Maura and Bill Kennedy-Smith were at the Town of Lansing Planning Board for something completely different, they said, when they were told that they would be getting a new neighbor: the Department of Transportation (DOT) maintenance facility and a large salt barn being moved from the Cayuga Waterfront would now be just a few hundred feet from their front yard. They claim they were not notified about the plans until the land was being sold, and by then it was too late to coordinate any kind of counter-argument. They contacted their elected officials and used public comment time at a September 2018 meeting of the legislature to raise their concerns about the project and bring to the member’s attention how close the project is planned to be to their home.
“One of the things that we’re most upset about in this whole process is just that it really feels like the manner in which this came about was done in a way intended to keep us in the dark about it,” Maura said.
When they bought the house in 2013, they were not concerned about the possibility of something being built in the open land next to the property because it is zoned Industrial Research and owned by the airport. The land had been deeded to the airport in the 60s to be used as “airport clear zone buffer.” The residents of Hillcrest Road have now spent months learning more about the proposed project and the information they’ve gathered has not made them feel any better about it. As part of the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport expansion project, the DOT facility currently sitting on valuable waterfront property is going to be moved to land now owned by the airport in the Town of Lansing. Of the 50 plus acres owned by the airport on the west side of Warren Road, the county legislature voted to sell 15 acres to the DOT. Those 15 acres happen to be right next to their home. Mike Sigler, a county legislator who represents Lansing, was one of four members to vote against the sale, including Shawna Black, Amanda Champion, and Henry Granison.
The Kennedy-Smith’s say they have yet to be given a good answer as to why the 15 acres directly next to their property was chosen for the facility. While they have been told that there are no immediate plans for development on the rest of the land, they believe that is why the parcel next to them is where the facility is expected to be built.
“Obviously, we have to have a DOT facility here in the county, but it’s just inconceivable that they couldn’t have found a better place for it that wasn’t going to cause a hazard in any sense to residents,” Maura said.
“This new site was selected after a number of careful considerations, including aeronautical, historic resources and environmental factors,” Curtis Jetter, DOT Public Information officer for this zone said in a statement emailed to Tompkins Weekly. “We believe that this location strikes the right balance between meeting the needs of DOT and accommodating the concerns of residents adjacent to the property.”
Beyond the facility being a stone’s throw from the yard their children play in, the Kennedy-Smith’s are also concerned about an increase in traffic on their road, increase in noise and light pollution, and early hour disturbance when salt trucks leave the facility at around 3 a.m. The State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) claims that the increase in traffic and noise will be minimal. When the DOT facility moves off the waterfront, the City of Ithaca will be able to develop on the high-value property. It’s unknown what kind of development will fill the space, but it’s likely to be worth a lot of money. This is an aspect the greatly bothers the Lansing residents.
“A lot of people are going to make a lot of money off of this,” Maura said. “This is a middle class neighborhood here. It feels like all this is people lining their pockets at our expense.”
Before the project can move forward, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) must approve the sale of the land to the DOT. Mike Hall, manager of the Ithaca airport, said he expects this deed of release to be approved any day now and does not foresee any reason that it won’t be approved. The Kennedy-Smith’s are hoping that the FAA will deny the deed of release. Until the land transfer is approved and SEQR process complete, the DOT does not own the land and can’t start to build on it.
According to the NYSDOT website, construction is expected to start this summer and finish in the winter of 2019/2020. The estimated cost of the project is $13,800,000. Since the sale of the land, the DOT and the airport have met with the Kennedy-Smith’s, who are asking for compensation for the potential loss in property value, to discuss the situation. According to Hall, one of the concerns of the Kennedy-Smith’s, that a fueling station not be built so close to their house and the water wells of their neighbors, has been worked out, and the fueling station will be moved closer to the airport.
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