Brian McAllister’s backyard on N. Burdick St. in Fayetteville following a flood. (courtesy Brian McAllister)
According to Fayetteville resident Brian McAllister, “something stinks in Denmark,” or, more appropriately, Fayetteville.
And if you consider the north side of the culvert there, then Manlius too.
McAllister is one of many residents on or near N. Burdick Street who have voiced their concerns over the increased flooding that could ensue from not one, but two, major developments on or near N. Burdick Street.
McAllister’s family moved to Fayetteville in 1970, and he said he’s “watched the village grow up.” He has lived at his current property on N. Burdick Street for about 16 years and has been fighting different project proposals next door for at least four of them.
McAllister, along with other nearby residents on Warner Road, Kennedy Street and Sims Place, has expressed concerns about the increased flooding that could occur from a particular project proposal by Developer Mark Shattuck, which calls for a 6,000-square-foot one-story plaza on N. Burdick Street on the south side of Limestone Creek, a 25-mile long creek that flows past Manlius and Fayetteville, passing under the Erie Canal and emptying into Chittenango Creek.
For the past five years, McAllister’s backyard has flooded on Easter. The last big flood he experienced was 15 years ago, with over four feet of water piling up on his property. He used to have a koi pond in his backyard, but he kept losing his fish every time it flooded.
Resident Carmela Peters moved in the neighborhood in 2009 and has since witnessed numerous floods as a homeowner on Warner Road. Most recently, the parcel owned by Shattuck flooded early this March, said Peters.
Shattuck’s project will undergo a state environmental review on May 21 in a joint meeting with the Village of Fayetteville Board of Trustees and Planning Board — something that has only happened twice in Mayor Mark Olson’s 24-plus years on the village board. Though it will be an open meeting, it will not be a public hearing.
There are about 60 houses in this neighborhood, and Peters said about 10 to 12 households have personally been involved with the project, either by attending village or planning board meetings or writing letters to them.
Some neighbors have even been evacuated from their homes on Sims Place, a designated flood zone, behind N. Burdick Street, because of the flooding. “We have neighbors that move in and out,” said McAllister, noting how one of his next-door neighbors recently moved out once they heard about the project.
According to McAllister, this is the “last developable piece of property in Fayetteville,” and while the developments would ensure “more tax revenue for the village,” McAllister doesn’t think it’s a good enough reason to develop on this particular plot of land.
Neighbors said that although both the Village of Fayetteville Board of Trustees and Planning Board have given them many opportunities to voice their concerns, they feel as if their words have merely washed away like their backyards.
“We’re sitting in a major flood basin, and if they don’t handle this correctly, we’re all going to be underwater,” said McAllister. “Our big thing is the zone change. I don’t want the zone change, and I don’t think any of the residents over there do either.”
Because the land has been residential for so long, McAllister said it will “open up a can of worms” if it later switches to commercial zoning.
Last May, McAllister and Peters presented the board with a petition to oppose the zone change for Shattuck’s property, which they said had enough signatures to require the board to make a unanimous vote on the change.
In January, Shattuck presented an updated zone change application, explaining that since his presentation last year, FEMA moved the Flood Way Boundary, so he updated his plan to reflect the change. He stated that the property is currently zoned (R-2) Residential-2 and (O) Open Space and requested to rezone the land to (TB) Traditional Business and (O).
Because the proposal has since been altered after the creation of their petition, McAllister was told by the village board that their petition was no longer valid.
“All they do is tweak the numbers and make things look nice,” said McAllister. “Now they’re telling us we have to go and get another petition?”
Despite a No Rise Certificate having been issued for Shattuck’s project, which determines if a proposal will increase flood heights, some nearby residents say that the volume of flooding has still not been accurately assessed.
“We’re not engineers, but it’s just hard to comprehend the volume of water to be accommodated,” said Peters.
“Our petition should still be alive,” added McAllister.
McAllister told the mayor that the request wasn’t “fair” or “right,” and should have been voted on last year when it was first presented.
“But they didn’t do it,” said McAllister, adding that Olson provided no reasoning for the board’s decision to not vote.
When the Shattuck project originally arrived to Fayetteville, McAllister said Mayor Mark Olson, along with a few other board members, fought “tooth and nail” against the proposed development, as it ran a risk of increased flooding for nearby residents.
McAllister said the mayor and a few board members have even been down to the property to check it out during flooding season.
“We definitely had these concerns too, and [flooding] was our main concern,” said Olson, as he explained how the Village of Fayetteville will have a responsibility to address the increased flooding if it occurs.
Originally, he and the board were wary of the proposal as it could not obtain a No Rise Certificate. Without that, Olson said the proposal would be unable to move forward, as the proposal’s approval was contingent upon approval from the county and state DOT, FEMA, the No Rise Certificate and the planning board.
“We didn’t want to cause any further problems down there,” said Olson.
When a scaled-down version of the project was reintroduced at a Fayetteville Board of Trustees meeting on January 8, Shattuck said that the updated application featured the FEMA Flood Way Boundary change and addressed all comments submitted by the village engineer.
“From what we’ve been told and what we’ve been shown, [increased flooding] won’t happen,” said Olson. “But [resident] concerns are legitimate, and I appreciate them. But I also have to look at the village as a whole. We don’t want to cause any more flooding, but we have to also trust what our professionals tell us.”
Olson added that Shattuck’s proposal will donate the back portion of its property as forever open land for the village, making sure that it remains undeveloped.
Olson said the SEQR review on May 21 will take these concerns into consideration and will go into further detail about its environmental review.
While residents like McAllister and Peters live in Fayetteville on the south side of the culvert, they still have another project to worry about — one that is located within the Town of Manlius, on the north side of the culvert.
This project, being developed by COR Development Co. LLC, calls for a major residential development to the side of the Towne Center shopping plaza, stretching across 129 acres of land, right on the edge of the Village of Fayetteville.
This development — The Woodlands at Limestone Lakes — plans to include 17 single-family homes and 10 apartment buildings, equaling out to with 148 units total. The parcel also includes two existing ponds.
“As you can imagine, the prospect of an additional major development by COR in the Town of Manlius only accentuates concerns that our residential neighborhood could be at a real risk of flooding,” said Peters.
In spring 2009, Fietta Realty Corp. tried to develop on this land, but when they couldn’t obtain a No Rise Certificate they withdrew their application in April 2010, abandoning along with it fields of branches and tree stumps, as they had clear-cut the entire property.
“That’s not what we moved in here for,” said McAllister. “[Mayor Olson] said he’s tired of people saying, ‘not in my backyard,’ but it’s not in his backyard.”
“If the projects are approved and our properties do get flooded, it’ll be basically impossible to prove that it was their fault, and we’ll just be stuck,” said Peters.
But will their flood insurance cover it? Not likely.
Peters said flood insurance is very expensive — about $700 to $900 a year for her household depending on the mortgage balance. With a $2,000 deductible and extra fees tacked on this year due to the area’s history of flooding, Peters said the insurance system is a “scam,” anyway.
“The chances of [water] filling my crawlspace and then getting into my house are pretty slim, although my furnace is in the crawlspace so damage would be considerable,” said Peters.
McAllister said he has to pay his insurance in a lump sum – his last bill being $2,700. He said the only thing their flood insurance covers is their property, as covering contents would be too expensive.
“There’s also this, ‘whose fault is it’, and to me that is not clearly spelled out,” said Peters.
McAllister said a lot of residents in this neighborhood are seniors or retired, so he and Peters are often the voices for residents who cannot speak up.
“They can’t get out and they don’t get out, so they don’t come to these [village and planning] board meetings,” said McAllister.
“It’s exhausting, not everyone has time to sit through a two or three-hour meeting,” said Peters. “I have people around me … I’m their voice.”
“Carmela and I for the past couple of years have been their voice,” added McAllister. “I get the feeling that [the village is] trying to burn us out so we go away.”
“It’s bad enough worrying that you’re going to get washed out, now they’re adding to the worry by developing down here and doing this,” he said.
Despite being offered money to leave his property by Fietta Realty Corp. in 2009, McAllister said he’s “not going to back down,” and doesn’t plan on leaving anytime soon.
“Nobody sees the bigger picture and they look at me like I have a third eye. I’m not an engineer, but I’m not stupid,” said McAllister. “If something does happen and we get flooded out, they’re going to be sorry.”
Jason Emerson is editor of the Cazenovia Republican and Eagle Bulletin newspapers.