City property owners treated unfairly: Ithaca NY Journal, 9/21/07

Guest column

By Robert Andree and Angelo DiGiacomo

We represent two businesses located in the west end of the City of Ithaca. Andree Petroleum has been located on Third Street since 1952 and Instant Printing Service on West Buffalo Street since 1972. Collectively, our multi-generational businesses have been rooted in this area of the city for 90 years. We care deeply about our community and are proud to provide continuous service to area residents and businesses.

As you know, the City of Ithaca, prior to 2002, had a vision for a waterfront trail, commonly known as the Cayuga Waterfront Trail (CWFT), which is being implemented in three phases. It would create a trail linking Cass Park to the Farmers' Market and eventually Stewart Park and the Chamber of Commerce. Phase 1 of this trail was created a few years back, paving a trail connecting Treman Marina to Cass Park.

The City of Ithaca created a phasing plan dated June 10, 2002. Based on this date, one can reasonably conclude this plan was in the works for at least six months to a year prior to being officially drawn up. During that time, the city had obtained federal and state grant monies to implement construction and planning of all three phases.

On Oct. 22, 2003, nearly 16 months after the plan was conceived, the City of Ithaca presented their plan to the property owners along the corridor of the proposed Phase 2 of the CWFT. This is the first time we were made aware of this plan, despite having a mayor and administration that prides themselves on creating numerous committees and receiving public input.

Essentially, we were deprived, both as property owners and as large property and sales tax contributors, from giving input and having our concerns addressed. The city and Tim Logue, transportation engineer and planner, gave us little choice but to accept or deny the plan. If we denied the plan, the city threatened to use eminent domain, a process of taking our land and forcing us to accept their (the city's) appraised value for it. In our opinion, the use of eminent domain to obtain private property for use as a “recreational trail” does not meet the threshold for the use of this power.

On Jan. 6, 2006, a letter was received from Logue stating “I am writing to notify you that the City of Ithaca's Board of Planning and Development will hold a public hearing on Tuesday, Jan. 24 at 6 p.m. ... for the purpose of prescribing and soliciting public comment on a proposal for the City of Ithaca to acquire right-of-way, pursuant to Eminent Domain Procedure Law on a portion of your land at 684 Third Street......” (see the entire letter on our Web site at www.cayugawaterfronttraffic.com)

We have genuine concerns regarding the CWFT Phase 2. First, Phase 2 would eliminate the extreme right-hand lane of traffic on the Route 96 bridge, going over the flood control channel. Traffic has been a major concern with those who have to deal with it every day — motorists. Over 20,000 cars a day pass over that bridge, according to a state Department of Transportation study, and some 8,500 trips are made to Cayuga Medical Center each year through ambulance service, according to Bangs Ambulance. We have close to unanimous support from emergency care providers, concerned about getting fire and ambulance equipment to needed emergencies on Route 96.

CWFT Phase 2 has been opposed by the Ithaca City Board of Fire Commissioners, Tompkins County Emergency Response, Bangs Ambulance, the Tompkins County Sheriff's Office and others. The Ithaca Fire Department is assessing the situation and has called for future study of traffic patterns. Secondly, CWFT Phase 2 would bring pedestrians within harm's way of traffic on that bridge, also putting pedestrians dangerously close to an alley way in back of Instant Printing and deny PuddleDockers Kayak shop the right to waterfront access. The trail would lead the public by a propane and fuel storage facility. The public would be expected to travel in close proximity to self-venting tanks posing the threat of fire or explosion. State and federal Homeland Security have issued concerns regarding this possibility and yet the city refuses to believe any incident could be possible.

The city has no plans to deal with trains or traffic issues. We repeatedly asked Logue what his plan was for resolving poorly timed lights and other traffic issues. His only response was to blame the state Department of Transportation. Taxpayers paid a substantial amount of money in the past decade for traffic devices that were to be synchronized within the city (Albany, Court, Buffalo streets and others), yet we are told software issues exist. We view this as a vote of no confidence with the city regarding traffic coordination.

One fact is also apparent: the decision made on May 3, 1989 to avoid building an overpass over the railroad tracks, thereby creating the mess we have today, was made by former Common Council members Carolyn Peterson (the current mayor) and Dan Hoffman (the current city attorney). They were part of a nine-person vote against an overpass and other improvements (options B and C) that would have alleviated today's congestive traffic. Now they want to further complicate matters by constricting traffic over the inlet.

The City of Ithaca has ignored our pleas for a viable solution that creates a safe CWFT Phase 2, where public safety and eminent domain issues are resolved. Instead, the city repeatedly tries to gain our acceptance by introducing costly “incentive programs” whereby we as landowners are encouraged to take part in low interest loans to pay for landscaping on our properties to be “in compliance” with CWFT Phase 2 plans. We do not view this as constructive dialogue.

Based on the City of Ithaca's lack of concern for public safety and the rights of private property owners, Andree Petroleum and Instant Printing Service have rejected any City of Ithaca offer to date. It is difficult to deal with a government entity that refuses to engage in constructive and meaningful dialogue in the name of public safety and rights of landowners.

We understand that the City of Ithaca has suspended its plan for use of eminent domain and is focusing on Phase 3 at this point. We believe this is an intentional ploy to delay any politically sensitive issues regarding eminent domain, until after the city council and mayoral elections in November. We call upon Mayor Carolyn Peterson, and all council members to go on official written record stating eminent domain will not be used to acquire our properties, now or at any time in the future regarding a waterfront trail or pedestrian path. We challenge the City of Ithaca to produce this written confirmation before the city elections.

If the City of Ithaca mayor and Common Council intend to sacrifice public safety and also take our properties, let them be held accountable now. We are not interested in becoming active participants in a flawed plan that puts the public in harms way.

We ask the public to decide for themselves. Our position and supporting arguments against CWFT Phase 2 can be found on our Web site, www.cayugawaterfronttraffic.com.

Ithaca NY Journal: http://www.theithacajournal.com

Robert Andree and Angelo DiGiacomo are business owners who live in the City of Ithaca. This guest column combines their perspectives on the impact the Cayuga Waterfront Trail could have on their business.