October 16, 2007


Solutions few for city parking problems


Bob Ellis/staff photographer
A no parking sign is posted at the city line on Tompkins Street.

Staff Reporter

CORTLAND — Within the first three days of living at the corner of Maple and Homer avenues last year, SUNY Cortland senior Kris Greene said he was given a ticket for parking on the grass in front of his house.
Greene, of Huntington in Suffolk County, said he sent the ticket in, pleading not guilty, but never heard back from City Court.
The Common Council passed a resolution at the beginning of October that would make sure that parking tickets like Greene’s stick — and, it would hold property owners accountable for the repeated violations of their tenants.
But the city has a problem with overnight parking that still needs to be addressed. Parking is prohibited on city streets between 2 to 6 a.m.
There’s barely room for six cars in the two parking areas of Greene’s apartment house and there are seven students living within, one of whom does not have a car.
“If we had friends come up, they’d have to park on school grounds,” Greene said Monday night on the sidewalk in front of the house.
Although the city is talking with the college about expanding parking for students, city Alderwoman Shannon Terwilliger (D-2nd Ward) said many private homeowners also feel the parking crunch.
It is particularly problematic in the neighborhoods to the north of the college hill and west of Main Street, on narrow streets such as Grace Street and Jewett Avenue with shallow, narrow driveways that make parking more than two cars difficult.
“I think that we should make one side of each of these two streets parking,” Terwilliger said Monday afternoon. “I don’t think it would have to be citywide, but it would definitely alleviate the problems in the neighborhood.”
City officials steadfastly maintain that overnight parking on even one side of the street would cause far more problems and risks than it would solve.
Superintendent of Public Works Chris Bistocchi said snow from plowing is piled up between the curb and the sidewalk and that any loss of access to that area in the early-morning plowing hours would present a hazard and a nuisance.
“If there’s a car there, we have to go around the car. Obviously, the snow can’t be stored there. And then you leave a snow bank on the side of the car,” Bistocchi said Friday. “Keep in mind, from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m. is the only time that I can get the city streets clear of snow from curb to curb. After that, everything’s limited. It’s a very small window, and we need to take advantage of it.”
On-street overnight parking also presents a problem for the street-sweeper, which cleans the area next to the curb to clear a path for stormwater.
Police Chief Jim Nichols said keeping the streets clear is essential and he believes keeping parked cars off the street at night has reduced the frequency of wintertime accidents.
“Many of our streets are narrow already simply because of the configuration of the four square miles of our city,” Nichols said Friday, and any further restriction would make it more difficult for emergency vehicles to operate safely.
If the city did make the switch to odd-even parking and one side of the street was off-limits at night, Nichols said his officers would spend a good deal of time trying to enforce parking regulations.
“Are we now going to start towing vehicles that are in violation?” Nichols asked. “I feel that that’s an added burden to our limited resources already employed in this city and would tie up our officers for lengthy periods of time while they wait for the vehicle to be towed off.”
And there are provisions for overnight parking if it Is absolutely necessary. Nichols said any resident can call the police and request an overnight “pass” that would allow a vehicle to remain in the street — maybe the driver had too much to drink, or an out-of-town guest was staying over, or if a car has broken down.
On Jewett Avenue, Luann Skeval said her driveway can accommodate two vehicles, enough for her husband and herself. But when their son is home from college, it gets a little tight.
The police are accommodating when a car needs to stay on the street overnight, Skeval said Monday evening.
On Pleasant Street, the apartment house that SUNY Cortland senior Brittany Okon shares with nine other tenants only has room for five cars in a narrow driveway. Meanwhile, eight of the girls in the house have cars.
“We don’t even know the girls downstairs, so every time we want to go anywhere we have to hunt them down to move their car, or park illegally,” Okon said as she stood on her porch Monday night.
The girls only recently paid for a pass to use the nearby city-owned Orchard Street parking lot, but they still have to stop by their cars once a day to move them to the appropriate side for that evening.
“It’s not too bad, but it’s a nuisance. The whole point of living off-campus is so you have access to your car whenever you want. But instead, we’re trapped forever,” Okon said.
Although he does not have many suggestions to help single-family homes without a lot of parking, Nichols said that multi-unit housing parking problems are more widespread and might be able to be addressed through increased cooperation between the city and the college, as well as between the city and landlords.
Private developers could get together and buy a run-down building in the neighborhood, raze it and pave the lot for parking for their tenants. Perhaps some of the spots could be leased to others, Nichols suggested.
Mayor Tom Gallagher said most of the “good” landlords make sure that their buildings have adequate parking.
Year-round residents who have a parking shortage can apply for a variance from the city to allow for more lot coverage by parking areas, Gallagher said, but city code still prevents anyone from parking their car between the front of the house and the street.
The city has also been in talks with the college about expanding on-campus parking, potentially in the lots lining Graham Avenue.
Gallagher said the biggest solution would be for the college to insist that off-campus students park in the college parking lots, but Nichols pointed out that SUNY Cortland needs to accommodate the thousands of people who use the campus during the daytime.
The college was unavailable for comment this morning.



Parking garage proposals have failed in past

Since the 1970s, the city has been discussing the feasibility of a parking garage downtown. No fewer than 12 studies have looked into it.
There are close to 1,000 public parking spaces downtown, with another 1,000 private spaces, according to a 2001 parking garage feasibility study conducted by Thoma Development Consultants.
In addition to the spaces in the public lots that are free of charge and allow for odd-even overnight parking, the Downtown Partnership also sells about 200 parking permits each year.
According to the 2001 feasibility study, only those individuals who spend a significant amount of time downtown — such as employees of downtown businesses — report a problem finding a parking spot.
“Since the payment for parking is not common,” the study reads, “there is a reluctance upon the part of some individuals to pay for this service. However, the survey did show a willingness of individual parkers to pay for parking located in a convenient location to their place of work when they are charged a reasonable fee.”
The most likely location for a parking facility would be on Orchard Street, west of Main Street, where the city already owns a parking lot. Mayor Tom Gallagher said the most likely option would be a single-level parking deck above the existing parking lot. He said the cost would be about $1.2 million for the project that would create about 100 spots.
Multi-level parking garages cost significantly more; in 1994, Chuck Feiszli of Resource Associates estimated that the cost of a 249-space, three-level parking garage would be about $2.5 million.
The costs of maintenance for the facility would also have to be figured into each year’s budget.
No “reasonable” fee would be able to pay for the cost of a parking garage and the funding would have to be generated elsewhere — either with the assistance of a private investor or through a special assessment district, wherein a special surcharge would be added to help pay for the cost of construction and upkeep of the garage.
Also, if a private businessman paid for the parking garage and leased spaces to the city, the construction costs would be about 30 to 40 percent less because the municipality is required to pay a prevailing wage to workers.
— Evan Geibel


Police arrest robbery suspect

Staff Reporter

State Police charged a Brooklyn man at about 10 a.m. Monday with robbery in connection with a holdup at the Xtra Mart convenience store at 2 Broome St. in Marathon early Monday morning.
Jamarr A. Bobbitt, 24, of 120 Chauncy St., was charged with second-degree robbery, a felony.
Bobbitt is accused of using a handgun to demand money from the gas station attendant at 12:28 a.m. Monday. Bobbitt stole $140 from the cash register before fleeing the south entrance of the store on foot, according to a police report.
Police interviewed Joshua Russell, 18, of Marathon, who was working the cash register at the time of the robbery.
Russell told police a black male, approximately 6 foot 3 inches, came into the store and asked for Philly cigars. Russell said he told the man where they were, and the man turned toward the counter with a black handgun and stated, “Give me all the money in the cash register.”
According to the police report, Russell handed the man the bills from the cash register then asked him if he wanted the change in the drawer as well. Russell said the man said no and then on his way out said, “Don’t move or I will shoot you.”
State Police said another attendant at the store was working in the cooler and did not witness the crime.



C’ville budget proposal cuts taxes

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The town will see a tax cut in the proposed $5.7 million 2008 town budget, rather than the 11 percent tax increase that had initially been projected in next year’s tentative town budget.
At a special work session Monday afternoon, the Town Board and the town’s bookkeeper and clerk whittled $168,145 out of the proposed tax levy, which now stands at $1,654,991. The current year’s levy is $1,637,699.
The tax rate in the town, outside of the village of McGraw, would be $3.68 for every $1,000 of assessed value. That’s down 2 cents per $1,000 from last year.
The town’s tax rate for the village of McGraw went down 21 cents from last year, to about $1.40 per $1,000 of assessed value.
The board shaved $5,000 from some town contracts. The largest cut was $3,000 off the Cortland County SPCA’s requested $44,500. That SPCA’s request represented a 30 percent increase over the amount requested in this year’s budget.
Although $200,000 had originally been set aside for the Starr Road Community Park — as it had been in this year’s budget —  that number was cut to $88,000 for 2008. The park is substantially complete and much of the remaining costs associated with the park would likely be donated.
The budgeted amount would cover the costs of installing bathrooms, a sewer line and the permanent accessories for the park’s athletic fields.



Morning crash injuries 4 Marathon students

Pickup drives off Irish Hill Road and comes to rest in pond off steep embankment.

Staff Reporter

MARATHON — The driver of a pickup truck carrying three other young people lost control this morning on Irish Hill Road, and the vehicle crashed into a detention pond, sending the truck’s occupants to two area hospitals.
Names and ages of the three females and one male involved in the accident were unavailable this morning, nor were the extent of the injuries.
The occupants were transported by ambulance to Cortland Regional Medical Center and Wilson Memorial Regional Medical Center in Johnson City.
Tim Turecek, superintendent of Marathon Schools, said the four are district students, but he declined to identify them.
“We’re waiting to hear the status of the students,” he said. “We have been in touch with the police and the parents.”
Turecek said counselors are available and some students have already spoken with them.
Marathon Fire Department Assistant Chief Dustin Contri said the red Chevrolet pickup likely got caught in the loose gravel on the hill above the pond as the male driver lost control and the truck veered into the pond. The vehicle was heading east on Irish Hill Road.
The accident occurred shortly after 8 a.m. and two passengers, both female, walked up the hilly road to summon help from a neighbor.
The Marathon Fire Department, TLC Emergency Medical Services ambulance and State Police responded to the scene of the accident.
At about 9:30 this morning, a worker from Ron’s Body & Paint of Marathon was trying to pull the truck up the steep embankment out of the pond near where skid marks from the tires left the road and passed through the grass next to a large steel pipe.
Darlene Leyburn of Irish Hill Road said she and her husband, Gary, could tell immediately there was something wrong when they heard the pounding on the door of their home at about 8:15 a.m. as they were watching the news. She said the two girls were “hysterical.”
“They were banged up — one complained about her neck and the other had blood on her face,” and bloody knees, Darlene Leyburn said at her home this morning.
The Leyburns called the police and Gary Leyburn went down to the scene of the accident, where the driver was still in the truck and partially submerged in the water.
“He was laying in the water on his side,” Gary Leyburn said. “I was just trying to keep him up, keep his head above the water.”