September 04 , 2007


Students have their own set of college housing concerns


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
An illegally parked SUV straddles the sidewalk on the lawn of this student rental at the corner of Lincoln and Homer avenues.

Staff Reporter

College students tossed a football back and forth across the yards of two houses on Groton Avenue while music played through a set of speakers just loud enough to be heard on the porch and in the yard.
SUNY Cortland senior Chris Curley and his housemates at 66 Groton Ave. don’t have trouble with year-round residents as neighbors, because they don’t have any.
Senior Dan Cook of Potsdam, who lives on Orchard Street, pointed out house after house on Groton Avenue and identified them all as student housing.
“Every house is student housing — but we don’t blare the music anyways,” Cook said Saturday afternoon as he drank a beer on the porch of his friend’s rental. “Personally, if we knew there were more families around, we’d be more apt to take it easy.”
As students settle in to off-campus housing they remain largely unaware of the community concern, but on some issues — such as overcrowding — they have common ground with city effort to clean up and rein in problem properties.
Since February, residents have voiced concerns over a perceived increase in student housing at the expense of single-family homes and residential neighborhoods.
A moratorium on the development of new multi-family housing was proposed but the city has instead decided to revise its code of ordinances.
“We hadn’t heard of it,” Cook said, and many of his friends were also in the dark. “We never knew what all those moratorium signs were.”
The Common Council is now reviewing two proposed laws that would make landowners responsible for their tenants’ behavior: one would fine landlords if tenants repeatedly park on the front lawns and the other would hold landlords responsible for nuisance parties.
Erik Lasky of Greene graduated last year, but found his way back to his friends’ house and was throwing the football back and forth with freshman Brett Frable of Binghamton, who started college spring semester of last year and is now living on Lincoln Avenue.
Both Lasky and Frable felt landlords should be responsible for their tenants.
Though small infractions should be the students’ responsibility, Lasky said that if an entire building is being a nuisance, it should fall to the landlord.
“The owners should know about that, they should be around checking up on it,” Lasky said. “The people who run the house should know what’s going on.”
But just down and across the street, juniors Erin DeSalvo of Wappingers Falls and Christen Kruger of Poughkeepsie sat on the porch of their Groton Avenue rental and shifted the blame to the other foot.
“We paid what we had to pay and we’re taking on the responsibility of living on our own,” DeSalvo reasoned.
“If you’re going to take on the responsibility of throwing a party, then you should take responsibility for the party,” Kruger added, saying that she and her friends don’t throw parties — they just go to them.
They were also unaware of any controversy in the wind, having been too preoccupied with getting settled into their building.
Still, students have their own set of concerns. Rent is high, they said, and student housing is often overcrowded.
“We have a lot of friends who live in 12-person houses,” DeSalvo said. “There’s a lot of cramming going on.”
The city has had trouble enforcing its occupancy limits because of flaws in the code as it now stands, and is currently drafting a rental permit program to help combat substandard rental units and overoccupancy.
The program is being reviewed at a special Common Council work session today.
Landlords would be required to report the number of intended tenants in each to home to receive the permit, which would give code enforcement the authority to inspect the homes if more than the claimed number of tenants are suspected to be living there.
Junior Andy Green of St. Catherine’s, Ontario, said students should be looking for housing for next year at the very beginning of the fall semester, or else they could end up in his situation.
“They’re throwing five students in a place meant for two students,” Green said. “The reason why you want to live off-campus is because you don’t want to be sharing rooms anymore.”
All of the students complain that they pay too much for rent, but they just don’t have a choice — they’re just happy to have decent housing.
“They take what they can get,” Green said. “When you’re a student, you don’t have a lot of options. But you don’t want to live in a dorm with an 18-, 19-year-old.”

Police increase college patrols

City police department foot patrols have been increased in response to the concerns about students, Police Chief James Nichols said Friday.
City police had 70 student arrests from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. each night over the Aug. 24-25 weekend, the first in which many students returned to Cortland.
Last year on the same weekend, there were 49 student arrests and Nichols attributes the increase to the foot patrols.
Lt. Jon Gesin said these arrests are mainly proactive, and not call-generated and reactive.
Police would not disclose how many more officers are on patrol.
The city is paying about $40,000 in overtime this year for the increased patrolling of the college neighborhood.
Overall, Nichols said the number of student arrests has gone down over the years.
In 2003, 629 students were arrested, while 326 were in 2006.
“Arrests are not for violent acts, only for quality of life issues,” Nichols said. “The vast majority do not engage in violent crimes.”
There are several reasons for the decrease in arrests, and Nichols cites cooperation as one of the main reasons.
The names of SUNY Cortland and Tompkins Cortland Community College students who are arrested are forwarded to the schools for appropriate judicial action.
“This is a benefit because the students have to deal with the city court system and possibly the school’s judicial affairs office,” Nichols said.
TC3 is creating a judicial affairs position, and the city police department now permits its officers to testify in college judicial affairs procedures, he said.
Also, SUNY Cortland has a late night shuttle bus funded entirely by the college. It operates from 11 p.m. to 2:40 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
— Aimee Milks



Fire destroys house in Virgil

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — Cortland County and state fire officials are investigating an early morning fire at a vacant house on Holler Road, which authorities described as a total loss.
There was no one living in the house, power to the structure had been cut and a cause has yet to be determined, officials said.
Virgil Fire Chief Jamie Babcock said the first call reporting the fire at 2819 Holler Road was received at about 2:30 a.m. First responders reached the scene about six minutes later and reported a fully involved structure fire.
The fire was brought under control in about an hour, and Babcock said the fire departments were driving nearly two miles to a pond on a farm for the water they needed.
This morning, the two-story wood-frame house had been reduced to two chimneys, a charred structure of one remaining wall and a basement now open to the elements.
Babcock said the fire is believed to have started in the northeastern corner of the structure, in the basement.
Fire departments from Cortlandville, McLean, Dryden, Marathon and the city of Cortland responded to the scene, and Harford was on standby.
Property owner Peter Hans Jr., of 8 William St., Cortland, said shortly before 9 this morning that he had only just found out about the fire and had not spoken with anyone yet.
“I have no idea what happened — I don’t know what to say,” Hans said.
The property is 33 acres, according to County Real Property Tax Services, and assessed at $42,800 — $32,800 of which is for the land alone, not counting the 1,056-square-foot house.


City Fire Department puts out 3 fires Saturday

Scrap pile ignites at Contento’s junkyard, cigarette sparks trash bin fire and house on Central Avenue burns.

Staff Reporter

City firefighters Saturday extinguished fires in a scrapyard, a large trash bin outside a restaurant and inside the walls of a house on Central Avenue.
No injuries were reported.
At 12:30 p.m. at Contento’s at 119 Pendleton St., firefighters arrived to find a fire that apparently began in a pile of cardboard boxes had spread to a pile of mixed materials, including wood, plastic and scrap metal, as well as the left front tire of a front-end loader. They extinguished the flames.
The cause of the fire was still under investigation as of this morning, fire officials said.
The fire department reported the damage to the tire of the front-end loader and its headlights at between $400 and $500. The vehicle is estimated to be worth $20,000.
Firefighters responded to a call at 3:25 p.m. for a trash bin fire behind Hyde’s Diner at 157 Homer Ave.
The fire department said the fire was contained in the bin; the cause was a discarded cigarette.
At 9:13 p.m., firefighters were called to 159 Central Ave. for a house fire.
Assistant Fire Chief Chuck Glover said the fire appeared to have been started by an electrical problem, but the cause was still being investigated as of this morning.
There were four occupants in the two-family dwelling, who were escorted out of the building, which is owned by Thomas Sands of Homer.
The small fire in the second floor and attic was extinguished in about half an hour, Glover said, adding that the effort did result in some water damage.
Fire officials said when they arrived they spoke with the tenant of one of the apartments who said she saw red hot ashes falling in the hallway and added that she had been having electrical problems in the apartment.
Sands also had been complaining of problems with the electricity before the fire became visible, fire officials said.



Ninth-graders link up with seniors

Cortland students attend orientation for incoming freshmen

There was no reason a ninth-grader reporting to orientation this morning in the city schoold district would not know where to go. Outside on the sidewalk in front of the high school upperclassmen in bright orange T-shirts greeted students. The shirts read in black lettering, “Link Crew” on the front and “Leader” on the back.
Another group was posted at the door, guiding freshmen to the large group instruction room, where there were more students than seats despite students having to find their own way to school. Some got rides from parents; others walked, skateboarded or biked to the school. All but 40 of the 245 freshmen attended.
Classes start Wednesday.
“It’s OK,” said Ashley Edmond, a ninth-grader who trasferred from Dryden to Cortland, adding she would have rather had the day off. “I don’t know anybody,” she said.
Sean McKelvey, a freshman, joked that he was spending “the last day of freedom” from school in school.
He said his understanding of the day would be that freshmen would walk around the school and find where all their classes will be and there would be some sort of activity.
He said the orientation was a good idea “so we freshmen can get used to the high school.”
An older and a younger sister, and a senior and third-grader all teased him about going to school a day early, he said.
Once gathered, the students walked to the gym, where about 60 Link Crew members awaited, most of them forming a gauntlet for the students to walk between, giving them high fives as they passed.
Amy Johnson, high school health educator, student council advisor and a coordinator of the program, was right there, too, at the head of the line.
She led several ice-breaking games with the students, including Simon Says and a Battle of the Sexes. In the battle, she asked for a male and a female Link Crew member and they were instructed to gather five ninth-graders of their sex.
Johnson did not tell them what they would do until the teams were set. Then the 10 ninth-graders each received a balloon and they had to pop it by placing it between themselves and the Link Crew leader of the opposite sex. The teammates had to hug the crew leader until the balloon popped.
The boys popped their balloons first. Some of the female team members, slight in stature, had difficulty.
“They had no idea of what kind of craziness I had in mind,” Johnson said after the event. She said those students represented one type of high school students — those who make it happen. She said a second group of students watched it happen and a third group missed the action entirely.
Mac Knight, principal for ninth and 10th grades, advised the students to “look, listen and learn so you can lead.”


City tries to nurture urban forest

Landscape and Design Commission member calls for planting of taller trees.

Staff Reporter

The earth around Margaret Martin’s house on Madison Street is very fertile.
Though she regrets every planting the prickly barberry that has thrived and now lines the sidewalk in front of her house, the two trees that have been planted between the sidewalk have also flourished.
About five years ago, Martin won a Japanese Lilac tree through the city’s tree lottery and now has a crabapple tree that has taken root in the good soil in front of her house.
“I think I’m pretty well filled up for now,” Martin said Saturday.
This year, 48 trees were planted around the city through the annual tree lottery. Sixty percent were crab apple trees, like Martin’s, and a variety of maple dubbed “autumn blaze” was also given out, said city Landscape and Design Commission member Mike Dexter.
He said that about half of Cortland’s urban forest is maple trees, and that it is time to start concentrating on planting larger trees through the lottery — at least on the side of the street not restricted by power lines.
“Most of the trees that have been planted are smaller species of trees, otherwise known as dwarf trees, because of the power line problem,” Dexter said in an interview Friday. “The last three or four years, we finally got some larger trees that can be planted on the other side of the street.”
Several years ago, there was a public outcry at what residents thought was an overly aggressive tree trimming policy being practiced by National Grid, then Niagara Mohawk. In response, the electric company has brought in a professional arborist to supervise the trimming operations, and Dexter said the company is very responsive to the commission.
The company uses a pruning standard that has been included in the city’s Code of Ordinances as part of the Tree Ordinance, which the Landscape and Design Commission spent several years developing before passing it in March 2006.
The ordinance dictates that the planting and pruning of street trees must be done in accordance to industry standards; that only small trees may be planted beneath overhead utility lines; outlines the city’s right to remove trees that pose a public safety hazard; and sets a maximum fine of $1,000 for a violation of the ordinance.