September 25, 2007


Fire destroys Preble barn


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Twilight sets in as Tully and Apulia fire engines leave a staging area to refill their tanks while fighting a large barn fire on West Bennett Hollow Road in Preble yesterday.

Staff Reporter

PREBLE — A barn full of hay on West Bennett Hollow Road burned to the ground Monday evening in a blaze that one fire official said was suspicious. No one was injured.
Eight fire departments from Cortland and Onondaga counties responded between approximately 4:30 to 6 p.m.
Fire officials are still investigating how the fire started.
“The cause is unknown,” said Mike Compton, assistant chief for the Preble Fire Department. “There was no electricity and it was a sunny day.”
Robert Duell, Cortland County’s Fire Emergency Management coordinator, said the fire seemed to be somewhat suspicious.
A State Police investigator working on the case was not available for comment this morning.
David Denniston, deputy fire coordinator at the county’s Fire Emergency Management Office, said this morning that there is still hay and left over material that will be burning for about a week.
Denniston added that the barn was being used as a storage facility for hay. At the time of the fire, the barn was full of about 1,200 square bales.
The barn is owned by Martin Vossler, who said this morning that there was no insurance on the barn.
Vossler said the barn was approximately 150 feet long and between 60 and 70 feet wide.



Developer sues city over West Court St. project

Staff Reporter

Local developer John Del Vecchio filed a lawsuit Monday asking the state Supreme Court to order the city Planning Commission to approve his West Court Street apartment development.
Del Vecchio and his attorney, Scott Chatfield, presented the Planning Commission with a copy of the lawsuit at a regular meeting Monday evening.
While the nine-unit apartment development Del Vecchio has proposed was on the agenda for discussion, the two men walked out after delivering the suit.
The civil action, filed by Del Vecchio and the Del Vecchio Family LLC seeks to compel the commission to retract its decision that the project would set an important precedent if approved that would constitute a potentially large environmental impact.
The project would expand the 1920s home of industrialist George Brockway at 19 W. Court St., from the existing three units to nine units, and would ultimately house 27 residents — likely college students — on the property.
In the lawsuit, Del Vecchio alleges the commission’s July 23 decision that the project would set a “major precedent” is unfounded.
“The Record in this case demonstrates that the Petitioner’s proposal is in complete compliance with the Zoning regulations in that it proposes a use which is permitted as of right,” the lawsuit reads. “In short, there is nothing about this site which is either different or unusual. It does not set a precedent, it follows the ‘precedent’ set by the Zoning Regulations and the surrounding development.”
The lawsuit also points out that the expansion would “mirror” the existing home and therefore would not negatively impact the architectural integrity of the site, as has been feared by the commissioners and residents alike.
The lawsuit asks that the court vacate the commission’s Positive Declaration, which is a conclusion that the project would harm the environment. The suit asks the court to direct the commission to issue a Negative Declaration, in which no environmental harm is anticipated.
Del Vecchio wants to city to pay for the costs associated with the lawsuit.
Del Vecchio had been promising to file the lawsuit for about a month, but commission Chair Nancy Hansen and city Corporation Counsel Larry Knickerbocker, said they would need to review the lawsuit before they could offer any comment.


Lawsuit challenges Conflict Attorney Office

Staff Reporter

Three Cortland County attorneys filed a lawsuit Friday in state Supreme Court that seeks to abolish the county’s Conflict Attorney Office.
The lawyers claim the local law that created the office in November 2006 violates state law and infringes on the court’s authority to appoint attorneys for poor clients.
The lawsuit asks the court to declare the law invalid and have the county do away with the conflict attorney who was hired in August.
In addition, the lawyers — Frank Williams, Edward Goehler and Randolph Kruman — want resolution over recent controversy with the Conflict Attorney Office.
The lawyers say they are unsure whether they should follow the conflict attorney when being assigned counsel, a 1984 assigned counsel plan set up by the Cortland County Bar Association or an Aug. 17 order by Cortland County’s two judges, who also declared the local law invalid.
In the order, County Court Judges Judy Campbell and William Ames took away assigned counsel responsibility from the conflict attorney and placed it with the courts.
“There are three things we are supposed to be obeying and we don’t know which one to abide by,” Williams said. “As lawyers we can come to which one we think, but that’s not binding. We want it to be resolved by a judge.”
The lawsuit names as defendants the county, county administrator, county Legislature, county Family Court, County Court, Surrogate Court, Ames and Campbell, and the Cortland County Bar Association.
Williams said the courts and the bar association are nominal defendants. Nominal defendants are not “guilty” of anything, but have a stake in the subject matter of the case and will be affected by a ruling.
“We welcome the lawsuit filed by three individual attorneys,” Ames and Campbell said in a joint statement Monday. “The suit is meant to obtain clarification from the courts on Local Law No. 1. We look forward to the resolution of issues raised by the suit.”
County Administrator Scott Schrader said he thinks it is too late for the attorneys to file for a declaratory judgment because the statute of limitations of the state Municipal Home Law Rule under which the local law was created is four months.
“As for the lawsuit itself, it claims that Local Law No. 1 is invalid. I stand by the comments I made when it was drafted,” Schrader said. “It’s providing an economical solution to a costly program. So for the lawyers to sit there and object because they aren’t receiving the same amount of money, they aren’t thinking of the taxpayers or the indigents, they are thinking of themselves. This isn’t about lawfulness for them, this is about money.”




Student housing project approved

Staff Reporter

A proposed 30-unit apartment complex on Groton Avenue received the approval of the city Planning Commission Monday, following a public comment period that heard no objections.
Developer Jim Reeners and his son Michael Reeners presented their plans and revisions for the project at a regular meeting and received the conditional approval of the commission, pending the issuance of a special use permit and a special use variance by the Zoning Board of Appeals.
Although the Reenerses had already received what they had thought were the necessary variances from the ZBA — one for overnight parking and one to waive setback requirements that would allow for a wheelchair-accessible ramp — it was found later that more would be required.
The project, dubbed “The Suites,” would span 110-114 Groton Ave. and be contained within a single, roughly 10,000-square-foot building housing 10 apartment units. A caretaker would live next door.
During the county Planning Board’s review of the project on Sept. 4, there was uncertainty whether only the parking lot or the whole project was located in the Otter Creek floodway. Jim Reeners said the maps delineating the Otter and Dry creek floodways were hard to read.
Because the entire project is in the floodway, Reeners has to obtain both a variance and a special use permit from the ZBA. He is also required to prove the project would not negatively impact flooding downstream.
Planning Commission consulting engineer Chuck Feiszli said he had spoken with county Soil and Water Quality Conservation District Water Quality Specialist Pat Reidy and that all of the available evidence indicates this project should not have an impact on the flooding in that neighborhood.
The project contains two catch basins that would hold debris for disposal and which feed stormwater into two dry wells to allow for the gradual percolation of stormwater into the ground.
Reeners asked that the Planning Commission grant conditional approval because he wants to get the foundations poured before winter. Otherwise, he would lose the contractor he has hired and that would likely mean the end of the project.
He said he wants the building to be ready for occupancy by next August.
The project includes three properties: 110, 112 and 114 Groton Ave.



Neighbors oppose Virgil gas station proposal

Town Planning Board decides project could negatively affect traffic, groundwater quality.

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — A dozen Virgil residents spoke out against a proposed convenience store gas station at the northeast corner of Webb Road and Route 13 at a public hearing Monday night, citing concerns about the aquifer, increased traffic and a reduction in property values.
“We moved here to get away from noise and pollution,” said Dick Bottoff, who has lived at 2943 Webb Road for 25 years.
The gas station, which is being proposed by Cortland-based Empress Development, would include a 2,000-square-foot convenience store on 2 acres of commercially zoned land.
The plan also calls for an island containing four pumps, and sales of  gasoline and diesel fuel.
Of the approximately 50 people attending Monday’s public hearing, 12 spoke. Eleven of those speakers, most of whom live near the site on Webb or Nye Roads, opposed the project.
“The last I heard, gas stations are an easy target for easy cash,” said Rick Schmidt of 2855 Webb Road referring, to potential crime at the gas station.
Richard Buttny, a representative from Citizens for Aquifer Protection and Employment, and others voiced concerns about the project’s potential impact on the Cortland-Homer-Preble Aquifer.
The town Planning Board took the residents’ concerns into consideration when filling out a short environmental assessment form for the project.
Board members determined the project could negatively affect air quality, groundwater quality, noise levels and the existing traffic pattern.
They also determined the project could negatively affect the area’s neighborhood character and property values.
Because of the project’s potential harm to the environment, the Planning Board plans to fill out a long environmental assessment form at its next meeting.
The long environmental assessment form will help the board determine whether the project has a negative effect on the environment.
If a negative effect is determined, the board will fill out an Environmental Impact Statement detailing measures the applicant must take to mitigate the impact.
The project, which went before the county Planning Board Wednesday, failed to receive approval from the county Planning Board. Instead, the board decided to send the application back to the Virgil Planning Board for local determination.