December 2, 2021

Route 11 park project in Homer dead

Kevin Conlon/ city editor

The Homer Village Board is continuing to push to acquire all the properties along Route 11 to make the linear park along the Tioughnioga River happen.

A project to beautify a portion of Route 11 near the Tioughnioga River in Homer by making it more accessible and adding in a park will no longer move forward after attempts to buy a property along the corridor failed.

The village board had been working to acquire three properties along Route 11 — the former Budget Inn Motel site, an auto repair shop owned by James Harder that isn’t open anymore and an empty building — in order to make the project happen.

However, Mayor Darren “Hal” McCabe said Sunday that due to conflict with Harder over the value of his property, the village wouldn’t be able to purchase it, meaning the project would no longer be happening. It also means the village would lose out on around $380,000 in grant money.

“But worse than that, we lose the chance to improve and beautify a critical connector corridor with the city of Cortland, which means people coming from Cortland or from out of town using that route will see some of the worst of what the village of Homer has to offer, rather than a beautiful park and the mighty Tioughnioga River,” McCabe said in a statement Sunday.

McCabe said this comes as a result of Harder refusing to sell at the price the village was allowed to pay.

“Because the grant was improperly administered before I took office, offers were made to the three property owners based on general valuations,” McCabe said. “The grant stipulates that the purchase price for the three properties be what they are professionally appraised for by a commercial appraiser.”

“I’m going to go with no comment on that,” former Mayor Genevieve Suits said when asked about McCabe assertions.

McCabe said the new appraisal resulted in lower evaluations of the three properties, but Harder wanted the original amount offered to him — which was $28,000 more than the official appraisal — even after the board tried to get him a little more money to make up some of the difference.

Also part of the problem, McCabe said, is Harder’s lawyer, “who is unresponsive to the point of malpractice.”

“This has dragged out now for so long that I can’t see a reason to continue to try and continue to make it happen,” McCabe said. “The village does not have the money that Mr. Harder is asking for, without us laying off an employee. And we are not willing to do that.”

Harder said Tuesday he did not want to comment on the issue.

McCabe said he will not seek eminent domain over the property either, noting he respects property owners’ rights and would only use that practice in an emergency.

The Budget Inn site will remain in the hands of the Cortland County Industrial Development Agency, which was transferred ownership of the property in January from the Cortland County Business Development Corp. The BDC had bought the site in July 2015 at auction for $77,000 after a fire caused the site to become an eyesore in April 2015.

“We’re still hopeful for a resolution but will begin considering other options for its use or conveyance,” Garry VanGorder, the executive director of the BDC and IDA, said Tuesday. “The BDC purchased the property more than four years ago as a partner in a worthy community development project, and while we’re pleased that this has ensured preservation of some green space along the corridor, we are also disappointed that bureaucracy and self-interest has apparently won out over something the entire community could have bene ted from.”

McCabe said if there is grant money available again in the future for the project, maybe the next generation of board members can address it, but as for now the project is dead.

“It’s a shame, because ultimately it is the village of Homer and all of our residents who will suffer,” he said.