A sitting-room-only-on-the-floor crowd Monday, June 24, at the Cooperstown Village Board’s monthly meeting had a point: Why put an apartment house in the middle of one of the village’s finest single-family-home neighborhoods?
There it is. That said, who doesn’t have some mixed feelings, given that the developer, Josh Edmonds, intends to build a complex that is supremely energy efficient, as is his new home at 45 Delaware St., and to price it so young families with incomes in the $54,000 range can afford it?
Nonetheless, don’t village trustees have a stewardship responsibility: to preserve Cooperstown as it is known and loved? Do they have to destroy the village to save it?
With some emotion, Sherrie Kingsley, co-proprietor of the Inn at Cooperstown with her husband Marc, read a letter he co-signed that contained a chilling conclusion: Concerned about “our quality of life as well as the value of our properties,” the couple had met that morning with Altonview Architects to discuss how they might convert two houses they own, 12 Chestnut and 180 Main, into apartments if necessary.
The Otsego Chamber of Commerce’s “Energy & Infrastructure Policy,” released last Thursday, June 13. The title sounds innocuous enough.
In effect, it is rank-and-file business owners’ Declaration of Independence.
The whole of the Otsego Chamber’s new policy appears in this newspaper, beginning at right. Read it. But there are a couple of key paragraphs.
The first makes common cause with every sensible person’s aspirations:
“As we head toward the inevitable move to renewable energy, the Chamber will continue to support and help implement all forms of energy including wind, solar, natural gas, hydro as well as geothermal, ground and air source heat pumps. The Chamber will also help connect businesses … with organizations that can perform energy audits and make upgrades that can help decrease energy usage as well as providing information for rebates and financing options. The Chamber can work with elected officials and state agencies … to implement renewable energies and technologies.”
Oneonta’s Roberts brothers have a point. Actually, they have a lot of points.
Walking down Oneonta’s Main Street sidewalk after an interview the other day, it was either Nate or Eric who pointed at the sidewalk and said, “That’s what we mean.”
He was pointing at a trail of dog droppings.
Four days before, someone had vomited in front of a nearby establishment. The vomit was still there.
And cigarette butts – count ‘em. No, there are too many to count.
“The ordinances aren’t being kept up with,” Nate said.
The Roberts brothers had been planning to run for Common Council, Nate in Ward 4 (north of Walnut Street) and Eric in Ward 8 (both sides of Lettis Highway and the downtown.)
But Democrats – Kathy Meeker in the Fourth and outgoing Council member Joe Ficano in the Eighth – challenged them on the party’s behalf, and the county Board of Elections last week removed the Robertses from the ballot.
Too bad, because the main impetus for their campaigns was the deterioration they see around them.
For instance, Nate, 36, an entrepreneur – he operates Serenity Hobbies in the former Alpine Ski Hut – reports two men, either drunk or drugged up or both, in broad daylight, “yelling at cars and pedestrians in front of my store.”
He called the OPD. Fifteen minutes later, an officer still hadn’t arrived. By then, the men were taking off their shoes and throwing them at passing cars. Nate called again.
Another 15 minutes. By the time an officer arrived, the two troublemakers had “dispersed on their own.”
Eric, 34, obtained his master gardener certificate from Oregon State, returned home a couple of years ago and is a landscape management technician for City Hall.
When he sees a Big Gulp overturned in a downtown flower bed, he takes it personally.
City Hall will tell you, “You can use our public spaces,” said Eric, adding, “I haven’t seen a single professional having lunch in Muller Plaza since I got back.”
Moms with baby carriages cross the street to avoid the homeless, panhandlers and guys bumming
cigarettes, he said.
Smoking, drinking and littering are supposed to be prohibited in the city’s lovely parks – Neahwa, Wilber and the rest, but it’s routine, said Eric, who spends his working days there.
A single officer walking the Main Street beat from 9 to 5 would resolve much of this, said Nate. “What happened to the bike cops?” added Eric.
The Robertses have interesting personal stories. Both graduated from Edmeston Central, but their dad was food manager at RSS’ Oneonta Bagel Company for 17 years, so they frequented the city since boyhood. (Nate has been doing the job part-time for the past several months.)
The brothers were drawn to the City of the Hills by its music scene – bands aplenty from SUNY’s Music Industry Department, and venues aplenty.
“We want to create that opportunity again,” said Nate.
In college, Eric got a call from a pal in a band that needed a bass guitar, and spent 10 years on the road, with the combo winning gold and even platinum disks. Nate spent time in New York City, and ran a booking service for a while when he got back to town.
As it happens, Nate was inspired to run for Common Council when the two attended a meeting alerting the city fathers they plan to open The Pale Horse Public House in what was formerly The Alley on Water Street
Yes, there will be live music.
This could go on. For instance, the two are bruised by the challenges from the Democratic Party – Eric had double the required signatures; Nate triple – and have a lot to say about the process. For instance, if a double signature is stricken, it should be stricken from the Democratic or Republican petitions too.
Common Council has come through a pretty sleepy time. When was the last time a Council member proposed an exciting initiative from the floor? Committee meetings are routinely
cancelled for lack of a quorum or agenda items. What’s going on?
After the Nov. 5 elections (a primary is June 25), the Robertses won’t be there to add pizzaz, but five of the incumbents are leaving and there are plenty of candidates vying to replace them. So maybe we’ll see some Roberts-style freshmen.
Sure, the DRI – the state’s Downtown Redevelopment Inititiative – has sucked up a lot of the oxygen. Little’s been done, and next month it will be three years since state Economic Development czar Howard Zemsky – he resigned a couple of weeks ago – announced the $10 million grant.
While we wait, must great be the enemy of good? Listening to the brothers, routine enforcement needs beefing up, a little broken-window policing, maybe.
Most entrancing about the Robertses was, despite their specific complaints, they love Oneonta. Now home again, they don’t intend to leave. There’s a lot of that, and that’s an asset.
As Eric put it, “The city isn’t the way I remember it. It’s gone.” But he added, “I don’t want to say anything bad. It needs help.”
A visitor to Otsego County from Vermont a few days ago described what seems to be a sensible end to marijuana prosecutions in the Green Mountain State.
Smoking pot has been decriminalized, not legalized. Folks who smoke it are allowed to grow enough for their own use. End of discussion. Live and let live.
Alas, poor New York State, where we’re focused, not on live and let live, but on extracting the maximum in revenues from a prospective $3 billion industry and spreading it around among our partisan friends.
After months of smoke and fiery rhetoric over marijuana legalization, Governor Cuomo Monday, June 3, doused hopes, saying it probably won’t happen this year.
The half-million or so visitors who will be coming to Greater Cooperstown over the next 13 weeks – for Dreams Park and Cooperstown All-Star Village, for the Baseball Hall of Fame, for The Fenimore Art Museum, The Farmers’ Museum and Hyde Hall, for Glimmerglass Opera, for fishing and boating and summering on Otsego Lake, for hiking and canoeing.
While our visitors are here, pretty much everybody prospers – the restaurants, stores, the rental and hospital business, banks, the hospitals and urgi-cares, every form of entertainment.
Because of you, our visitors, the rest of us get to experience things a rural area generally wouldn’t, from rock and roll (Herb Ritts at The Fenimore and Ommegang’s offerings) to chamber music and opera, baseball stars, to dozens of restaurants, many attractions, lots of golf courses and, of course, more fireworks per thousand population than any community in the country.
“There are no second acts in American lives” has been attributed – some say misattributed – to F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Antonio Delgado – as he recounts in his splendid commencement address last weekend at his alma mater, Colgate University – is a contradiction in point.
His experience as hip-hop artist AD, The Voice, which he assesses here for the first time we’ve seen, very well could have ruled him out as a prospective Congressional candidate, particularly – as he puts it – in the 19th Congressional District, which is 90 percent white.
Still, his first-rate credentials – they include a mother’s love, which he touchingly revisited in his speech – plus Colgate, Oxford and Harvard degrees. And his experience – as a litigator, not a lobbyist, he’ll tell you – with a top-flight law firm, certainly qualified him as a successor to the consensus-building Chris Gibson of Kinderhook and – projecting ahead – to the canny and effective Sherwood Boehlert of Greater Utica.
That Delgado is black was, in itself, never disqualifying in the 19th District – certainly, not in Otsego County, which – split a third, a third and a third Republican, Democrat and independent – voted twice for Barack Obama, with folks generally, if not unanimously, thrilled to do so.
There’s a lot going on in the City of Oneonta right now, as City Hall’s DRI (the Downtown Revitalization Initiative) begins distributing $10 million in state money, leveraging it in a way that attracts many millions more in private investment.
Certainly, there are time pressures. There are conflicting agendas. There’s not ever going to be enough money to make everybody happy. Lately, environmentalists are ready to swoop down on any development that may require more energy, (which is every project).
So from time to time, it may be hard to remember this is the fun part.
Editor’s Note: This is reprinted from this week’s Freeman’s Journal and Hometown Oneonta editorial pages. Click here for related editorial. What do you think? Letters to the Editor welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
In a couple of weeks, we won’t remember that Cooperstown’s Main Street is a ghost town from Columbus Day to Memorial Day. The 500,000 visitors will begin arriving in earnest with Dreams Parks’ June 1 opening.
By the time we again become Coopers(ghost)town, the opportunity will have been lost.
The opportunity, of course, is 100 Main St., a gap in the village’s set of most perfect teeth since CVS moved to the southern edge of the village in November 2017 –yes, it’s almost been two years.
If you had driven from Cooperstown to Franklin late Sunday afternoon, you would have been greeted by one lovely scene after another.
The sun had broken through. The brilliant light green trees promised the leaves that may be out by the time you read this, contrasting with the solemn evergreens. That panorama from the top of that back road leading from Otego’s I-88 exit into Franklin was never more sensational.
It felt great be alive, and to be in Upstate New York.
The recently completed state budget contains a measure, championed by Governor Cuomo, that prohibits police departments from releasing mug shots of suspects.
The other day, Monday, April 22, Trooper Aga Dembinska, Trooper C spokesman, declined to release a mug shot of Gabriel Truitt, 33, suspect in the Dec. 29 arson fire on Oneonta’s Walling Avenue, where former city firefighter John Heller was killed.
Dembinska advised that, while the governor has yet to apply his signature to that part of the state budget that will make mug shots closely held in the future, the Department of State Police, which is under the governor’s administration, has put it in place, anticipating its approval.
“No one will get anything from us anymore,” she said. Granted, she and Maj. Brian Shortall, Troop C commander, are simply following orders from headquarters, as they must.
At the time, Truitt was at large. As it happens, he was wandering in our midst. But without the mug shot, how could anyone have identified him? This newspaper circumvented the ban by obtaining Truitt’s mug shot from a 2018 arrest report, but that’s going to be harder to do as time goes on.
Originally, Cuomo had intended to bar release of all police reports, in effect enabling secret arrests, anathema – and historically unprecedented – in our system of open justice. And so is the mugshot ban.
Welcome to the Cheka, Albany style.
In proposing the mugshot ban, the governor put it this way in an interview on WAMC, Northeast Public Radio:
A couple of months ago, Gerry Benjamin, director of SUNY New Paltz’s Benjamin Center and an expert on Upstate New York, saw the region’s economic future in nurturing and growing what we have.
Craft brewing and yogurt production, in particular, are developing nicely, he said, although neither is generating sufficient jobs at sufficient salaries to begin replacing the manufacturing behemoth that was the Mohawk Valley.
The advantage to incremental growth, of course, is that it can be absorbed organically, with job along I-88 incrementally reviving the declining community centers to the north.
Springbrook, of course, is the poster child, growing to over 1,200 jobs on a simple concept: Better care for handicapped children can be provided more humanely and at lower cost in proximity to their New York State families. Win, win.
Two more examples of growing in place – growing and excelling is more like it – may be found in the two organizations that will be honored at the Otsego County Chamber’s annual Gala & Celebration of Business Thursday, May 2, at Foothills. (Reservations, call 432-4500, ext. 2.)
One, venerable Pathfinder Village, is vigorously placing its Down syndrome and otherwise handicapped residents in real jobs, filling real employer needs. For instance, with Astrocom in Colliersville unable to find workers, Pathfinder is deployer a half-dozen trainees and two supervisor daily to that aircraft parts fabricator.
Former Pathfinder residents are also working at Golden Artists Colors, Price Chopper, Silver Dollar Optical, NYCM and NBT Bank.
Two, Les Grummons arrived in Oneonta in 1970, having acquired the Rotherby-Murphy Funeral home, and knowing virtually nobody.
He quickly developed a strategy: Get on friendly terms with as many people as possible. He joined the Rotary, the Elks, Moose and Eagles. He pursued his interest in the Sons of the Legion, rising to state commander. He served on the board of Catholic Charities, St. Mary’s and Hospice. He rose to the state Funeral Directors Association presidency, cementing his reputation in the industry. He was elected to Common Council.
In the process, he solidified the Lester R. Grummons Funeral Home among the front ranks of such local institutions, a solid business that has provided service and employment to many over almost a half century.
As detailed on Page B1 of this edition, Pathfinder will be honored at NBT Distinguished Business; Grummons, as Eugene A. Bettiol Jr. Distinguished Citizen.
The state Comptroller Office a few years ago reported that only 29 jobs had been created in Otsego County in 2016 but, one, state data lags and, two, it doesn’t reflect the groundwork that was being done to make way for growth we’re starting to see now.
For instance, Custom Electronics is creating 50 jobs for to make high-storage batteries, building blocks of a renewable future. A grant has ensured Corning’s 175 Oneonta jobs for 15 years. Cooperstown Distillery and Andela Products, Town of Richfield, are anticipating expansions and 10 new jobs each. Some 50 jobs are unfilled at Amphenol in Sidney. A little bit of natural gas would allow a distribution center to bring 300 jobs to Schenevus in short order.
Plus, the colleges, schools and hospitals provide a stable base.
And with Paul Landerses and Les Grummonses among us, the current downward trend, we can confidently hope, is temporary.
The other day in downtown Cooperstown, a kitchen worker stepped out onto Main Street’s sidewalk in the middle of the day, lit a joint, took a few tokes and went back to work.
You might think, get used to it. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
Legalization of marijuana, which the ascendant Democratic majorities in the state Legislature and Governor Cuomo expected to become law in January, has foundered over a number of issues.
When trouble arose, the governor’s fallback plan was to include legalization in the FY20 state budget that passed April 1.
A state budget is a cloak for a myriad of controversial issues. The single budget vote, required by April 1 under the state Constitution, gives assemblymen and state senators deniability if constituents try to make them accountable on any single issue – like, say, legalizing pot.
Abolish Otsego Now? Goodness. It’s Otsego County’s “single point of contact” on economic development, the locus of job-creating efforts.
Adrian Kuzminski, our creative and thought-provoking columnist, suggests such in the column on the opposite page. Read the column. But here’s an alternative idea.
How about abolishing Otsego 2000? It’s arguably the “single point of obstruction” to any economic development in Otsego County, evident most recently in the drive to stymie a
10-year effort to redevelop Oneonta’s vacant D&H railyards.
Here’s just one instance: A few years ago, Otsego 2000 successfully blocked the 160-turbine
Jordanville wind farm because the windmills would have degraded the “viewshed” from James Fenimore Cooper’s Glimmerglass.
The typical 1.5 MW wind turbine creates enough electricity to power 332 homes; 160 would have powered 53,120 homes, more than double the 23,921 homes in Otsego County.
Now, Otsego 2000 has dug in its heels on bringing any more natural gas to Otsego County. Zilch. Nada. Zero.
As it stands, regrettably, the Town of Richfield’s proposed Comprehensive Master Plan hasn’t yet accomplished its mission.
So the Town Board – it meets on the second Monday of each month, and may act on the plan in either April or May – should put it on hold, at least for the time being, until the community’s will can be dispassionately determined and the plan revised to reflect it.
A Comprehensive Master Plan’s goal is to capture the aspirations of a community and write those goals down so they can be systematically pursued; Richfield’s has been captured by a faction, judging from interviews recounted in this newspaper’s last edition.
So all townsfolk of good will – and their leadership – should stop, reflect and try again.
Here’s the story, as best we could determine it.
When the six-turbine Monticello Hills Wind Farm was proposed in 2012 on the town’s west end, some neighbors objected.
According to Dan Sullivan, one of the founders of the resulting Protect Richfield, which sued to block the wind farm, the neighbors found town government had little interest in their concerns.
Town government, they concluded, was under the control, primarily, of people living in the Village of Richfield Springs and other parts of the town, many of whom saw the wind farm as
welcome tax relief.
The suit would eventually fail, but when Otsego Now’s effort began in August 2015 to update the town and village existing comp plans for economic-development purposes, the neighbors saw it as another opportunity to protect their neighborhood, and got involved.
Others began seeking appointed or elective office on the key town boards and commissions.
By the time the draft of the updated
Comp Plan went to public hearing March 12, wind-farm opponents controlled the Zoning Commission that prepared it, the Planning Board that must review it, and the Town Board that must approve it.
As you might expect, the plan prohibits “industrial wind farms.”
That, however, was not the limit of Protect Richfield’s vision: For 95 percent of the town’s land space, the updated Comp Plan envisions only farms, single-family homes and agri-tourism.
After the public hearing, Andela Products President Cynthia Andela said, she met with Sullivan, and obtained two concessions:
►One, a “Route 20 overlay” in the plan, which limits development to 500 feet on each side of the center line, was expanded to 1,000 feet, although she’s not sure even that is enough.
►Two, “home occupations” permitted in rural parts of the town – that includes such activities as building contracting – were limited to three employees each, and Sullivan agreed to lift that limit altogether.
But she was also concerned that a limited commercial-industrial zone around the village itself, where municipal water, piped-in natural gas and sewerage are available, isn’t big enough to accommodate future growth.
And, she said, other sites should be considered for such development, perhaps around the NYSEG substation on Federal Hill, which Otsego Now thought promising enough to put down $50,000 on a right of first refusal.
The point is: Comprehensive Master Plans are intended to map a route to achieve the will of the community, and the Town of Richfield plan fails to do that.
Yes, it fills the goal of the resurgent west end to block wind farms, but even with wind, is there another area of town where turbines might help deliver tax relief?
Even Otsego 2000, the environmental group – Sullivan is a board member – is touting Richfield, where natural gas is already available for development, over the City of Oneonta’s D&H yards. Doesn’t it make sense to expand the commercial zoning around the village?
With Richfield Springs Central School’s K-12 enrollment at 425, isn’t there a desire for more single-family homes for young families with children, and jobs for the parents?
And is the potential for lovely Canadarago Lake sufficiently reflected in the plan?
As to agriculture, a couple of weeks ago, in response to a question from Otsego County’s Congressman Antonio Delgado, D-19th, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue painted a bleak picture of dairy farming in Upstate New York. “We’re not compelled to keep anyone in business if it’s not profitable,” he said. Does any local community want to hitch its wagon to that star?
As it happens, there’s something that people of good will can do about all this: Run for town office this Nov. 5.
But time is running short: Petitions to run for town supervisor or the two Town Board vacancies must be submitted by April 1-4. The good news is, only 16 signatures are required to run as a Democrat, 33 as a Republican, two as a Conservative, five as an Independent, and less on other lines.
To their credit, Protect Richfield members were motivated to get involved in town government. But town government should be everyone’s. And Protect Richfield’s success is an inspiration others can follow. Individuals do make a difference.
In the Town of Richfield, as everywhere in a Democracy, everyone should help chart everyone’s future.