Elections, solar top community stories of ’17

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer

Douglas Withey, left, celebrates with his wife, Marian, at the Democratic Headquarters in Cortland on Nov. 7 after he won a seat on the Cortlandville Town Board. Withey and fellow Democrat Lenore LeFevre’s victory in the town justice race marked the first time in decades that a Democrat had been elected to a Cortlandville town office.

The year 2018 promises plenty of new beginnings for Cortland area communities, with new leadership elected in Cortlandville in the wake of lawsuits against the town, a rail trail close to completion in Dryden, and both the Homer and Preble town governments getting their town hall situations resolved.

Democrats win in C’ville

Two Democrats won election in Cortlandville, the first elected to town positions in the Republican-dominated town in a half century.

Doug Withey, a former superintendent of the Cortland Water Department, won a seat on the Town Board and Lenore LeFevre, Cortland County’s assigned counsel administrator, won a town judge seat vacated by David Alexander, who was elected Cortland County judge. Withey and John Reynolds, a Republican, were the two highest vote-getters in an election that saw incumbent board member Greg Leach voted out.

Leach was at the center of a lawsuit brought against the town over the granting of conditional permits to expand his business, Leach’s Custom Trash Service.

C’ville loses lawsuit

Two Article 78 lawsuits against the town of Cortlandville were decided in favor of residents, finding the town did not follow its own zoning and environmental laws when it approved permits to expand a trash-hauling business.

The lawsuits were initiated after the town board granted conditional permits for one of its members, Greg Leach, to expand his trash-hauling business. Leach recused himself from the votes.

The suit’s plaintiffs — residents Pam Jenkins, Olga Smith and Cheri Sheridan — argued that the town failed to follow its own zoning law and environmental review process before granting Leach the permits.

Following the court decision, Leach filed a harassment lawsuit against Jenkins, but withdrew the suit in November.

Now, the town board is considering rezoning part of Tompkins Street to accommodate more development, including a proposed Byrne Dairy gas station and convenience store. This comes after Byrne Dairy and a proposed storage unit facility were denied use variance permits by the town planning board. The Town Board could vote on the matter as early as February.

Park stage debate

The city of Cortland’s Common Council approved construction of the $200,000 Newell “Spiegle” Wilcox stage in Courthouse Park — an issue that was a factor in a primary challenge to the city’s mayor.

Construction would take place in 2018.

Many residents who spoke at public meetings, including residents Tony Pace and Bill Fiske, favored a mobile stage because it could be used at other city events, not dramatically alter the layout of the park and respect the park’s history as a war memorial.

The Cortland Youth Bureau presented three options for a permanent structure at the park and a mobile stage option that would replace the current showmobile.

The three permanent stage options included landscaping work and the moving the memorial in the park’s center. The options had the stage located in different spots.

Other park renovations are expected to take place, including repairing the deteriorating fountain structure, removing dying trees, widening sidewalks and improving lighting.

Village back in town hall

After years of debate among Homer Village Board members and village residents, the village returned to offices in the Homer Town Hall this year.

It moved at the end of September into spaces on the north side of the building. The spaces are temporary as the village will move into the current assessor’s office space when renovations to Town Hall are complete — projected to be next year.

The village moved out of Town Hall in 2010, citing poor air quality, although tests failed to confirm any air contamination. But since moving, village officials had also been looking for a new location for village offices as its 900-square foot space at 53 S Main St. were too small.

It will pay $400 a month — $200 per office — until renovations are complete. When the renovations are finished, the village will pay $600 a month for the first five years of a 10-year agreement, beginning Oct. 1, and ending Sept. 30, 2027.

Solar big Dryden issue

In August, the Dryden Town Board approved the site plan and special-use permits for two solar projects after six months of review.

In October, a pair of Article 78 lawsuits were filed against the Town Board and town Planning Board regarding the way the solar projects were handled. The court’s decision was posted to the Tompkins County Clerk’s website last week ruling that both petitions dismissed.

The solar arrays, proposed by Sun8, a subsidiary of Washington D.C.-based Distributed Sun, include an 11-megawatt facility at 2150 Dryden Road and an 18-megawatt facility on Turkey Hill Road. They have an estimated value of $40 million.

Dryden had passed a solar law in February, allowing the town to regulate and develop large-scale solar projects. Companies were also given clear definitions of the size, location, position and types of solar energy systems allowed.

Dryden trail proceeds

The town of Dryden obtained easements for an 8.1-mile strip of land for a 10.5-mile recreation trail and $182,000 has been secured, bringing the town of Dryden closer to finalizing the project.

The Dryden Rail Trail, which has been in the works since 2015, will connect the village of Dryden to the village of Freeville and from Freeville to Ithaca. The trail will run along the former Lehigh Valley Railroad.

In November, 2,600 feet was added after an agreement was reached to gain access over state-owned land on Game Farm Road.

The section of trail running from the village of Dryden to the village of Freeville was completed in June. Also in June, about 10 youths with Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Youth Employment Readiness program cleared brush from a portion of the trail.

Preble builds garage

After dealing with inadequate space as well as other issues from a building more than 50 years old, Preble began construction of a new highway garage.

Highway Superintendent Jeff Griswold has said the new building, which at 9,800 square feet is three times the size of the old garage, is getting very close to completion.

Griswold said this morning the project is still continuing with electrical and heating work still under way. He did not have a time frame of when the work would be completed.

With other costs, a total a bit under $950,000 was slated for the project.

In April the town voted to use reserve funds for the project and borrow up to $450,000. However, it needed only the reserve funds and a $175,000 state grant, Griswold said.

Construction started in July on the six-bay garage across the road from the town salt shed at 6684 Route 281. On Oct. 10, the floors were poured. Overhead doors were installed and insulation were installed in November.

The former garage was built in 1955. Over the years, the department outgrew the building, affecting operations. When the trucks had plows on them, they couldn’t fit in the bay. Heating was a a problem, too. The new building will cost the same to heat, even though it’s three times larger and can now house all the equipment.

Groton bicentennial

Events throughout the year were celebrated to mark the town of Groton’s 200th anniversary.

The town was originally part of Locke in Cayuga County, but when Locke was divided in April 1817, the southern half became the town of Division. Later that month the town became part of Tompkins County.

About a year later, in March 1818, the name of the town was changed to Groton.

The town includes the village of Groton — incorporated in 1860 — as well as a number of hamlets, such as McLean, West Groton, Peruville and Groton City.

To celebrate the history, commemorative events started April 7 at the Groton High School.

This year also marked the bicentennial year for Tompkins County, formed April 17, 1817.


Staff reporters Jake DeRochie and Nick Graziano contributed to this report.

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