November 25, 2008


City OKs contentious W. Court St. project

Developer John Del Vecchio has gone back and forth with city for more than a year

Staff reporter

Following years of review, punctuated by a lawsuit and calls for a housing moratorium, the city Planning Commission Monday approved a controversial student housing project for 19 W. Court St.
Landlord John Del Vecchio said he would begin construction sometime next spring on a four-unit apartment building, which will be located behind the existing building containing an office and three apartments. When completed, the property will house 21 students in the seven units.
Originally, Del Vecchio had proposed a new six-apartment building and scaled back his project at the commission’s request.
“I am happy the project got approved, but it took way too much time and expense,” Del Vecchio said, adding that he had spent more than $25,000 on lawyer fees and paying architects to change site plans drawings, along with the cost of copying drawings and submitting more than 300 pages of documents to the commission over the course of two years.
In building the project, the commission stated Del Vecchio must not alter the exterior appearance of the existing house and must place a sign near its front entrance that notes the building was built for industrialist George Brockway.
Del Vecchio also must rebuild a collapsed, concrete retention wall and buy parking permits from the city, if his tenants’ cars cannot fit in the site’s parking lot, the commission said.
In 2007, more than 600 neighborhood homeowners signed a petition, asking for a six-month moratorium on developing the multi-family units in Cortland. The moratorium was never approved by the Common Council.
Nancy Hansen, the commission’s chair, said she knew there was opposition to the project but pointed out there was no provision in the city’s codes that would prevent a developer from building on property.
“We definitely took a lot of issues into consideration,” Hansen said, noting the board tried to be cognizant of the property’s historical significance and quality of the bordering neighborhoods in forming a compromise with Del Vecchio.
Del Vecchio filed a lawsuit in September 2007 challenging the commission’s findings that the project would set a negative precedence for development in the neighborhood.
He returned to court in May 2008, after the commission again concluded his project would harm the environment.
Both times, state Supreme Court Justice Phillip R. Rumsey ruled in Del Vecchio’s favor.
In September 2008, Rumsey called the commission’s decision “arbitrary and capricious” and ordered it to declare the development would not harm the environment.
In letters to the commission, the city fire department recommended a portico on the west side be torn down, because it blocks fire trucks’ access to one of two driveways.
The portico must be documented for historical records and can be torn down once photos of the structure are submitted to the Cortland County Historical Society, the commission stated.
At its meeting, the commission also approved a 20-by-16-foot shed at the rear of the Stone Lounge bar at 128 Main St., which would store patio tables and chairs during the winter.


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