December 27, 2006

Dryden fire leaves house damaged


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
A firefighter at the scene of today’s house fire at 2 Thresher Place in Dryden. No one was injured.

Staff Reporter

DRYDEN — A fire this morning heavily damaged the inside of a house on Thresher Place.
Dryden Fire Chief Ron Flynn said fire crews saved the “better part” of the house’s main level, but that overall the house was heavily damaged.
“We lost a lot of the inside,” he said. “I’m not saying it’s a total loss.”
Flynn said no one was inside the house at 2 Thresher Place at the time of the fire. The 1,821-square-foot house is assessed $128,000, according to the Tompkins County Department of Assessment.
Lee Shurtleff, director of emergency response for Tompkins County, said the house’s owners — Robert and Martha Clark — have been visiting their family in Virginia Beach since this past weekend. He said he had spoken with the Clarks to let them know what happened.
Flynn said no firefighters were injured while putting out the fire.
One of Dryden’s highway department employees first noticed smoke coming out of the house when he was sanding the road this morning, Flynn said.
He called the county’s 911 center at 7:34 a.m., and the first fire_trucks from Dryden arrived around 7:45 a.m.
Varna, McLean, Freeville, Slaterville, Etna, Cayuga Heights and Cortlandville fire departments arrived at the scene soon after.
Virgil and Harford fire departments stood by at the various stations, Flynn said.
Mark Bell, a firefighter with the Dryden fire department, said heavy smoke was coming out around the house’s eaves when he arrived. Flynn said there were also some flames coming out of the kitchen window on the north side of the house.
Bell said this is the biggest fire the department has seen all year.
Crews went into the house to extinguish flames and clear smoke, but the floor of the house’s main level “gave away,” Flynn said.
As a result, the crews had to put out the fire from the outside.
The fire likely started in the garage, Flynn said.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation, he said.
By 9:30 a.m., crews had put the fire out.
Karl Conrad, the Clarks’ neighbor at 60 Spring Run, was outside clearing the snow off his truck as fire crews were putting out the fire.
Conrad said everyone was lucky the “plow guy” saw the fire.
“We were sleeping,” he said.



New charges filed by DA against teens

Staff Reporter

District Attorney David Hartnett filed new charges against two Homer teens who shot classmates with an airsoft gun in the school’s parking lot in May.
The filing comes nearly two months after a county judge dismissed assault charges lodged by Hartnett’s office for the same incident.
State Police Sgt. Susan Lockyer said this morning that her department issued appearance summons for second-degree harassment, a violation, to Zachary Walter, and Terry Elwood, both 17, for the May incident. Elwood was also charged with unlawful possession of a weapon upon school grounds, also a violation.
Lockyer said her department issued the tickets upon the request of the District Attorney’s Office.
Hartnett’s secretary said this morning that the District Attorney will not comment on the case. Hartnett also refused to comment on the case when the assault charges were dropped.
Gary Walter, Zachary Walter’s father, said Tuesday that the police issued the tickets at Homer High School on Friday afternoon while his son was in class taking a test.
“I can’t believe it,” he said. “Why did they have to waltz through the school a half-hour before Christmas break? They (the State Police and the District Attorney’s Office) want to embarrass them (Walter and Elwood). They want to scare them.”
Chip Elwood, Terry Ellwood’s father, had similar feelings about the timing of the new charges.
“We’re totally shocked,” he said. “After Judge (Julie) Campbell dismissed the case against my son … it was very, very hurtful three days before Christmas.”
Campbell dismissed felony and misdemeanor assault charges against Walter and Elwood on Nov. 2 in response to a motion filed by the students’ attorneys, Randolph Kruman and Mark Suben. In her decision, Campbell said none of the students who were shot with the plastic BBs were injured.
Walter, of 17 North West Road, Homer, still has one count remain from his original arrest, endangering the welfare of a child, a misdemeanor, because one of the students he is accused of shooting was only 15 years old at the time of the incident.
The new charges come as a second attempt for the District Attorney’s Office to resurrect the case since its dismissal.
A week after Campbell decided to drop the assault charges Hartnett wrote a letter to the judge asking her to reconsider her decision, or to consider lesser charges.
Hartnett did not specify what lesser charges he wanted considered.
Campbell responded to Hartnett’s request with a letter on Nov. 16 stating, “I did not find any appropriate lesser included offenses and instead, exercised my discretion to dismiss the charges in question.”
Both teens were suspended from school for 14 weeks for the incident and Elwood, of 4047 Elwood Road, Taylor, who was a tuition student, was denied re-entry after the suspension was lifted. He has since moved into the district to gain readmission to Homer High School.
The students are scheduled to appear Jan. 26 in Homer Town Court. Walter is scheduled to appear on the endangering charge Jan. 22 in County Court.


Wal-Mart proposal continues to dominate Cortlandville

Staff Reporter

CORTLANDVILLE — The town has seen movement on several fronts this year, as officials and residents dealt with a contentious Wal-Mart Supercenter proposal, zoning and code revisions, expansion of the Town Hall, construction of the Starr Road Community Park and flooding.
Wal-Mart purchased a 33.7-acre site on Route 13, known as the polo fields, from the estate of Homer Gutchess. According to paperwork filed with the County Clerk’s office on Dec. 12, the parcel was sold for $1.7 million. The project is now in front of the town Planning Board, awaiting a decision on the Supercenter’s application for a Planned Unit Development designation.
The town’s final site plan and subdivision review should take place in 2007.
The State Environmental Quality Review portion of the project’s approval process was completed on Dec. 6, when the Town Board, acting as lead agency, issued a findings statement that concluded Wal-Mart had adequately addressed any environmental concerns.
Meanwhile, the nonprofit group Citizens for Aquifer Protection and Employment, which has repeatedly opposed the Wal-Mart Supercenter development, has said the Final Environmental Impact Statement needed to be revised to allow for more extensive mitigation efforts.
Flooding problems in the spring and early summer signified that development at higher elevations was heavily influencing drainage in the valleys.
Residents of the Route 281 and West Road area, and especially Bell Drive, were concerned that development in the DaVinci Drive area was overwhelming the aging infrastructure that was meant to protect their homes.
In 2005, the town had asked the state Department of Transportation to help address some of these concerns during the expansion of the Route 281 corridor, slated to begin in 2008, but this year the DOT replied that it would only get involved if a “mutually agreeable” solution could be worked out, pointing to the high cost or inappropriateness of any solutions mentioned so far.
The town Highway Department has been installing retention basins to at least slow down the water while the town examines possible solutions.
Flooding surrounding the Starr Road and Parti Drive areas has also been an area of concern, and the town has been working with the city of Cortland and the county to examine the problem and look for solutions.





Greek Peak plans expansion, Groton cannon returns

From staff reports
New municipal building projects and infrastructure repairs were often a necessity for many of the area’s towns and villages in 2006, but new private investment and revenue were hard to come by.
As a group, Cortland County’s towns and villages scored a victory of sorts with the new sales tax agreement between the city and the county, which will gradually raise the municipality’s share of total revenue from 26.5 percent in 2006 to 29.75 percent by 2009, or roughly $660,000 in additional revenue to be divided based on the town’s and village’s assessment.
A bid by the town of Cortlandville for an additional 1 percent in revenue to help fund infrastructure costs due to rapid development in the town was rejected by the Cortland County Legislature, which ultimately felt that that revenue was needed more by small towns without means for development.
Although many smaller towns saw little economic growth in 2006, Virgil was the exception.
Work began over the summer on a $34 million expansion at Greek Peak ski resort.
The expansion will include a 150-room, four-star resort hotel, a 52,000 square-foot indoor water park, a restaurant and conference areas.
The town is on its way to approving a zoning document it has spent years fine-tuning. The town had a public hearing on the document in October, and made several changes to the document in response to the public’s concerns.
The town will have another public hearing on the document on Jan. 19, and may approve it that night.
If the current version of zoning plan is approved, a number of zoning laws will be changed.
Approval of the document would increase minimum lot sizes from 1 acre to 3 acres and minimum road frontage from 150 feet to 350 feet.
The village may have been among the hardest hit in the county by flooding this summer, prompting outcry from local residents who said flooding was becoming a recurring problem.
“I understand we can’t control the weather when it rains like it has, but the last couple of years have been too much,” McGraw resident Sally Sprouse said at a community stream bed cleanup in August that drew more than 50 residents.
Residents bemoaned the village’ inability to dredge creek beds along Mosquito Creek, Trout Brook and Smith Brook — state regulations are restrictive of dredging — while village officials said they lacked resources to keep up with repairs.
“There’s hardly a street in the village that doesn’t need work,” Mayor Jay Cobb said at an August Village Board meeting. “This severe flooding just compounds the problems, and we can’t seem to catch up.”
The village and its residents were able to lobby in September for the removal of the East Academy Street bridge, which many pointed to as both dangerous and as a possible contributor to the flooding.
Meanwhile McGraw received $113,000 in funding from FEMA, much of which will allow the village to make repairs aimed at mitigating flooding problems in the future.
On a more positive note, in July, McGraw celebrated the centennial of the Lamont Memorial Free Library, and also saw the completion of a four-year, $334,000 renovation project at the library. Renovations included the addition of a children’s area and a local history room.
Since the library was founded in 1906, it has increased its collection by about 12,000 books, village historian Mary Kimberly said.
A controversy that carried over from 2005 reached an agreeable conclusion in 2006, as a Civil War-era naval cannon was returned to the Groton Rural Cemetery.
Initially sold to an independent collector in September of 2004 for $15,000, the 17,000-pound Naval Parrot Rifle was rededicated to all men and women who served the country in times of war at a July 4 ceremony.
The return of the cannon was made possible by brother and sister David and Helen Brooks, former Groton residents who donated $8,000 to retrieve the cannon from the collector.
“(The cannon) is the type of thing that holds a town together, it gives a town pride, so I hope it isn’t forgotten for a long time,” David Brooks said after the ceremony.
The village announced plans in August to purchase the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses at 143 Cortland St. The village hopes to move the offices of the village clerk and code enforcement to the new building, from the Municipal Building at 108 Cortland St. The transaction is still in progress, and a purchase price has not yet been announced.
About 60 percent of the purchase price will come from the village’s reserve funds, Rankin said, while the remainder will need to be borrowed.
The town is pursuing an $800,000 to $1.2 million project that would see a new town hall/fire hall at the north end of the town park on Route 221.
The town’s more than 100-year-old town hall, at the corner of Routes 38 and 221, has serious code issues, and as a voting place is not compliant with state election regulations.
Meanwhile the fire station, located about three quarters of a mile further east along Route 221, is getting to be too small to house its trucks.
Community members and town officials discussed the possibility of renovating the historic town hall building before opting to build a new building.
The town is in the process of bidding out for contractors for the early stages of the project, and will provide more details on the cost of the project and on funding in early 2007, said Town Supervisor Ray Marsh.
Work began on a new town hall in August, just east of the current town hall on East Main Street.
The nearly $3 million, 12,000-square-foot building, which is scheduled for completion in August 2007, will include more office space, a larger meeting room for board meetings and court, and additional conference rooms.
The new town hall will be built on 47 acres of land, 21 acres of which are wetlands, purchased by the town for $100,000 from Empire Livestock in 2005.
The town is looking to develop some of the remainder of that land into recreation areas, and will discuss how to do that with residents in 2007.
The town is in the midst of its first assessment update since 1994, hand in hand with Marathon because both municipalities are a consolidated assessment district. The assessment is expected to be completed in July.
The town is also hoping to find a location for a new Town Hall.
The village early this year began using three new wells for its municipal water system.
The wells were part of a nearly $700,000 project, which was completed at the end of 2005.
Site work began this year for a canoe launch at Lovell Field in the village, but the construction has yet to begin. The work was funded with a $60,000 grant from the Division of Coastal Resources in the state Department of State.
The town has purchased land for a new salt shed for wintertime highway maintenance, at a cost of about $68,000, said Town Supervisor Elizabeth Pitman. It will be located just south of the center of the town on Route 281, and Pitman said it will be constructed once the ground is dry enough in the spring.
An eight-year effort to move and restore an historic one-room schoolhouse ended unhappily in 2006.
The Willet Community Group, which had been pushing to preserve the structure known as Eaton Hill School No. 5, voted in September to disband at year’s end.
The group could not muster financial support for the $80,000 project, which involved airlifting the schoolhouse from the corner of Route 41 and Covey Road to the center of town and then restoring the floor of the building, which has no foundation.
The disbanding of the Willet Community Group also likely spells the end of its annual Day in the Park and fall harvest dinner fundraisers, and the skating rink in the Willet town park, which the group also funded.