July 10, 2007

Six buildings set to fall to Route 281 expansion 

six buildings

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer    
Rush-hour traffic uses the intersection at Route 281 and McLean Road Monday. The state plans to buy two gas stations, a house and apartments to make way for major road work to take place on Route 281.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The state will demolish six buildings in the upcoming expansion of Route 281 and take some portion of land from 90 percent of properties along a 3-mile stretch of the road.
Property owners have been contacted about the state’s intentions, said Gene Cilento, design project manager for the state Department of Transportation.
Utility relocations are scheduled to begin next summer while road construction is scheduled to take place in 2009 and 2010.
The project stretches along a short section of Route 13 north of Lime Hollow and stretches along Route 281 to Exit 12 in Homer.
Six buildings on five properties will be taken through eminent domain and demolished, Cilento said Monday.
They are:
* Mobile and Red Apple gas stations at the intersection of Route 281 and McLean Road;
* the recently closed Golden Lunch Restaurant at 3590 Route 281;
* a single-family rental property in front of Cortland Used Cars at 3600 Route 281; and
* a multi-family rental property and a 16-room home that also serves as TLT Inc., an accounting business, both at the intersection of Route 281 and McLean Road.
Only some of these property owners have received offers on their property, Cilento said.
Steve Malchak, who owns the single-family rental property in front of his used car lot, said the state has offered him $104,000 for the 1,500-square-foot house and about 27 feet of his blacktop car lot.
Malchak said the offer is too low, citing a recent appraisal by Dryden Mutual Insurance Co. that valued the house at $155,000.
He said he would file a lawsuit if he cannot negotiate a better offer.
Malchak plans to attend a public talk Wednesday from 10 a.m. to noon at the former Holiday Inn on River Street at which Dan Biersdorf, a Buffalo-based lawyer with the Minneapolis-based Biersdorf & Associates specializing in eminent domain, will speak.
Biersdorf will be speaking from a property owner’s perspective. He will address frequently asked questions, give an overview of the eminent domain process and then open the floor to any questions.
Tammy Thomas, owner of the two properties at the intersection of Route 281 and McLean Road that will be taken by the state, said she has already talked to Biersdorf about representing her should she dispute the state’s offer, which she has not yet received.
She suspects it will be too low because the state has already told her it is not considering the accounting business inside her home.
Other property owners less affected say they plan on suing the state for their offers.
Paul Gallow, owner of Pro Audio at 3904 Route 281, said he is not happy with the state’s offer for taking about a third of an acre of his parking lot.
Gallow declined to say how much the state offered him or what he would have liked. He said the state will take the majority of his parking spots, though he declined to say exactly how many.
He did say, however, the seizure could result in him closing his business.
“I’ll probably end up moving,” he said. “I’m guessing I can’t continue to do business with that few parking spots.”
Most businesses along Route 281 affected by eminent domain will not see such significant changes to their property.
Route 281 Bowl Inc., for example, will lose 10 of its 50 parking spots, owner Scott Becker said, while William Cleary said he will lose land going back 35 feet from Route 281 of the 1.6 acres parcel he owns. The property, which is across from Luker Road, is vacant.
Both men say they have not yet received offers from the state.
Cilento said the state hopes to provide offers to all affected properties within the next few weeks, and close on all the properties by the end of this year.




IDA eyes taking control of Buckbee site

Staff Reporter

While he recommended it only as a last resort, an attorney for the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency said Monday that the IDA could legally use eminent domain to gain site control of the long vacant Buckbee-Mears plant off Kellogg Road.
John Sidd told board members that the IDA could legally take the Buckbee-Mears property on Kellogg Road by process of eminent domain, because doing so in an effort to market the property to a viable business would represent a “public purpose.”
Sidd warned, however, that trying to acquire the property through eminent domain could prompt a lengthy legal battle with the current owners of the property, India-based International Electron Devices.
Sidd suggested the IDA try to gain control of the site through other avenues first — for instance, trying to purchase the mortgage for the property from the Bank of India.
The board agreed to solicit a title search, which gathers all debts and deeds related to the property, which would give the IDA a better understanding as it continues to talk with potential buyers for the site.
The board asked Sidd and IDA Executive Director Linda Hartsock to come back with a proposal for a “next step” in gaining site control for its August meeting.
Hartsock said gaining site control would likely cost the IDA millions of dollars, and that the board would also need to have either a developer for the property lined up or numerous interested buyers in waiting in order to leverage a loan.
The list price of the property is $12 million.
“We’re not going to move forward with anything unless we’re sure that we have a developer who plans to bring jobs to the community,” Hartsock said.
The 330,000-square-foot former TV parts manufacturing facility, which lies on a 50-acre lot, has been vacant since the summer of 2005, when IED ceased operations.
Local officials have complained of having no contact from IED, which owes the city approximately $500,000 in back taxes and water and sewer fees and also left thousands of gallons of contained hazardous chemicals on site that are being cleaned up, at an estimated cost of $1.2 million, by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.
Chris Boeres, of Yaman Real Estate, who has been marketing the property for IED, said Monday that the company is ready to begin the process of taking care of its debts, and that once the EPA cleanup is complete, a sale could soon follow.
“If Yaman Real Estate can sell it, we will be absolutely ecstatic,” Hartsock said. “But we also just can’t let it sit there, losing its value to the community, while the property owners are unresponsive.”


IDA OKs tax deal 

The Cortland County Industrial Development Agency formally approved a 10-year payment in lieu of taxes agreement Monday for a planned soybean crushing and biodiesel production facility in Polkville.
The board had voted 3-1 in favor of the PILOT at a June 20 special meeting, but, while a quorum was present at that meeting, the vote required the consent of a majority of the seven-person board, requiring at least four votes.
The board voted 6-0 Monday in favor of the agreement, which would save Empire Agrifuel approximately $1.3 million in town, county and school taxes, sales taxes on construction materials and a mortgage recording fee.
Under the agreement, the company will pay no taxes in the first through third year of the agreement, 25 percent of those taxes in years four and five, 50 percent of taxes in years six through eight, and 75 percent of taxes in the final two years of the 10-year agreement. After 10 years, the company will pay full taxes.

Empire AgriFuel was set up by SUNY Morrisville to develop the $15.3 million facility.


Group lobbies for  increased rail use

Staff Reporter

A nonprofit lobbying group for the railroad industry is working to round up support locally for increasing the amount of freight shipped by rail nationwide.
Jennifer Jaroski Guinan, a representative of Go21 (Growth Options for the 21st Century), a lobbying group funded by two railroad trade associations, met Monday with city Aldermen Shannon Terwilliger (D-2nd Ward) and Tom Michales (R-8th Ward), the first of a number of meetings Guinan hoped to set up locally to discuss her organization’s initiatives.
Go21 has a long-term goal of expanding railroad activity and reducing highway congestion, Guinan said, with its efforts focused currently on pushing a bill in Congress that would provide a 25 percent tax credit on expenditures by businesses on new railroad infrastructure.
“Our highways are already too crowded,” Guinan said. “Rail is more reliable and ultimately cheaper service, and it’s better for the environment, too … it should seem like sort of a no-brainer, but it’s one of those things that’s been overlooked by environmental groups as a way to cut back on emissions.”
Guinan said she was targeting elected officials in this region of the state because of the presence of significant railroad infrastructure, and because Rep. Mike Arcuri (D-Utica) sits on the influential Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House of Representatives.
Guinan asked both Terwilliger and Michales to consider writing a letter to Arcuri urging him to co-sponsor the bill, and both said they would do so and also bring the issue to the Common Council, likely at its special work session tonight.
“I’d really like to see the railroad expanded because we’ve got a lot of industry here and, lets face it, this city was developed around the railroad,” Michales said.
Terwilliger said the suggestion by Guinan that increasing use of railroads for freight would allow for more frequent and reliable opportunities to use railroads for transportation was appealing.
“Imagine if people could take a train if they want to go shopping in Syracuse or go down to Binghamton … if that could really get going, eventually you’d start saving energy 10-fold,” Terwilliger said, noting that train transportation has long been effective in Europe. “And if you can bring public transportation to the central areas, the cities, it’s going to help revitalize those areas.”



Virgil man in court over row with town

Staff Reporter

A former Virgil man appeared Monday in Homer Town Court, where he and his attorney argued that the court does not have jurisdiction over criminal charges pending against him.
The case, which began with felony robbery charges in Virgil, has been reduced to two violations  pending in Homer Town Court.
William Allen, 57, formerly of Artemis Drive, is charged with one count of second-degree harassment and one count of disorderly conduct, violations.
He is accused of entering the Virgil Town Hall on Dec. 15 and trying to take a town audit from Town Clerk Bonnie Hand.
Hand told police Allen dragged her down the hallway of the building as the two wrestled over the document.
Allen was originally charged with third-degree attempted robbery but that charge was dismissed in Homer Town Court in May and replaced with the violations.
The original charges were moved from Virgil to Homer due to a conflict of interest with the District Attorney’s Office.
Allen appeared on Monday in Homer with his court appointed attorney, Francis Williams.
Williams said that under the Criminal Procedure Law the court does not have jurisdiction over the pending charges because they are violations.
He argued that although the District Attorney’s Office was legally able to move the case from Virgil to Homer because the original charge was a felony, it now must be moved back to Virgil because that charge was unfounded.
Williams said the felony charge was baseless and therefore the case was moved improperly from Virgil, because legally all violations must be heard in the jurisdiction they occur.
Allen has said he never tried to take the paperwork from the Town Hall. He said he only wanted to move to a room where he could view it privately because Hand was bothering him while he was trying to read it.
He said when he tried to walk to another part of the building with the audit, Hand grabbed his arm and began to wrestle with him.