine how it died.
McDonough also said two other cats, both kittens, appeared to have died naturally during birth.
“In almost every case the cats had sever emaciation,” he said.
Defense attorney James Stevens during cross-examination asked if the cats could have died of natural causes. He asked McDonough if it was natural for cats to refuse to eat and drink in their old age, thus losing weight and dying naturally. McDonough agreed it could have happened with the cats in question.


City looks to limit animals in household

Staff Reporter

The number of animals allowed in apartment units in the city should be limited to one cat and one dog, and the number of cats and dogs allowed in a single-family home might be limited to three of each, a veterinarian suggested to city officials Tuesday.
Animal control experts, city code department officials and a veterinarian worked with the Common Council at a special session Tuesday night to identify problems with the city’s animal control ordinances and solutions to the problems.
The council also asked Homer veterinarian Bill Cadwallader to look into veterinarian associations’ standards for clinics and breeders that might be able to be carried over into the city’s animal control ordinances.
The city’s seizure of nearly 300 cats from a Wheeler Avenue property in September was the impetus for the discussion. The Cortland County SPCA cared for the cats for several months and the city incurred costs totaling nearly $70,000.
There were two components of the council’s discussion — the number of animals allowed in homes and whether a permitting system should be set up for nonprofit spay and neuter clinics, which the Wheeler Avenue operation had been intended as before the situation apparently got out of control.
The city’s lawyer, Larry Knickerbocker, said that although an ordinance in the city defines what improperly harboring animals means, it is problematic.
SPCA Animal Cruelty Investigator Bill Carr agreed.
“In your animal harboring definitions, it talks about a limit of three dogs and four cats per household. It’s not really an enforceable ordinance,” because there aren’t any punishments outlined, Carr said.
Carr recommended a system in which a graduated series of fines would eventually lead to the confiscation of the animal, with provisions for its return once the problems had been addressed.


College seeks student life center funding

Staff Reporter

Julian Wright envisioned a center where college students would be able to engage in recreational activities and socialize 15 years ago when he became the director of recreational sports at SUNY Cortland.
“It’s something I’ve fought for for 15 years,” Wright said.
His dream of a student life center may be a little closer to reality.
SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum said Friday that the college would be seeking $35 million to $40 million from the state for a student life center. He said he has spoken with both state Sen. James Seward and Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton.
“It’s something we would love to have,” Bitterbaum said.
Wright said the building would cost at least $35 million to construct. He had first proposed the project in December 1999 and at the time had anticipated the cost for a “stand alone” building at $25 million.
The proposed site would be the northeast corner of Carl “Chugger” Davis Field, facing toward the college dorms and the proposal is for a building that contains 120,000 square feet on two or three floors.
Nasrin Parvizi, associate vice president of Facilities Management, said with the project’s endorsement by the SUNY construction fund, the state considers it a capital project and part of SUNY Cortland’s master plan. She said this makes it a priority for funding, although the college has not officially prepared its list of priorities yet.
“It is our priority one for the future,” Parvizi said.
Parvizi said it would have to compete with other college and university projects that those institutions consider priorities. Parvizi said about $100 million is awarded each year. She said some private colleges with public research centers or programs, such as Cornell also compete with state schools for the money. 
Wright said if funding were obtained next year, the center could be a reality in five years, with two years for design and another two years for building.