Nov 14, 2012 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
This is the second in a two-part article on the proposed Victory Sports Medicine development
There were two mistakes in last week’s story on the VSM ‘Victory Campus’: It was stated that the eight outdoor fields comprising Phase 2 of the development would have the majority of the proposed 70-to-90-foot-tall field lights. In fact there will be no sports lighting on the southern fields. Also, it was stated that construction of Phase 1 of the project would take 12 to 18 months from now to be completed. In fact it will be 12 to 18 months after groundbreaking on the project. We apologize for the errors.
The proposed Victory Sports Medicine and Orthopedics ‘Victory Campus’ development, to be set on 99.5 acres of land off Route 20 just east of the village of Skaneateles, continues to be the talk of the town. A slew of letters to the editor have been printed in the local newspapers recently and petitions of support are being circulated both by project opponents and by Victory Sports Medicine.
Numerous details of the proposed VSM development continue to be of great public concern, such as environmental impact, drainage, future development around the property, traffic and parking on the campus and allowed public use of the fields.
This article is based on a two-and-a-half-hour interview with VSM owner Dr. Marc Pietropaoli and COO Lance Wardell, as well as an examination by the Press of the entire four years of planning board records for the VSM project.
At a recent meeting of the Citizens to Preserve the Character of Skaneateles, a group opposed to the VSM project, executive director Holland Gregg said, “We have a really legitimate argument. We have a right to say, ‘How is your development going to make our community better?’ You have to convince us, and so far I just don’t get it.”
This question of community benefit is the one most often asked by anti-development residents, and, more specifically, people wonder if community members will even be allowed to use the multitude of athletic fields being proposed for the site and, if they are, how much they will have to pay to do it.
“No one is going to put something like this in and not charge for events and other things we’ll have there,” Pietropaoli said. “There will be times the fields can be used [by the community] for free and at low cost.”
For school sports teams to use the VSM fields, there will be fees, Pietropaoli said. “Schools do now get charged for any fields they use. It only makes sense. But the Boosters and other groups do raise funds for things like this,” he said.
Officials in the Skaneateles Central School District told the Skaneateles Press they have sufficient athletic fields and currently have no intention of regularly using the VSM facility except possibly under certain circumstances, such as using the artificial turf fields when the district’s grass fields are too wet and muddy.
The possibility of charging use fees for community Little League baseball or other youth sports has not been determined yet, but both the fee and free options are “out there,” Pietropaoli and Wardell said.
When asked if a group of local children decide to jump on their bicycles and ride to the VSM complex to play a pick-up baseball game on one of the outdoor fields, would it be allowed, Pietropaoli said, “The answer is yes. With this many fields there will be open, public time.” But he and Wardell did caution that many variables about public use will have many variables to be finalized, such as event scheduling, obtaining permission for use and insurance and liability issues for VSM.
“Quite honestly it will evolve over time [but] it will be a mix of both free and fee,” Wardell said.
The Victory Campus development will offer much more benefit to the community than just athletic fields, Pietropaoli emphasized. It will also bring jobs to Skaneateles, income for local businesses, an increase in the town tax base, rising values to surrounding properties and a state-of-the-art medical facility all can utilize. It will also increase the amount of community contributions already given by VSM.
Pietropaoli and VSM has a history of charitable giving to Skaneateles and surrounding towns that, he said, is being overlooked and ignored by project opponents, and he resents the implication that he is some sort of heartless developer with no ties to his community.
VSM donates gives free physicals to youth sports teams, provide scholarships to high school students and participates in numerous local charities and events, such as both community playgrounds builds, One for the Books, SkanRaces and Skaneateles Fire Department Field Days. In December 2008, Pietropaoli gave his entire staff an extra day off for Christmas and donated all the salaries that would have been paid that day to the Auburn Memorial Hospital Foundation to be used for patients with no money or insurance coverage. Pietrropaoli also donated money to the Auburn Community Soup Kitchen and he and his staff volunteered for a day serving at the soup kitchen.
“Yes, this is a business, and a business must be profitable, but to say only one person benefits from this? Tell that to our employees,” Pietropaoli said. “This is a good business. It will bring jobs and money. People don’t know how hard we’ve worked to build this and how much we contribute to this community. And just think how much more we will be able to contribute [when this is completed].”
Ever since the first public meeting on the VSM development project was held in March 2009, site drainage and environmental impacts were of major concern to local residents and to members of the Town Planning Board. From April 2011, when VSM submitted its storm water drainage plans to the planning board, to Oct. 16, 2012, when the planning board did the final environmental assessment review, the town and VSM had continual back-and-forth exchanges over drainage and environmental issues.
The Feb. 10, 2012, revised site plan shows 13 stormwater treatment practice areas: biodetention with overflow, wet pond with outlet, dryswale, underfield infiltration with overflow and stormwater wetland. In March 2012 VSM submitted to the planning board a conservation analysis for topography, a conservation analysis for wetlands, existing watersheds, proposed watersheds, and natural resource plans.
In April 2012 concerns were raised by the planning board about hazardous runoff from the proposed artificial turf fields, and how VSM would handle the known lead and zinc runoff that occurs with artificial turf. An Apr. 27 email from the John Camp of C&S consulting firm, who works for the town, to VSM project manager Matt Vredenburgh, of EDR Companies, stated “According to the turf expert at the planning board meeting, there are runoff quality concerns for these surfaces. … We are concerned regarding the potential of these surfaces to leach pollutants into surface water.” An Apr. 30 email from Camp stated, “Artificial turf fields have the potential to adversely affect water quality of receiving water course and the lake as the artificial materials weather and break down.”
The project engineers at EDR companies said they would create underground reservoirs and bio-retention area for water quality treatment, but at the May planning board meeting C&S consultants said they remained concerned that the “[retention] ponds reflected on the plans are insufficient to support the runoff” and that the rate of runoff from the fields was still not adequately addressed.
The VSM plans were revised in August and then again in September to address all environmental and runoff issues stated by the town. The final site plan, submitted to the planning board Oct. 5, had an updated storm water operation and maintenance plan which included best management practices to accommodate runoff for up to a 100-year storm event, state-of-the-art storm water detention ponds, basins and areas; storm water planters, vegetative filter strips and maintenance of an existing vegetative buffer adjacent to wetland areas. It also stated that VSM would be bound to monitor the content of accumulated storm water at the project for heavy metals possibly leaching from the turf fields to be installed at least every 60 days for a period of one year from installation and thereafter indefinitely every six months.
The planning board determined that all VSM project environmental plans were DEC compliant and satisfactory to town engineers, and the project would have only a “minor” environmental impact on the site.
“Everything we have done had to be duplicated by our engineers [EDR] and the town’s [C&S], and they worked very well together,” Pietropaoli said.
Traffic, parking and future development
Amid all the specific concerns of opponents of the Victory Campus development, the overall anguish is that this 232,000 square-foot facility with 25 acres of athletic fields that will cater to colleges, universities, professional athletes and athletic teams will change the face and character of Skaneateles. It will bring in immense crowds of people from outside the community for tournaments and exhibitions that will overtax the infrastructure of the village: create traffic jams and parking shortages, promote (or necessitate) construction of hotels, restaurants, gas stations, fast food establishments and other unwanted structures along Route 20 east of the village, and turn bucolic Skaneateles into industrialized Utica.
Pietropaoli insists that will not happen, and the notion that thousands of people will crowd into Skaneateles because of his facility is exaggerated. When asked how the increase in size of his medical facility from 6,000 to 61,000 square feet, plus a 171,000 square-foot indoor athletic facility plus 12 outdoor athletic fields will not, by common sense, draw massive crowds to Skaneateles, he said, “Where’s the numbers of these huge crowds? The burden of proof needs to be on the facts, not that it’s ‘obvious’ or ‘common sense.’”
Pietropaoli and Wardell maintain that 350 parking spaces for the entire facility will be sufficient and that the 2009 traffic study they had commissioned by GTS Consulting of Chittenango, which stated there would be no adverse impacts on traffic in the area, remain correct.
The current facts — and common sense — however, belie that belief.
Phase 1 of the Victory Campus will include 250 parking spots for the 61,000 square-foot medical facility containing about a dozen medical specialists as well as Skaneateles Urgent Care offices and the first 80,000 square-foot indoor athletic facility, as well as four multi-use artificial turf fields. One of those fields will be a baseball “exhibition stadium” with bleacher seating for 500 spectators.
If there is an exhibition game of a professional baseball team at the stadium — as the intended plans suggest is possible — 400 spectators would bring 100 cars to the site, assuming every care held four people. But if every car did not hold it maximum occupancy, that is more than 100 cars. Add to that all the cars of people visiting one of the numerous medical facilities in the building, or training in the indoor facility, and other events simultaneously ongoing on the other three outdoor fields, and the number of parking spaces necessary increases drastically.
Phase 2 of the project will build an additional 100 parking spaces for the southern eight multi-use outdoor athletic fields. If there are multiple sporting events simultaneously ongoing on multiple fields, all of which bring in cars for team members, coaches, family members, friends and other spectators, 100 parking spots appears insufficient.
Pietropaoli stated that parking will not be allowed on any of the grass on the Victory Campus, so if the parking lot gets filled, people will have to find their own alternate parking someplace else.
“We think there is enough parking,” he said.
Likewise, Pietroapoli and Wardell remain convinced the March 2009 traffic study, which shows no adverse impact to the community, is correct.
That study, however, was based on the original Nov. 2008 proposed site plan of a 75,000 square-foot medical office building and a secondary 70,000 square-foot indoor athletic facility, which also was deemed to account for traffic from “an array of outdoor athletic facilities.”
The current site plan, by contrast, contains a 61,000 square foot medical and research facility; a 171,000 square foot indoor recreational, athletic and rehabilitation facility; and a dozen (separate) outdoor multi-use and baseball/softball fields.
The 2009 traffic study was for “exactly the same” project scope as it is today, except that the building is now bigger, Wardell said. “We’re evaluating the impact of that right now, [but] we’re confident that revisiting the traffic study … the conclusions and results will come out exactly the same,” he said.
Planning board records show, however, that board members and Town Planner Howard Brodsky have continually voiced concerns over the outdated study, that it was no longer relevant to the current project scope and requested an updated study. “You should restate and expand the narrative. … This expanded explanation should now include a discussion of the separate traffic and parking demand for the fields and the medical facility,” Brodsky wrote in an Aug. 24 email.
VSM officials responded multiple times to the concerns that the 2009 study was accurate and sufficient, records show.
In a resolution dated Sept. 17, 2012, the Onondaga County Planning Board determined that VSM must complete an updated Traffic Impact Study and submit it to the state Department of Transportation for approval and complete any appropriate mitigation as required.
Wardell said VSM is now going forward with an updated traffic study as required by the planning board, but he remains confident the original study findings will be upheld.
As for future commercial development in the town or specifically along Route 20 near the Victory Campus as a result of the development, Pietropaoli is not convinced it will happen. He said he does not own any other parcels of land near his development site, and he has no plans now or in the future to build any additional buildings or facilities anywhere else in town.
Likewise, since Pietropaoli does not own any other land along Route 20, any future development there is not something he would try to predict nor is it something he has any control over.
The zoning and building code dictates how a piece of property will be developed, and “any applicant will have to follow the same process and procedures as the rest of us,” Wardell said.
The next phase of the VSM development is a Zoning Board of Appeals decision on the requested athletic field lighting variance. The scheduled hearing on it was for Nov. 13, but has been postponed until Dec. 4 at the request of VSM.
Because the outcome of the ZBA vote is necessary before the Town Planning Board can hold its public hearing on the entire development project, that hearing, previously scheduled for Nov. 27, may now be postponed to a later date, although that has not yet been determined.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Skaneateles Press. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.