October 18, 2021

Land owner avoids foreclosure

Payment allows him to keep C’ville site tied to cemetery flooding

Colin Spencer/staff reporter

Property owned by Lawrence Hill III abuts St. Mary’s Cemetery in Cortlandville. Hill recently paid attorneys for engineers who did work to help repair damage caused by flooding in 2013 at the cemetery, following work by a previous owner. The land is also set to become a solar farm.

The owner of a property that caused flooding of St. Mary’s Cemetery in Cortlandville — and which would be used for a solar farm — has paid money to attorneys representing an engineering business to prevent the sale of the land at a foreclosure auction.

Lawrence Hill III said Tuesday that he paid $57,976.75 to TDK Engineering to retain ownership of a 115-acre property off Ridgeview Avenue in the town prior to Monday’s deadline.

“I’m relieved for right now, but we still have a long way to go,” he said.

Work remediating damages caused by previous owner, James C. Stevens III has been completed, Hill said.

Stevens did work on the property in 2012 to mitigate flooding elsewhere but the water was inadvertently redirected to the nearby cemetery on Route 281, resulting in unearthed graves and toppled tombstones. Stevens did not acquire permits for the work.

Stevens then contracted with TDK Engineering to fix the flooding and damages, in addition to helping him out of a legal bind, Joe Durand, the president of TDK Engineering, previously said.

Stevens did not pay TDK Engineering for work and the company began legal action to foreclose on the property.

The state Attorney General’s Office and state DEC filed a lawsuit to prompt Stevens to correct the problems that caused the flooding. When he failed to act, a state Supreme Court justice found him in contempt in December 2016 and ordered him held in Cortland County Jail in January 2017 when corrective work had not commenced. Stevens was released after eight months.

While Stevens was in jail, he did not pay the $250,000 to Hill who Stevens hired to help with repair work, Hill said. Hill then used the land as collateral. As for what’s left, Paul Scheneman, the president of PLS Engineering PC in Tully, which has also been contracted for work, said workers from the state Department of Environmental Conservation want to perform one more inspection before declaring the project finished.

Scheneman would not comment on the cost of the work.

The property has become a focal point of the town as two side-by-side, 75-acre solar projects have been proposed on the land near homes.

Town residents have previously spoken against the projects, saying they will be visible despite developer claims and that they would hurt property values nearby.

Hill said the projects would benefit the town because the land, which is in an agricultural zone, would not otherwise have much value.

He said the town and county could receive up to $1.3 million over 25 years from a payment in lieu of taxes agreement.

“We can’t just let that go by,” he said.

Hill said he understood concerns of residents of Ridgeview Avenue and Bell Crest Drive near the site of the proposed projects, but said Ridgeview Avenue has been a “dead end” road for more than 30 years and that it’s not feasible to consider adding more housing there when people are leaving the county.

“We have to change,” he said. “There are things we have to do to get through COVID and get back on track with the economy.”