October 24, 2021

Neighbors complain about Homer Oil site

Nick Graziano/contributing photographer

Homer resident Vincent Russo expresses his concern about the debris and trash around the former Homer Oil Co. building at 4 Center St. His backyard abuts the property.

HOMER — Come winter, the view in Homer resident Vincent Russo’s backyard is no longer of colorful trees, it is of a decaying building piercing through the naked tree branches.

The same goes for his neighbors who live around the former Homer Oil Co. building at 4 Center St, which has miscellaneous debris laying around the property, cracked bricks, broken windows, collapsed sections of roof and a rusty facade.
“It is just a disgrace to the neighborhood,” Russo said.

The junk blows into his yard and the feral cats who call it home roam the neighborhood.

He said he feels no one wants to do anything about it.

“I am aware that it is an issue that has been reported to the village several times, and all I can do is refer the complaints to our codes director to look into,” village Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe said in a written statement. “It’s nothing that I or the trustees have anything to do with or much power to address. It’s between the property owner and the codes director to sort out.”

The 3.7-acre property was purchased in 2015 by then-Mayor Genevieve Suits and her husband, Paul Suits. At the time, Genevieve Suits said their intent is to “simply get rid of an eyesore in the village” by demolishing the building.

She said Thursday the building will be taken care of, but has no time frame for when that might happen.

“There’s always been a multitude of plans for the site,” she said. “They’re still in the works.”

Village Code Enforcement Officer Craig Umbehauer said Thursday there are no code violations with the building, at the moment. It is stable, he said. The doors and windows are closed so no one can get into the building.

Umbehauer said he is waiting to see what Suits is going to do with the building.
Russo said he understands the mayor and Umbehauer can’t force Suits to demolish the building. And while he sees the building as a safety concern, his main concern is the trash around it. It ends up blowing in his yard when the wind is strong, he said.

“I don’t think I’m asking too much to pick up the trash,” Russo said.

He also acknowledged the property has become a place for people to dump things, too.

McCabe said Umbehauer told him there is some trash around the property, but not enough to be a violation.

The village nuisance ordinance code defines a violation as: “Any condition, structure, improvement or material which shall constitute a threat or potential threat to the health, safety or welfare of the citizens of the Village of Homer or which is detrimental to the property of others or which causes or tends to cause substantial diminution in the value of other property in the neighborhood in which such premises are located.”

However, Russo said he believes the building is bringing down property values in the neighborhood. He said some of his neighbors have tried to sell their house, but couldn’t.

Russo said McCabe suggested to him that he complain to Suits, but Russo said he does not feel it is his place to do that — McCabe and Umbehauer should.

For village resident Ed Barhite, whose house is directly in front of the building and shares a driveway with the road leading into the property, the trash isn’t as concerning as the feral cats that live in the building.

He said every night, six to seven cats roam the neighborhood. The Cortland Community SPCA won’t do anything about them, he said, because neighbors have been feeding the cats.

One has dug a hole under his house and is living there with kittens, he said. If the building goes, he hopes the cats go with it.

The building is an eyesore, he said, but the neighborhood is quiet and he would not want to see something replace it that would result in trucks driving in and out of it again.

“It would be nice to know what they’re going to do,” Barhite said.

Originally a milk-processing plant, the facility has been a point of contention for village residents since Homer Oil began processing soybeans into liquid oil and meal for livestock in 1989. Neighbors complained of adverse health effects from the plant’s daily operations, though it was never confirmed the facility was the source. Homer Oil closed its doors in 2004.

In August 2013, Chuck Rader, former chief executive officer of IsleChem, LLC., and member of an investment group calling itself Homer Soy Products, planned to invest $1.4 million to revive the plant and even received $800,319 in state aid.
But amid opposition from residents, Rader and his associates decided not to follow through on the purchase, citing an inability to find buyers for the soy feed and oil the plant would have produced.

Russo said the building shows one should be careful what one wishes for.

“A lot of people wanted Homer Oil out of business,” Russo said. “Now look what we have.”