June 19, 2007

Strawberry season ripens in the county

Short-lived harvest will last until July


Bob Ellis/staff photographer   
Strawberry season has arrived at Knapp’s Cobblestone Valley Farm in Preble. Noah Cooper, 5, leads his grandmother Debra Clark, of Cortland, and his sister Kyla through the strawberry field at Knapp’s Monday morning.

Staff Reporter

PREBLE — Sisters Anna and Laura Canny and their neighbor Bryana Reese decided they would thank their teachers for an excellent school year with some homemade strawberry jam.
Anna and Laura’s mom, Nancy Canny, drove the girls from Marcellus to the Cobblestone Valley Farm on Route 281 in Preble for the most important ingredient.
“My aunt makes it for us all the time, but I haven’t made it with these guys yet,” Nancy said as she unloaded an 8-quart container of strawberries from her minivan after figuring the conversion rate, in strawberries, between quarts and pounds into her jam plans.
Cobblestone Valley Farm owner Maureen Knapp said a quart container full of strawberries weighs about one pound, but it always depends on how far a berry picker thinks he or she can push it.
The organic farm opened for strawberry season Friday, and Knapp said the harvest almost always ends around July 4.
“The average opening date is around June 15,” Knapp said Monday afternoon. “It was weird this year, because I would have thought that we would have opened up later because of the bad weather we had in early spring, but we probably should have opened up a couple days earlier than when we did.”
About 200 people visit the roughly 5-acre strawberry patch on a good day, and Casey Knapp, 17, directed Nancy Canny and the girls to the sections open for picking that day.
Reese, 12, and Anna Canny, 8, piled out of the van, while 5-year-old Laura Canny fooled around with a camera.
“We were playing school, and we were pretending we were going on a field trip,” Anna Canny explained on her sister’s behalf.
While there are several strawberry patches in the Cortland County area, Nancy Canny said she preferred to come to Cobblestone Valley because it is an organic farm.
“It’s been a huge draw from the Syracuse area, because you know there’re a lot of strawberry farms up near the Syracuse area, so it means a lot to us to have them come down,” Knapp said.
Also drawn to the bright red organic berries, Pete and Duckie Hammer, of Syracuse, and their 2 1/2-year-old son, Patrick, picked 4 1/2 quarts in half an hour at Cobblestone Valley Farm Monday in preparation for their niece’s visit for breakfast and strawberry shortcake this morning.
Duckie Hammer estimated that they probably would be coming to the farm at least a couple of times a week.
“These 4 quarts will only last us four days,” she predicted, and Pete Hammer emphasized that the season only lasts a little while.
Their nearby cottage on Little York Lake is within strawberry striking distance, and the family left to “go find a fish,” as Patrick put it.




More work ahead on moratorium proposal

Planning Commission and Common Council will meet to further define its intent

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Common Council and city Planning Commission members will meet jointly at an upcoming special meeting to iron out the intent of a proposed 180-day moratorium on multifamily housing construction.
Commission members reviewed a draft of the proposal at a special work session Monday evening.
The Planning Commission decided it still did not have enough information to make a recommendation on the moratorium, which was presented to it by Skaneateles-based law firm Cheney and Blair, specialists in land-use law hired by the city to assist the city attorney.
Commission Chair Nancy Hansen and Mayor Tom Gallagher will set a date for the joint work session.
Under the current draft of the moratorium, the development of multifamily housing in each of the city residential areas and the areas zoned general business and central business would be held up for 180 days while the city’s zoning and possibly master plan were revised.
Alderwoman Sue Feiszli (D-6th Ward) initially proposed in March a moratorium on the conversion of single-family homes into multiunit housing and construction of new multiunit housing until Dec. 31 in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th wards.
The city code office said much of the problems with multifamily housing — the code word for student housing, especially in the college hill neighborhoods that were recently riled by a proposed apartment complex at the bottom of West Court Street — stemmed from improper definitions and unenforceable ordinances.
Commissioner Jo Schaffer said throughout the meeting that she wondered if a moratorium was necessary at all, given two years worth of work on proposed amendments to the city’s zoning ordinance by a subcommittee made up of commission members and planning officials. Schaffer said that the proposed zoning amendments are practically complete.
“It seems to me that in a moratorium, you put everything on stall,” Schaffer said, wondering if the subcommittee’s work would be put on the back burner as well.


County faces third suit over land deal

Staff Reporter

A third property owner involved in the aborted Cortland County land deal on south Main Street has initiated legal action against the county.
While the requested damages — Annamaria Maniaci, who sold her property after the county backed out of the deal, is asking for $4,002 — are significantly less than the potential damages in the other two ongoing cases, county officials were concerned that more lawsuits would follow.
Maniaci’s notice of claim, sent to County Administrator Scott Schrader, points out that while Maniaci was ultimately able to sell her house at 8 Randall St. for more than the county had originally agreed to pay, she still incurred a number of costs after the county backed out of the deal.
The county had originally agreed to purchase Maniaci’s property for $96,000 in December 2006.
After the county Legislature voted to overturn that original decision in January, Maniaci sold the property in March for $104,900.
Although she wound up selling the property for $8,900 more than the county had agreed to pay, Maniaci’s notice of claim identifies $12,902 in expenditures that would not have been incurred had the county gone through with the deal, resulting in the request for $4,002 in damages.
The expenses include a $5,294 real estate commission, which the county would have paid, and in fact did pay to Cinquanti Real Estate, despite the annulment of the sale, under its agreement with Maniaci.
Maniaci also claims about $5,300 in city and school taxes paid, a total of about $1,000 for a survey done as part of the agreement and the installation of new circuit breakers after a home inspection, and about $300 in gas, electric and water and sewer costs.
Finally, the claim also cites $948.75 in attorney fees for the law offices of Riehlman, Shafer and Shafer, where County Attorney Ric Van Donsel is employed, for work done that was caused by the annulled contract.



Empire Zone adds 2 firms

Staff Reporter

The county’s Empire Zone Board approved applications Monday for two businesses to participate in the state Empire Zone program.
Pending state approval, the two businesses — Bev’s Fashions in downtown Homer and Austin Machine, which is relocating from Route 13 in Cortlandville to East Court Street in the city — will be able to file for tax credits in return for investing in their businesses locally.
Austin Machine, which manufactures machinery, equipment and machinery components, is moving to a vacant building at 46 E. Court St., and plans to increase its work force from four employees to seven over the next five years, said Karen Niday, Cortland County Empire Zone coordinator.
The three new jobs will be skilled positions that will require training by the company, Niday said, and will range in salary from $9 to $16 per hour.
Overall Austin Machine intends to invest $338,000 into the new building, including $190,000 to purchase the building, $28,000 for immediate improvements, and $120,000 to improve, over time, the building through new equipment and other upgrades, Niday said.
As long as it meets its projections, Austin Machine would be eligible to apply for up to a total of $86,264 in tax credits over the next five years.
The $338,000 in capital investments combined with projected total wages of $1.5 million over the next five years gave Austin Machine a $20.9 to $1 ratio in terms of its investment into the community versus potential tax breaks, Niday said.
The state asks that applicants demonstrate at least a $15 to $1 ratio in order to be eligible for Empire Zone certification.