Apr 21, 2014 Jason Emerson Uncategorized
After nearly two years of meetings, discussions, proposals, counter-proposals, disagreements and even litigation, the Cazenovia Village Planning Board last week approved the request of Cazenovia College to build a six-foot-high, 1,420-linear-foot perimeter fence around its Schneeweiss Athletic Complex in the heart of the village.
The site plan approval was passed 4-0, with board member Jennifer Gavilondo having recused herself, after the village engineer and the Cazenovia Advisory Conservation Commission offered reviews and recommendations of the project, reams of public input was received and the college revised its original plan.
The issue was concluded four months after the college resubmitted its project plan to the board following a state supreme court decision on the rights and responsibilities of both the college and the village regarding the issue, and exactly how the approval process needed to be achieved.
“This may not be the perfect outcome with respect to all parties involved, but it is a big improvement over the previous proposal and it follows the law,” said planning board Chair Rich Huftalen during the board’s April 14 meeting. “It is very unfortunate that it was such a long process, but I hope ultimately the outcome struck a balance between the rights of the college to have a fence on their property while mitigating the potential negative impacts to the neighborhood.”
The college proposed the construction of the fence — planned to be six feet in height and made of chain link with black vinyl coating, and spanning the eastern, northern and western edges of the its Schneeweiss Athletic Complex — in summer 2012 in order to protect its $1 million investment in its turf athletic field, which was built in 2011-12. Village Zoning Enforcement Officer Bill Carr denied the college’s permit application to build the fence in July 2012, and declared that the fence was not an independent project but part of the college’s previous turf field project, and as such the proposed fence was “segmentation,” or submitting separate parts of the same project for zoning approval individually instead of as a whole as a way to prevent a possible negative outcome of a site plan review.
The college appealed Carr’s decision to the village zoning board of appeals, which upheld his decision in April 2013. The college then appealed to the state supreme court in Wampsville, asking the judge to overturn the ZBA’s decision to require full site plan review for the fence project.
State Supreme Court Judge Donald F. Cerio, Jr.’s Oct. 22 decision supported arguments made by both the village and the college. He said the village was correct that the college must undergo a complete planning board process rather than just be given a simple building permit; he said the college was correct in declaring the fence a stand-alone project and not part of the previous turf field construction, and therefore the case is not a question of illegal segmentation.
The college filed an appeal of Cerio’s decision to the state appellate court on Nov. 19 while simultaneously preparing a new project proposal submission to the planning board. Cazenovia College President Mark Tierno said at the time that the appeal was simply a “procedural matter” to keep that option open to the college, since it had only 30 days to file with the court.
The college resubmitted its proposal to the planning board on Dec. 2. The main revision to the plan was to change the composition of the fence from chain link with black vinyl coating to black powder coated aluminum. Neighbors and some planning board members asked that the fence be five feet in height rather than the proposed six feet, but the college adhered to its original six-foot plan. The village code allows fences to be up to six feet in height.
A major sticking point over the past four months of discussion was whether or not the fence could be constructed inside the 25-foot vegetative buffer zone that separated the college property from that of its neighbors, or had to be located outside of the buffer zone. The college proposed the former location, while the neighbors argued for the latter. The planning board concluded that placing the fence inside the buffer zone did not violate any provisions of the zoning code.
Cazenovia College President Mark Tierno said the college was pleased by the planning board’s April 14 decision.
“After two years of design planning, consultation, legal debate and compromise, we can now move forward with a fence that will increase the security of our athletics property and our student-athletes, protect our investment in Christakos Field and be in character with the adjoining neighborhood and historic district,” Tierno said. “Our desire from the very beginning was to simply fence our athletics property to limit access to authorized use and protect our facilities for current and future student-athletes. We have always maintained the desire to be a good neighbor and will continue to act accordingly. After all, we — our students and all of our employees — are neighbors in the community as well.”
Planning board Member Diane Webb said during the board’s April 14 meeting that while she approved of the site plan overall, she was “disappointed” that the college refused to lower the fence to five feet as many people requested and “couldn’t be a good neighbor.” Board member Anne McDowell said, “I second that.”
Cazenovia Mayor Kurt Wheeler said after the meeting that the village was pleased to have the process completed. “In the end I think [the fence] will be very attractive and the final outcome will meet the needs of the college and the neighborhood,” he said.
The schedule for when the fence construction will start or how long it will take has not been completed yet, but the college will communicate that to the village once its planning process is completed, said Wayne Westervelt, the college’s vice president for marketing and communications.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.