October 18, 2007


Virgil Planning Board, Reigning Miracle at odds over expansion

Virgil Church

Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Reigning Miracle Ministries is seen Sept. 26. A planned expansion has caused questions from neighbors of the church.

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — A church on Douglas Road wants to expand into a religious college, but some town Planning Board members, other town officials and town residents have doubts and questions about the project.
Meanwhile, the church believes the town is biased against its plans.
The project is scheduled to be discussed at the Planning Board’s next meeting Monday, which begins at 7:30 p.m. and takes place at the Town Hall.
Reigning Miracle Ministries, a church and kindergarten through 12th grade school at 2910 Douglas Road across Route 13 from Elm Tree Golf Course, has an application in front of the Planning Board to change zoning of its 16.5-acre parcel from light industrial to planned unit development.
The zoning change would allow the religious organization, which is nondenominational and independent from any national _organization, to add classroom buildings, dormitories, a gymnasium, a large church building and a second mobile home for staff offices.
The proposed structures would encompass 55,718 square feet, while the existing buildings total 9,282 square feet.
The parcel’s zoning, light industrial, _does not allow for construction of religious buildings.
Residential zoning, which the parcel was zoned until February when the town enacted its new zoning law, does not allow for all the structures Reigning Miracle Ministries is proposing, according to the Planning Board.
In 1998 Reigning Miracle Ministries built a 3,600-square-foot church, which also serves as a Christian school, followed by a 560-square foot mobile home in 2000 for Pastor Don Evans and a 2,528-square foot colonial style house in 2003 for Carol Forehand, a teacher at the school.
Reigning Miracle Ministries approached the Planning Board about a year ago seeking to put a third residence on the property, and was denied. Planning Board member Mark Baranello said he voted against the additional residence after coming to the conclusion the residences violated the parcel’s residential zoning.
The zoning allowed for the church, as well as accessory uses of the church. Initially he and other Planning Board members viewed residences as structures associated with an accessory use of the church — the school inside.
But they eventually grew skeptical the school was really an accessory use, Baranello said.
“I think the reason they’re using the (accessory use argument) is to establish structures, not to provide school,” he said. “And I haven’t been able to get enough solid factual information ... to change my mind.”
Evans, he said, has declined to answer whether the school is accredited, say how many students graduate each year or if any of those students have gone on to college.
Evans declined an interview with the Cortland Standard, saying he feared discussing the project publicly could hurt his chances of getting the parcel changed to Planned Unit Development.
His lawyer, Marietta-based Scott Chatfield, said the Planning Board incorrectly interpreted its zoning law by refusing to let Evans build additional residences on the residentially zoned parcel.
Not only had the Planning Board approved Reigning Miracle Ministries’ site plan for its expansion in the mid-1990s, he said, but all the buildings proposed represent accessory uses of the church.
“Look at seminaries around: They have churches, parish houses, classroom buildings, all kinds of structures for a single use,” he said. “They’re not individual residences. They and the county Planning Board were viewing (the residences) as a residential subdivision, but they never approved it as a residential subdivision.”
The Virgil Planning Board cannot find a record of site plan approval, despite Evans’ insistence the approval took place, according to Planning Board Chairman Craig Umbehauer.
But when asked for a copy of the original site plan, Evans has not been forthcoming, said Planning Board member Gary Wood and Eric Trinkle, chairman of the Zoning Board of Appeals.
“We’ve asked him for it many times when he came to the Zoning Board,” Trinkle said. “We asked him numerous times so we could coordinate the request. He was reluctant to show that because it was deviant of what he was actually requesting.”
As a result, Evans has been turned down for certain requests, such as a variance for a second mobile home, Trinkle said. The site plan, which the board eventually got a copy of, showed the mobile home at a different angle than it is situated, Trinkle said.
Another source of conflict between the town and Reigning Miracle Ministries has resulted from the town changing the parcel’s zoning from residential to light industrial in February when the town adopted its new zoning law.
“Frankly, I believe the reason this thing was placed in an industrial zone is it is the one that doesn’t permit residential or religious institutions,” Chatfield said, noting the town has known about the church’s expansion plans since the mid-1990s.
Chatfield said he encouraged Evans to sue the town for discrimination, but Evans declined.
Umbehauer disagreed that the town has discriminated against the church. In the case of the zoning change, for example, a number of parcels in a row were switched to light industrial based on the opinions from a variety of sources, such as the state Department of Transportation and the Cortland County Planning Department, he said.
Around the time of the zoning change, the town Planning Board advised Evans to pursue his expansion plans by applying for a Planned Unit Development for his parcel.
The Planning Board tabled the application at its Sept. 24 meeting after reviewing a list of six recommendations provided by the county, which advised Evans to obtain a variance by demonstrating that hardships have driven him to develop the site as a Planned Unit Development without public water and sewer.
In the coming months the town Planning Board is supposed to make a recommendation to the Town Board about whether it thinks the Planned Unit Development zoning change should take place. The Town Board will hold a public hearing before voting on the zoning change.
Planning Board members Baranello, Umbehauer, Wood and Stan Connelly, who intend to discuss that matter at their next meeting on Monday, say they have not yet made a decision on what their recommendation will be. Planning Board member Michael Vail could not be reached recently for comment.
“I think we’d like to table it every time we can, “ Connelly said. “It’s a hard issue.”

Some ask if church is legitimate

Some Virgil residents say they are skeptical of Reigning Miracle Ministries’ plans to expand into a Bible college.
At a Sept. 24 Planning Board public hearing on the organization’s requested zoning change Nye Road resident John Coulter questioned the legitimacy of Reigning Miracle Ministries.
The church’s Web site, at, has a page about a college at the church, including a registration form that details the college’s dormitories, classrooms, library, bookstore, student lounge with game room and chapel, yet clearly many of those facilities do not exist.
“If you’re a legitimate organization like Cortland State or Cornell, you don’t present yourself the way this Reigning Miracle Ministries has presented itself on the Internet,” Coulter added in an interview several days after the public hearing.
The lawyer representing the church said whether an organization seems honest should have no bearing on how that organization is treated under the law.
Danielle Stauber, a 22-year-old Virgil resident and 2002 graduate of Reigning Miracle Ministries’ grammar school, said the school is like any other Christian school, with subjects such as Spanish, home and career, gym, music and typing. It teaches students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
“Instead of evolution they taught us from a Beka Book (based in Creationism),” she said.
Stauber said the school had between 15 and 18 students when she was a student, and the church, which is entirely separate from the school, has about 30 members.
Christine Laubenstein




Students get Ritalin by mistake

Pills were believed to be prescription fluoride pills

Staff Reporter

DeRUYTER — An elementary school nurse at DeRuyter Central Schools mistakenly gave a kindergarten class of approximately 15 children Ritalin pills instead of fluoride this morning the school confirmed.
Bruce Sharpe, the superintendent of DeRuyter schools, said the nurse distributed the prescription pills at around 9 a.m. Ritalin is often used for children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
“We had a situation where one of our school nurse’s inadvertently gave out the wrong prescription,” Sharpe said this morning. “Ritalin is a similar looking capsule to fluoride and when the kids took it they immediately said it tasted bad.”
Sharpe said a teacher’s assistant in the classroom is also a nurse and told the children to spit out the pills.
“We don’t believe any students swallowed the pills,” he added.
The parents of the children in the class were contacted by telephone about the mishap, Sharpe said.
Tracy Reynolds, an aunt of one of the children in the class, said she was told a lot of the children began chewing the pills before a teacher’s assistant advised them to spit the pills out.
“The point is that the pills shouldn’t have been in the classroom in the first place,” Reynolds, 31, said.
Sharpe said he is not sure how the pills are stored or how the mix-up happened. The fluoride pills were supposed to be distributed to the class as a part of a voluntary program the school provides.
Dr. Mohammad Djafari, a private practice pediatrician in Cortland, said there is a possibility of the pills being confused, but it depends on the type of fluoride and the dosage of Ritalin.
Reynolds and the 5-year-old boy’s mother, Trisha Race, 25, were both in a medical assistant class at Onondaga-Cortland-Madison BOCES when Race received the call from the school nurse.
She said they were told it was a 5-milligram Ritalin tablet. Sharpe could not confirm the dosage.
“If it was truly 5 milligrams, I don’t think it’s anything to worry about,” Djafari said midday today. “I don’t think you need to do anything about long-term follow up … That should already be out of their system by now.”
The class is a full-day kindergarten class. Sharpe said staff members are observing the children while they carry on with their daily routine.
“We were told it was unlikely to cause any serious problems,” he said.


Aquifer tests to begin soon

New water quality study is result of criticism over Town Board’s past efforts.

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The first phase of water quality sampling and testing in connection with the Otter-Dry Creek Aquifer Monitoring Program will occur within the next two to three weeks.
This round will test samples from 30 wells within the portion of the aquifer that serves as the source for the municipal drinking water for the city of Cortland and town of Cortlandville.
The county Soil and Water Conservation District plans to collect the samples over a three-day period and then send them to a laboratory for testing, according to a letter sent by SWCD Director Amanda Barber.
The monitoring program was announced by Cortlandville Town Supervisor Dick Tupper in August but had been in development since February. Tupper said mounting criticism about the Town Board’s alleged indifference to aquifer protection, and the approach of initial testing, prompted the announcement at that time.
The SWCD has worked with the county Health Department and the United States Geological Survey to develop the program, which is using existing wells to track the presence and movements of contamination — if it exists — through the sole source aquifer underneath the city and the town.
The plan for the first phase is to test at the well locations four times a year to gain a picture of the aquifer throughout the four seasons. A second phase of testing has not been completely defined, but will likely have a more long-term approach and may include other parts of the aquifer.
The cost of implementing the program was expected to be about $46,500 for the first year’s startup, and that should go down by about $15,000 or $20,000 in subsequent years.
City Mayor Tom Gallagher said he still needed to sit down with Tupper and discuss the city’s part in the program.
For the first year, the town — and the city, Tupper hopes — would cover $20,000 of the cost, the SWCD would contribute $20,000 and the county Health Department would pick up the remainder.
Finding the test wells to be used and gathering existing data accounted for the higher price in the first year.
The USGS tested 50 groundwater wells in 1990 as part of its study of the Otter-Dry Creek aquifer as it studied the potential for pollution spreading from the former Smith Corona factory on Route 13.
The overall goal of initial monitoring is to analyze water quality in many of the same wells that were tested by the USGS and to use those earlier test results as a baseline for comparison.



Virgil project would build 36 townhouses

County Planning Board calls for preservation of 39 acres of wetlands on 106 acre site

Staff Reporter

The county Planning Board Wednesday reviewed preliminary plans for the development of nine high-end, four-unit townhouses on 106 acres along South Cortland Virgil Road in Virgil.
The board attached a number of recommendations — most notably a call for the preservation of wetlands on the property and the need to consider town code for the dead end street that would serve the townhouses — to its approval of the application for subdivision and incentive zoning.
Incentive zoning provides incentives — in this case the allowance of one housing unit per acre versus the code requirement of one unit per 3 acres — in exchange for infrastructure and community improvements by the developer.
Developer Ed Trinkle, who lives in New Jersey, is planning to subdivide the 106 acres into 11 lots, nine of which would be developed with four-unit townhouses on the property, which is located on the west side of South Cortland Virgil Road, about one mile south of Sherman Road.
Trinkle, who was not at the meeting, said he plans to build each of the 36 units to approximately 1,400 to 1,500 square feet, with two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and a price tag between $250,000 and $300,000.
The complex would be entirely “green built,” and the energy efficiencies would likely reduce energy costs to less than $100 per unit per month, Trinkle said.
Along with the nine townhouses, each of which would lie on its own 5-acre parcel, Trinkle said he intends to build a home on a 10th lot where he plans to live, “unless someone makes an offer I can’t refuse.”
“I’m just coming back to my roots,” Trinkle said, noting that he is a Groton native who lived on Edsell Hill Road in Virgil for a number of years. “I love the area, I love the scenic views, so I decided I wanted to come back there.”
An existing barn on that parcel closest to South Cortland Virgil Road would be maintained, ideally for horses, Trinkle said, with owners of the units getting first claims on barn space.
The final 39-acre subdivided parcel includes wetlands and beaver ponds, which Trinkle said he envisioned preserving, with the possibility of running, walking and horse trails through them.
“It’s still real preliminary, you might see a garden out there, or a vineyard or something,” he said. “That’s all going to be up to the homeowners association.”




City begins work on master plan

Staff Reporter

The city’s work on the new comprehensive plan is just getting started, and the project coordinator hopes to have the document finished by December 2008.
The 19-member project steering committee met for the first time Monday afternoon and went over the process for the plan’s development with Thoma Development Consultants, which will guide the process for the city.
On behalf of the city, Thoma applied for and received a $54,000 grant from the state for the plan’s development. The last citywide master plan was approved in 1991.
According to a presentation given by Wes Pettee, the project manager for Thoma Development, a comprehensive plan includes a municipality’s goals and recommended actions to achieve them. It provides an outline for orderly growth and continued guidance for decision making, and focuses on immediate and long-range protection, enhancement, growth and development of the municipality.
The plan development process will include input from the Common Council, the steering committee, members of the public, city employees, the county Planning Department, and other state and local agencies, in addition to Thoma Development.
The development of the comprehensive plan will be similar to that of the South End Strategic Plan, which was adopted by the Common Council in June after months of preparation — the recommended course of action in the South End plan would be included in the development of the citywide plan.
Surveys would be sent to random samplings of residents and college students, and business owners would also be given a survey.
Six community meetings would collect public input. Four meetings would be devoted to brainstorming the city’s problems and possibilities; one would focus on possible design recommendations, and another would examine mapping and land use.
Issues for consideration within the comprehensive plan include public facilities; health and public safety; infrastructure and utilities; energy; land use; intergovernmental cooperation; historic and architectural resources; transportation; open space and parks; and the natural and man-made environment.