September 05 , 2007


CAPE looks beyond Wal-Mart

Members say they will continue to tackle water quality, development issues


Bob Ellis/staff photographer      
Three key members of the local environmental group Citizens for Aquifer Protection and Employment, from left, Robert Rhodes, Jamie Dangler and Arnold Talentino stand on the site where a Wal-Mart Supercenter on Route 13 in South Cortland will be built. CAPE is deciding whether it will appeal a lawsuit it lost in August against Wal-Mart and the town that has left the group $7,000 in debt. CAPE fought against the approval of the Supercenter, saying it would threaten the aquifer and affect development in the area. The group has largely been defined by its struggles against Wal-Mart, but members say they will continue to monitor water quality and push for sound development.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — While a local citizens group believes its lawsuit against the town and Wal-Mart has merit, it does not have the money to continue the fight.
Citizens for Aquifer Protection and Employment Treasurer Jamie Dangler said the organization is “dismayed and shocked” by state Supreme Court Justice Ferris Lebous’ Aug. 10 dismissal of the lawsuit.
The decision was filed Aug. 13, one day after the town granted the project final approval.
CAPE has 30 days from that date to file an appeal.
“It doesn’t look promising, and that really is very distressing to us, because we think we have a very strong case and we don’t think our case was looked at fairly by the judge,” Dangler said, adding that a quicker decision on the judge’s behalf might have made an appeal more likely.
“It’s just not possible for us right now — people have been very generous and committed here, but there’s only so much we can take from the local community.”
Meanwhile, CAPE has about $7,000 in unpaid bills and next to no cash on hand.
The lawsuit against Wal-Mart and the town cost about $25,000, Dangler said, and an appeal would cost at least $10,000.
CAPE’s attorney, Mindy Zoghlin of Rochester-based Bansbach, Zoghlin & Wahl, charges more than $200 an hour, she said.
“The group as a whole has not made a definite decision, so I can’t even tell you one way or another which direction we might go in,” Dangler said.
CAPE began its fundraising efforts in earnest in May 2005, and Dangler said the group has raised and spent more than $40,000.
About $6,000 of that money went toward the legal costs of an earlier Article 78 lawsuit against the town over procedural problems in the passage of a revised town zoning ordinance; CAPE won that lawsuit and the revision process started over from the beginning.
Dangler said that much of the technical expertise for that process had been donated to the organization.
The remaining $34,252 was spent following the continuing revision of the zoning ordinance and the more substantial costs surrounding CAPE’s involvement in the Wal-Mart Supercenter project, including legal fees and the cost of hiring an engineering firm and hydrogeologist.
Pro bono expertise from an economist and traffic engineer was donated.
CAPE executive board member Arnold Talentino said financial support came from a wide cross-section of the community.
“We didn’t write all the checks — we got support from other people. And I think those people will continue to support us, and I think we will get support from other people,” Talentino said Thursday afternoon.
At CAPE’s last meeting, Dangler said the organization focused primarily upon future fundraising efforts.
“We’re dealing with still being overwhelmed with work and other things that we’re working on that don’t have anything to do with Wal-Mart, as well as things like our debt and coming to terms with the fact that we think we have a strong appeal but we just can’t afford to pursue it,” Dangler said Wednesday.
Now, it’s time for CAPE to regroup and Dangler said that many members are feeling a spirit of renewed commitment.
“We think the loss of the lawsuit has made our commitment even stronger than it was before, because now we have a huge problem to worry about,” Dangler said. “And we’re also committed to seeing things through in terms of the zoning ordinance, and also seeing larger water quality issues county-wide.”
The group formed in 2003 when veterans of numerous environmental causes in the area came together.
“It really was a coming together of people who were concerned about the aquifer and who had had some involvement in other environmental projects,” Dangler said, such as issues surrounding the former Smith Corona Marchant factory and the Rosen Dump. “The Super Wal-Mart proposal and the zoning ordinance, really, were the two catalysts that brought people together to say ‘You know, we really need to unite and work together on these new issues.’”
The organization sponsored a public forum on drinking water in October 2003, shortly after its inception, featuring a panel of county and U.S. Geological Survey officials; CAPE members have also participated in numerous discussions and events on the SUNY Cortland campus related to the environment and the aquifer.
The e-mail list has about 140 entries, Dangler said, but there are only between 15 and 20 active members who attend the twice-monthly meetings at Christ Presbyterian Church on Tompkins Street.
In April, the group became involved in discussions regarding a proposed subdivision of 45 acres for residential development off Kinney Gulf Road in the town of Homer, and CAPE members were also present at a Cortlandville Planning Board special meeting Aug. 21 discussing proposed improvements at two Suit-Kote Corp. sites in the town.
The group will participate in the approval process of a proposed gas station on Route 13 in Virgil, Dangler said, out of concern for nearby private wells.
Recently, Dangler said the group has been helping other concerned individuals find information and pursue their own water quality concerns.
“When CAPE was formed four years … we decided that CAPE would be an ongoing influence. It was not simply about Wal-Mart, which we have tried to make people understand,” Talentino said. “We’re ready to move on, and our focus from the beginning was … beyond Wal-Mart.”



Challenger claims she was misled by election commissioner

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — A 2nd Ward resident said Tuesday she was misled by the county’s Democratic election commissioner into formally challenging an independent nominating petition filed by the incumbent Democrat running for alderman in the ward.
Ann Doyle, who filed the formal challenge against Shannon Terwilliger (D-2nd Ward), said that Bill Wood, Democratic election commissioner and party committee chairman, had misrepresented the nature of the document he had asked her to sign.
“If that challenge means that she can’t run, then I withdraw the challenge,” Doyle said on the sidewalk in front of City Hall after a Common Council meeting Tuesday night.
The challenges became moot this morning as the petitions of the two incumbent Democrats were thrown out on a technicality.
Aldermen Terwilliger and Nick DeCarlo (D-4th Ward) will not be allowed to appear on the ballot under an independent party line.
Wood told the Cortland Standard on Aug. 29 he had not at that point seen the challenge by Doyle.
Doyle, who had filed the challenge on Aug. 27, said that Wood had presented her with the challenge form, already filled out.
“He came to me with this (challenge to the petition) with my name already on it,” Doyle said, adding that Wood had told her he needed the challenge immediately, and that Clay Benedict, who is challenging Terwilliger for the party’s nomination, was on vacation.
Wood denies Doyle’s version of the events.
“I talked to Ann Doyle, but I didn’t tell her to do anything,” Wood said this morning, maintaining that he still hasn’t seen the objections.
Terwilliger’s petition to run under the independent Crown Citizens Party line would have allowed her to remain on the ballot, even if she were to lose the Sept. 18 Democratic Primary to Benedict.
When Doyle’s challenge to her petition surfaced last week, Terwilliger charged that Wood and the party leadership had pushed for the challenge because a similar independent petition by Benedict had not been filed with the Elections Office on time.
Both Wood and Benedict denied that such a petition ever existed, but the Elections Office staff confirmed that an additional 2nd Ward independent petition had been brought to the office two days after the Aug. 21 filing deadline.


Commissioners throw out petitions

Staff Reporter

The County Board of Elections today threw out on a technicality the independent nominating petitions of two incumbent Democratic aldermen because neither submitted a required form to accepted the nomination of their self-created independent party.
Alderwoman Shannon Terwilliger (D-2nd Ward) and Nick DeCarlo (D-4th Ward) filed as members of the Crown Citizens Party on Aug. 21, but neglected to file an acceptance form within the required five days, according to county election commissioners.
Now, those petitions are null and void.
“We weren’t told that when we came down to file,” DeCarlo said after being blindsided with the decision this morning.
DeCarlo showed a signed cover sheet that he and Terwilliger had submitted with their petitions, stating their acceptance of the nomination.
He said the clerk with whom he filed the petitions — neither election commissioner was present at the time — did not indicate that he had he had to file a specific form to accept the nomination.
“I believe that they are supposed to notify us if we are obligated to sign an official document to decline or accept a nomination,” Terwilliger said this morning.
DeCarlo and Terwilliger contend that county Democratic Party Chairman Bill Wood and other high-ranking party officials are supporting their primary challengers, Clay Benedict in the 2nd Ward and Brian Tobin in the 4th Ward. DeCarlo said that this morning’s disclosure is further proof that it is inappropriate for Wood to serve as party chairman and a county election commissioner.
“If that isn’t a conflict of interest, I don’t know what is,” DeCarlo said.
Wood defended his actions, saying repeatedly that as election commissioners, he and Republican Election Commissioner Bob Howe are “sworn to uphold the law.”
At a hearing this morning that had been scheduled to review the objections to the petitions that had been filed last week, Wood and Howe instead had copies of the state Election Law detailing the acceptance process ready to disburse to Terwilliger — who did not attend — and DeCarlo.
“Bill was the one that investigated this and he brought this to my attention, and I said well I’m going to call the state to confirm, and I did,” Howe said. “I checked with the state, and the state said the petitions don’t even exist because the acceptance wasn’t filed.”
Howe said that if either candidate wishes to oppose the ruling, they could seek remedy in court.



Landlords object to new program

Staff Reporter

Local landlords used a specially scheduled Common Council work session to vigorously oppose a proposed rental permit program that would allow the city to inspect rental properties more often and easily than the current code allows.
The draft of the program had been presented to the council at a regular meeting on Aug. 21 and the work session had been scheduled to iron out the specifics, but the council spent the majority of the time Tuesday defending even the discussion of such a program to the unwavering landlords.
Tuesday marked the first time landlords have spoken out on the issue, which was first proposed in March.
Mayor Tom Gallagher asked the landlords to work with the city to develop a program that would meet not only the needs of rental property owners, but the needs of year-round residents who have recently been calling for measures to combat a perceived increase of student housing in single-family neighborhoods.
“Please keep in mind that we’re trying to do the right thing,” Gallagher said at the start of Tuesday’s session. “We’re going to try to come up with some cooperative effort that will meet everyone’s needs.”
Many of the 15 attendees were landlords, who called on the city to begin enforcing the existing ordinances.
In response, Chuck Glover, assistant fire chief and director of code enforcement stressed that the current system makes gathering the necessary evidence to bring a property owner to court nearly impossible unless a more regular inspection schedule for rental properties is undertaken.
At the heart of the issue is the supposed overcrowding of many formerly single-family homes by unrelated people.
No more than three unrelated people may live together in a unit unless they can prove they operate as a functional family, under existing city code.
The more unrelated people stuffed into an inadequate house, the council maintained, the likelier it is that problems involving excessive noise and littering would occur.