Riverside Rescue

City works on plan for area


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
The P&C store is seen Tuesday evening at Riverside Plaza. The Common Council is creating a strategic plan for the northeast corner of the city in the area of the plaza, which has lost several businesses in recent years.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — The Common Council on Tuesday decided to create a strategic plan for the northeast corner of the city in the area of Riverside Plaza, which has lost several businesses in recent years and will soon lose an auto parts store to a nearby site.
At its regular meeting Tuesday night, the council authorized Thoma Development Consultants to apply for a $20,000 grant, which would be used to develop a plan for future development in the area surrounding and between the Interstate 81 Exit 11 ramp and the intersection of Clinton Avenue and Pomeroy Street, and some portions of River Street.
Some of the project would also involve the use of in-kind services such as those of the Cortland County Planning Department and the city Planning Commission, said Bernie Thoma, owner of Thoma Development
“Basically, it’s the commercial area that surrounds the exit,” Thoma said while the council _was in executive session discussing an unrelated potential property purchase.
The Advance Auto Parts retail store in Riverside Plaza is moving to a new location on the corner of River and Pomeroy streets. The site is under construction.
Both Thoma and Alderwoman Sue Feiszli (D-6th Ward) said the Riverside Plaza area is changing from residential to commercial, and Alderman Jim Partigianoni (D-7th Ward) noted that the zoning of a strip of properties on River Street east of the Advance Auto site is in the process of being changed from a residential to a commercial designation.
The area around Riverside Plaza that would be studied is mostly in the 6th Ward, with some land on River Street in the 7th Ward.
“Hopefully, with a strategic plan we can look at the zoning and see what’s best for the city,” Feiszli said after the meeting.
Riverside Plaza is one area that will receive a lot of attention, Thoma said.
“It certainly isn’t as developed as it should be, and I think part of that might be due to ownership,” Thoma told the council.
Riverside Plaza is owned by the Buffalo-based Bella Vista Group. Property manager Joe Cipolla said Tuesday afternoon that market conditions and retail growth on the other side of the city had caused the area to suffer a “temporary slowdown.”
“We are strongly supportive of any plan that they are willing to put together, and are willing to cooperate and assist in any way we can,” Cipolla said. “The Riverside Plaza area is a premier commercial district that is currently underutilized, so the combination of Empire Zone status with the assistance and cooperation of the city should ultimately maximize the return for the entire Cortland area and Cortland economy.”
The Empire Zone designation grants tax breaks and other incentives in exchange for job creation.
Dialogue with the property owner will be an important step in the development of the plan, said Mayor Tom Gallagher.
“The main thing is to find out what his intention is before we start doing anything,” Gallagher said Tuesday afternoon. “We need to talk to the property owner to see what his vision for the property is.”
Linda Hartsock, executive director of the county Business Development Corp., said the current state of the plaza was a “blight” on the city’s gateway from Interstate 81.
“It’s in such poor shape, prospects have made decisions elsewhere where real estate is, quite frankly, cheaper and better looking,” Hartsock said Tuesday afternoon, pointing out that the property owner has received a significant amount of assistance as a result of the plaza’s Empire Zone status. “We will be reviewing a letter that the (Empire) Zone Board authorized to send to Riverside Plaza asking them to submit a capital improvement plan for the plaza … so that we can understand if they’re utilizing those benefits.”
Of the roughly 190,000 square feet of capacity in the plaza, about half of it is vacant.
“The Empire Zone benefits are assistive; they’re geared heavily towards industrial users. This is a prime retail location,” Cipolla said. “But I’m sure as we work with specific business owners and tenants, we anticipate that we’ll be able to utilize some or many of the benefits from the Empire Zone status to benefit the entire Cortland area.”
“We would like to see something happen down there, it’s gotten to be an eyesore,” Gallagher had said in mid-August. “We can only go so far anyways, we can only make recommendations.”



County begins work on budget

Staff Reporter

Soaring fuel prices and increased wages for county employees mean it’s unlikely residents will see a reduction in property tax rates next year.
Work has begun on the 2007 county budget, and all county departments were to have submitted proposed budgets for 2007 to County Administrator Scott Schrader by Sept. 1.
Schrader is beginning to meet with department heads to discuss the proposals this week.
The county will be challenged by increasing expenditures that could outweigh its revenues, Schrader said.
“The biggest difference is going to simply be the cost of doing business, because of the cost of oil, and then I’m also anticipating a big impact from wage increases,” said Schrader, who couldn’t say at this point how much of an increase would be budgeted in either area.
The county would also lose about $200,000 in sales tax revenue due to the proposed sales tax contract that would reduce the county’s share of revenues by 1 percent in 2007.
“We’re going to look at saving money anywhere we can, and the rest is going to have to be raised through property taxes,” he said.
The current year’s budget includes $91.91 million in spending and an average county tax rate of $14.41 per $1,000 of assessed property value, which represented a 6.5 percent drop from the previous year.
Schrader said he would be governed throughout the budget process by the desire of the Legislature to keep property tax increases as close as possible to the Consumer Price Index, which is currently at around 4.2 percent.



Decision on biodiesel plant delayed

Staff Reporter

A decision on the possible placement by SUNY Morrisville of a biodiesel fuel plant in Cortland County may not come until November.
“We haven’t made any decisions yet, and we may not have anything until after the elections,” SUNY Morrisville President Ray Cross said Tuesday.
A significant reason for the delay is that the college is still trying to find a way to fund soybean crushing at the facility, Cross said, and much of that funding would likely have to come from public sources.
“We want very much for crushing to take place because of the benefit to New York farmers, but our private investors are probably much more inclined to invest in biodiesel alone,” he said. “Obviously the college is looking for some public funding so we can pursue this.”
Biodiesel fuel production involves refining extract from vegetable oils, with soybean oil among the most oft-used sources.
The proposed plant could potentially import oils to create the fuel, or it could crush its own soybeans, which would allow the plant to also produce a byproduct of high quality meal for local farmers and provide a local market for soybean growers.
Should SUNY Morrisville and its investors decide to pursue crushing, the former Homer Oil facility on Center Street in Homer was the natural choice, Cross said.
“We’re still looking closely at that site, and if we’re going to do crushing, we’re probably going to do it there,” he said.
SUNY Morrisville is at this point looking closely at only two other sites, both outside the county, should it opt not to do crushing at its facility, Cross said, declining to name the sites.
In recent months, the college is known to have been looking at sites on Route 11 in Polkville and off south Main Street in Cortland, along with a site in Sangerfield in Oneida County and two additional sites in Madison County.
Cross said the college had effectively come up with a solution to the potential odor issue that has drawn the ire of residents living near the Homer Oil building.
“If we do reopen the plant, I think we can control the odor very nicely,” he said. “Before we make any decision I will sit down with the neighborhood and explain what we plan to do, and how we’ll do it.”




Proposed bus route to Cornell awaits approval from Tompkins County

Staff Reporter

A proposed bus route from Cortland County to Cornell University has yet to get rolling. The local public bus system is awaiting approval from the Tompkins County Legislature to start up the route.
Dwight Mengel, chief transportation planner for Tompkins County, said he would meet with county administration today to discuss the proposed route.
He assumed the Legislature would vote on the measure at its Sept. 19 meeting.
“It’s already been discussed with TCAT and I don’t see much difficulty with it, it’s just a matter of timing and getting it to the Legislature for a vote,” Mengel said.
The Cortland County Legislature approved the new route in February.
Once Tompkins County signs on, Cortland Transit, a local subsidiary of First Transit, could have the route up and running in about 30 days, said Manager Sandie Perry.
“We’d want to advertise it, get it publicized so people know about it before we start it up,” Perry said.
Perry estimated there were between 20 and 25 people who would be willing to ride the bus on a daily basis to commute to and from work at Cornell.
“Unfortunately not all of the time frames are compatible,” she said.
Cortland Transit would likely offer one trip to Cornell each weekday morning, and one return trip in the afternoon in order to accommodate as many riders as possible, she said.
The bus would depart from a park-and-ride area at Cortlandville Park on Route 281.
Perry was not sure how much the service would cost, but said it would likely be comparable to services to Cornell from Chemung and Tioga counties. Chemung County offers service to Cornell for $4 one way, and offers a monthly pass for $48, while Tioga County charges $5 for a one way trip, with a $60 available monthly pass.