November 27, 2007


Georgia on their minds —

Couple find opportunity in ex-Soviet nation


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Steve Denkenberger and his wife, Amy, talk while visiting Steve’s parents for Thanksgiving in Truxton. A tapestry from Tajikistan and a traditional Chechen dagger show evidence of their current life in the country of Georgia.

Staff Reporter

Two married Homer High School graduates are leading successful careers in the former Soviet Union republic of Georgia amid a changing political and economic landscape.
Steven Denkenberger is working as a partner with an architectural firm and his wife, Amy, is a reformer of the country’s entrepreneurial system.
Steven Denkenberger graduated from Homer High in 1990 and his wife graduated in 1992.
Denkenberger’s firm is landing projects worth $100 million, while Amy Denkenberger, whose maiden name is Widger, is helping make it easier for businesses to start up by streamlining required steps.
The couple, who started dating while at Homer High, first ended up in Georgia in 2000 when Amy Denkenberger began working for a non-governmental organization that helped displaced refugees from the country’s civil wars get food, housing and other relief.
“It was like, they did with (Hurricane) Katrina with the Dome (Superdome),” Amy Denkenberger, 33, said. “There was food, blankets. They all had experience, just no money or material possessions”
Amy Denkenberger had the travel bug since high school, and spent time in Moscow, Bangladesh and Zambia doing different projects while in college in Syracuse University’s Maxwell School.
By the time she got the job offer in Georgia, she and Steven Denkenberger were married.
“When the offer in Georgia came up, I’m like, ‘I’m going this time,’” Steven Denkenberger, 35, said.
The graduate of Syracuse’s University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts ended up meeting three Georgians who were designing a new hotel in Tbilisi, Georgia. The original hotel had to be demolished due to damage, including bullet holes, from two civil wars.
Steven Denkenberger shared his knowledge of building codes and standards in the United States.
Most Georgian architects lack building code knowledge because for so many years buildings were built by the Soviets, who controlled the country, he said
“Georgian firms just don’t have the experience,” he said.
The men eventually decided _to form their own architectural company.
Initially the job was not enough to support the couple, so they moved back to the United States for a couple of years, where they had two daughters, Natasha, 5, and Zoe, 2.
The family moved to Armenia two years ago, where Amy Denkenberger found a job with a non-governmental organization promoting entrepreneurship, and then Steven Denkenberger’s partnership was _re-established.
The company landed a job designing a $75 million resort, which led to other projects of that scope.
“That opened a lot of people’s eyes about what we could do,” Steven Denkenberger said.
International investors, who were turning more and more toward Georgia, appreciated the firm’s knowledge of English as well as building codes, said Steven Denkenberger, who was commuting to Georgia until the family moved there about a year ago.
While Steven Denkenberger saw Georgia evolve through an upswing in private development, Amy Denkenberger saw it evolve through an increase in people starting businesses.
For the last year she has helped eliminate red tape and regulations prospective Georgian business owners face. “Sometimes there are 30 steps required,” she said.
One success has been helping get rid of a regulation forbidding Georgian wine from being exported to Russia, Amy Denkenberger said, noting many experts believe Georgia is the birthplace of wine.
Amy and Steven Denkenberger have also seen the country change significantly outside of their work lives.
When they first arrived in Georgia in 2000, remnants of Soviet rule were widespread. Their apartment complex, which had just switched from Soviet control to private ownership, was strewn with garbage and lights and water could only be used at certain times.
“It was like camping 50 percent of the time,” Amy Denkenberger said.
But now, as capitalism has evolved, infrastructure has significantly improved, the couple said.
The couple, who just returned to Georgia on Sunday after a month-long vacation in Cortland County with their families, plan to live in Georgia for the next five to 10 years.
They feel they are making a difference contributing their skills toward a developing country while absorbing the culture, which includes lots of delicious food, toasts and storytelling.
“The support has always been there,” Steven Denkenberger said about his wife. “We’ve been a real team all the way through.”




More review for Virgil gas station proposal

Town Planning Board gathering more information during project’s environmental review

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — The town Planning Board on Monday delayed its environmental review of a controversial gas station and convenience store proposal at Route 13 and Webb Road to gather more information.
The board had started working on the third part of the state environmental review process when board members recognized more information was needed to explain impacts identified in the previous sections.
Jeff Terwilliger has proposed the development on a 2-acre parcel with about 300 feet of road frontage on Webb Road and 76 feet on Route 13.
Chairman Craig Umbehauer said the board would probably continue the review process in December if additional information could be obtained.
The board declared itself the lead agency for the project review.
Cortland County Office of Environmental Health Public Health Engineer John Helgren said the area is in the primary aquifer area, but the current zoning map does not show the area.
Town Supervisor Jim Murphy said at the next Town Board meeting a public hearing would be held on the proposed changes to zoning townwide, including a review of the map.
Another issue for the project identified Monday was a significant increase in traffic.
Planning Board member Mark Baranello said the project is compatible with the permitted uses around the area. But Board member Michael Vail disagreed.
He said while some areas are zoned commercial, the area is predominantly residential.
A potentially large impact on ground water was also identified. Board member Gary Wood said this could be mitigated with a containment system and Baranello added that the containment system would determine whether the impact would be significant.
The board also said the project could have a large impact on the beauty of the surrounding land and did not identify a way to lessen the impact.
Vail also identified an impact on future recreational space, but Wood and Baranello convinced him that the land would not be used for recreation because of the size and scope of the project and the fact that the land is private property.
Also of concern were noise and odors.




Groton school enrollment dropping

Staff Reporter

GROTON — An enrollment projection report complied by Cornell University graduate students has helped Groton Central School administrators identify key problems in the district’s enrollment patterns.
“Until we had progression ratios, we couldn’t name the issues,” Groton Superintendent of Schools Brenda Myers said at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. “The data drives us to a substantial question: how can we accelerate instead of retain?”
The data, which compares Groton’s enrollment history with birth rates in the school district, shows there is a significant number of students held back from first to second grade.
Instead, Myers hopes to come up with a way for students to catch up with the curriculum.
“Nine children (out of 82 first-graders) were retained last year,” Myers said. “That’s a large number in a small school district. We need to come up with more options, acceleration programs like after school and summer programs.”
The data report also projected enrollment at Groton will drop by 3 percent over the next five to seven years, which could be good for the small district.
Myers said every grade, except second, is on the cusp of having too many students, but too few to have another section of the class. Myers said the district has enough physical space for an additional section of a class, but it is not necessary yet and the enrollment report can help the district plan for any class expansion.
But the district is not only worried about its enrollment, administrators are also working to maintain the district’s buildings and equipment.
A five-year facility plan compiled by Randy Sovocool, supervisor of buildings and grounds, lists the major areas of the school that needs to be renovated or replaced.
The report is a new, more organized system of keeping track of what work needs to be done in the district’s buildings and how much it will cost.
“It’s a tool we can use here to keep track of the major building needs and review them each year,” Sovocool said.
The document will be continually updated, he said.
Many of the items in the plan are already being renovated in the school’s $14.5 million building renovation project, approved by the Board of Education on Oct. 16, 2006. The project was approved by public vote in December 2006.



Planning Board OKs Virgil townhouses

Staff Reporter

VIRGIL — The town Planning Board gave preliminary approval to an application to subdivide about 100 acres into 11 lots on the South Cortland-Virgil Road, but did not recommend approval of two other applications to subdivide land into lots that were less than 2 acres.
All five Planning Board members voted to recommend approval of the subdivision on South Cortland-Virgil Road.
Board member Gary Wood said the Town Board had already completed an environmental assessment and did not find any adverse environmental impacts.
The Planning Board accepted Beaver Pond Drive as proposed, waiving the 1,000-foot maximum length of a dead end street for the 2,400-foot road that will connect the project to South Cortland-Virgil Road.
Other requirements included having a homeowner association in place and making the approval contingent on approval of sanitary sewer by the Cortland County Health Department.
Developer Ed Trinkle said the subdivision would include 39 acres of land that would remain wild and have walking trails, one of two requirements of the incentive zoning the town approved for the project. The second is the road. The zoning is a means for a municipality to spur more infrastructure improvements at the developer’s expense.
Nine lots would contain townhouses each with four units. Another lot will include a house for Trinkle and the remaining lot will comprise the 39 acres.
Trinkle said the development would not be limited to senior citizens, but would be for those age 50 and older.
Chairman Craig Umbehauer asked if the homeowners would get stuck footing the bill for the common areas if the development were not completed. Trinkle and his lawyer Scott Chatfield said the developer would have to pay association fees for any unsold lots.
Board member Michael Vail suggested adding a clause that would require notification to potential buyers that the land borders an active farm and manure would be spread. The land is zoned for agricultural, residential and conservation uses.
Another subdivision at the end of Jeffrey Lane, a current housing complex, was not recommended for approval. Steven Terwilliger revised the subdivision, reducing it from eight lots to seven on 12 acres of land, about 1.3 acres each.



Family offering reward for information on damaged gravestone

Staff Reporter

Stacy Marko is so upset about her daughter’s gravestone being tipped over she is offering a reward.
The stone was the only one knocked over in Glenwood Cemetery, said Homer Chief of Police Daniel Mack. Police are investigating the vandalism.
Stacy and Robert Marko’s daughter Alyssa Bailey Marko died of leukemia in 2004 at the age of 7. She would have been 11 years old Oct. 5.
“It appears that someone was riding a four-wheeler and accidentally hit it,” Mack said. “We have no suspects.”
He said the family reported the vandalism Sunday at 12:55 p.m. It had happened within a week, between Nov. 18 and Sunday.
“My children and I were going up there after church to decorate for Christmas,” said Stacy Marko. She said she visits the gravesite at least weekly. Sunday she visited with her children — Olivia, 4, and Nathan, 9.
Stacy Marko said she did not see any tracks from an all-terrain vehicle and did not think someone could knock the gravestone over. She also said four adults tried to right the gravestone but could not budge it. A lift had to place the gravestone over the grave and a lift would have to be used to replace the gravestone.
The Marko family is asking anyone with information regarding the vandalism to contact the Homer Police Department at (607) 749-2022.