Binkewicz has lived in Lansing since 1990, now with her husband Matthew and son Tony Greenley. She teaches special education art at TST BOCES, and is also certified to teach science, which she taught there previously. She has her own landscaping business. She served a full term as Lansing Councilwoman from 2000 through 2003. Last weekend she sat down in the news room to talk about what she hopes to accomplish in the coming year if elected.
Lansing Star: Why are you running, and what made you the best choice before you were unopposed?
Katrina Binkewicz: The first time I ran I ran because I was mad. I was pretty non-political before that. I was mad at the way the sitting town board was talking with a group of people who came before them to petition for the rebuilding of Snake Hill, the road from Ludlowville to the schools.
I had a child who had asthma at that time. I was upset because if we got a serious ice storm, that's the lowest grade road in and out of Ludlowville, and if they did not reopen that we were left with choices that would not allow many of us to get out of Ludlowville. So a bunch of us went to the Town Board. They were very dismissive. They really didn't listen. It just felt like they were not representing us.
I went to the Democratic meeting, and nobody would run against them. They were running unopposed. So I raised my hand -- that's how I got into it the first time. I ran and did not get elected. Then I ran again two years later and that's when I was elected.
This time was a little different. When my term was coming to an end I told people I was not going to run for a second term, because my son was entering middle school and he needed me to be there, not at meetings. So it made sense for me not to run for a second term. But I really enjoyed this. I felt useful, and I always thought that if something comes up in the future where I have more flexibility, then I might run again.
The thing that has occurred in the recent past that stirred my interest is the question of fracking in the Finger lakes. I feel that my background in science, specifically in earth science -- I'm certified in biology, but I also taught earth science classes -- I understand the nature of the geology around here. That is one of the reasons I am adamantly against fracking.
I started to pay more attention to what was going on in the town. My son is a senior this year. At first I wasn't going to run yet -- I was thinking about next year. Then I realized he doesn't want me in his business this year anyway, so there was no real reason not to run.
So first it was the fracking, and then it was the whole issue of sewer. When I first ran for Town Board way back when they were discussing building the $8 million stand-alone plant. So I was in on that conversation about sewer, and the costs, and the pros and cons of having our own plant. Then the State said we couldn't have our own plant. We had to have a joint effort with the other towns and the city.
LS: And that was too expensive, and that was the end of that one.
KB: The first phases of those was to expand the capacity at Ithaca Waste Water and put some pipes in so Cayuga Heights could shunt some of their capacity down to Ithaca and receive more from Lansing if those pipes went through. Well, the money ran out and Lansing really lost out on that. I think it was really a shame that we hadn't done it back then when it was only $8 million.
That, combined with revving up the concept of a town center... I was very active on the 2010 committee when a group of citizens got together to talk about ideas, and what would make us feel more like a town, that someone just passing through would see that here is the center of Lansing.
Because I also have a background in horticulture and landscape design, having started my own business in Washington, D.C. in 1989, I am really committed to the concept. The Town Center isn't just the buildings. It's how the natural elements fit together so you can have grace and aesthetic beauty. You can have cooling and clean air from the trees. Street trees are very important. If you go into any town in upstate New York one of the ways you know you are there is you start to see street trees. And the speed limit drops to 30 or 35, which brings us to another issue in our center of town: it's still a little bit too speedy.
LS: Some people ware still questioning whether Lansing needs a sewer. Does it? And I think the same people are asking whether we need it this fast. Is this too fast?
KB: It's unfortunate that the state of the world is very fast right now. What was sort of a slow process of thinking sewer again has been going on a while.
LS: What has it been, 20 years?
KB: Yes, 20 years. In the recent time a core group has been working on how to make this possible, but everybody else is busy about their lives until there's a meeting or someone says, 'Did you hear about the town center, and they're going to do this and they're going to do that' and there is this reaction, 'oh no!'
I've had that reaction before when you don't know what's gone into the thought process. I think there has been a lot of good through process, but certainly it has been influenced by the perspective of the people who have been involved, whether it's from a development sense, business people, people who have come from places that have a more defined town center... it's the people who have come to Lansing for the farm land, rural feel... they're having the most trouble wrapping their heads around this from an identity standpoint.
LS: One of the things that has interested me as this process has heated up is that it seems to have quite a bit of support among people who will be within the service area, and the people who have been most vocal against the sewer are all outside of it.
KB: That is an interesting point.
Do we need a sewer? The people who cannot have viable septic really need a sewer. There is a great need for a segment of this sewage area. There are people within the sewer district map whose septics are fine. They are looking at a cost with a potential long term benefit. The people who are outside of the district are not thinking about the environmental benefits or the financial benefits to the Town and to property owners. They are putting the weight on how the Town feels to them. They don't want it to change.
Well, since I moved up here in 1990 there has been huge change. What I've seen in the time I've been here is a very increased suburban look because of the type of houses that are being built out along the roads, along Buck Road, the larger developments above the Lansing school system, the big developments off Hillcrest, in the area down Waterwagon... And off course, all the lakeshore homes. That was just cow territory.
It's really changed a lot in 20 years.
LS: During this last year of Kathy's term that you'll be serving the Board is going to make the final vote on whether there should be a sewer. Are you inclined to vote for it?
KB: I would say that I am pro sewer. One, there is great need for a section of the populace. Two, I am very pro clean water. If septic fields are failing it's all going down to our lake water, and we get our drinking water from the lake water. The more work Bolton Point has to do to clean water so it can go back in our taps, the more expenses are going to be passed back to the taxpayers.
I also believe there should be an area that is a mixed-use, higher density zone.
LS: Let me ask you about that. I've been sitting in on the sewer meetings and one of the things that came out was that the committee was considering was including proposed developments south of the initial sewer district. There were three in particular, two of them quite large. The committee initially researched what it would cost to add them, but then said, 'No. This is how the last sewer failed. We just got too big.'
To me it was bizarre because part of the justification for the sewer is to designate a denser, mixed use development area which would encourage people to leave areas outside the district alone, preserving farmlands and the character of the town. But now you're talking about these two large developments that are not within this designated area, that could form a district extension at some point, and now we have sprawl.
KB: I am pro-sewer, but you need a strong comprehensive plan. You need to really know where the borders of your high density town center are. Otherwise you do have high density sprawl. They don't just have sprawl in suburbia. I don't feel like we're really clear on that.
The comprehensive plan is huge. I wish we had done the comprehensive plan and then started on the sewer. I think the sewer and the town center thing got going really fast. All of a sudden we have these offers and people are afraid they'll back out if we don't put it through right now. I think there's a lot of fear that this is our only chance at sewer. And I don't think it is.
LS: On the other hand, we did do the comprehensive plan, and we did have these other sewer projects... so it's not like that process didn't happen, but it seems like we're in a circular thing...
KB: It is. It's a circular thing, I agree. The funding for sewer -- the Comptroller wants it down below eight hundred and something.
I feel like a lot of work has been done. I think the developments they've chosen are good developments. I was rereading your editorial, and I had the same opinion that I would like to see those cottage-type houses open to a diverse group of people. Maybe we have senior cottages, but then we have another group of cottages that's mixed-use. It could be for childless couples starting out in a new home, or young families, and senior citizens who want to live around kids. It's a whole different type of vibe.
People are saying we're just doing senior housing, but this is just a corner of what we have. But I think we really should be looking at diversifying the type of housing for different income levels and not having everybody separate. I think there is a danger of having a very classist, ageist separation that is kind of unnatural.
Back to your question... I am pro-sewer as a concept, but I am listening to a lot of people who are feeling it's going too fast, that we don't have answers back from the Request For Proposals (RFP). It hasn't even gone out yet. It looks solid. it looks like it has some great stuff, but it's not out there yet. Sometimes when people don't have an answer they fill it in for themselves.
LS: We've been talking about sewer and you almost can't without talking about the Town Center, but I'm trying to separate them as issues. Do you think the Town is on the right track with the Town Center? Weren't you on the Town Center COmmittee that Kathy Miller chaired a few years ago?
LS: Do you think they are on the right track? A lot of ideas came from that committee, and a concept. There was a conceptual map and some nice drawings, but it was not an actual plan. And the ideas seemed like they were pretty representative at the time.
KB: It was. A lot of people were involved.
LS: I thought that when NRP gave its presentation on their concept for developing the Town Center they brought a lot of those elements, if not all of them, to the table. But whoever ends up developing it, do you think the Town Board is on the right track for what they are trying to make happen?
KB: I think they are. I think a lot of the ideas people came up with are still on the table. It seems like there is a continuity of vision. If this town center is going to be anyplace that's where it should be. We already have a nub of a town center with the library and the historical building and community center.
I think taxpayers rightly get afraid that once the ball is rolling that we're going to put a lot of tax money into doing things there, as opposed to developers paying for it.
LS: Although that's actually not what the board is doing. they're negotiating with the developers to put int he roads and infrastructure in return for lower land cost.
KB: We're talking about preserving space for town things in the core center, perhaps having a farmer's market... perhaps having a new community center that is bigger and could actually be used in an emergency. A multi-purpose building. There are a lot of great ideas.
But I think if we go ahead with these two developments and the price of (all) the land is paid off, any other land that is sold, the money goes back into the town coffers. I wonder if up front we should be talking about putting a percent of that aside for community projects. That would be separate from any taxes. It would be a reserve fund.
I brought up that type of special fund at a sewer meeting way back. I was concerned about the people who don't have a positive and that are in the sewer district. They may be on fixed incomes. They may have a very low income. They just don't have that extra cash. If their septic system failed they would have to pony up a chunk to make it work. It's like buying a new car. It's not as expensive as that, but it's an outlay of funds that's 'whoa! This is big for me!'
LS: And of course it's now, whenever now comes up.
KB: Yes, so unless you plan for it it can be even more problematic. People in the sewer district who don't benefit from it... the town as a whole is going to benefit from the town center development, so maybe there should be a fund that developers could donate some money to that would help support the people who are really going to lose up front in this equation if the sewer district goes through.
LS: The real goal of all this is to get more businesses in town, which pay property taxes but use fewer resources than residences. I'm hearing that business isn't going to come until we build up the density of residences.
I've heard three proposals for the northern part of the town land, including a public park suggested by the original Town Center committee, a golf course, and a business/light manufacturing park. The latter has gotten a bit of traction.
KB: Don't get me going on the golf course scenario, because there are a lot of broke golf courses around!
LS: So you're thinking along the lines that a business park of some kind would probably be of best benefit to the Town tax-wise?
There are some people who wonder why we want that there. They ask why businesses can't go to the south of Rogues' Harbor? There's not a lot of property left to build on near the airport, and we have this piece of property. I know people want to focus on open space and green, but the point of having high density is to preserve open space outside of the district. We don't want it over-built -- we still want the aesthetic. But I think we could have light industry in the northern part of that parcel.
I think it could be integrated with other stuff that people want, the green stuff. You could have the buildings and maybe have an orchid as part of the landscape. It doesn't all have to be lawn. It doesn't have to all be corporate, glossy landscape, and that doesn't make sense for us. If we're a farming community and we want that historical feel, that's going to feel very jarring to have that in there. So maybe we combine this farm feeling with the light industry part.
LS: I went with the Sewer Committee on a walking tour of the property, and it's a lot bigger than it looks when you're looking at it from 34B. One of the things that struck me is that if they design it cleverly they are going to maintain quite a lit of the views.
One of these projects is buying 14 acres, but then it's gifting three of tose acres back to the town for green space. Three acres is big. So building there wouldn't necessarily destroy the views.
KB: I think the argument is that they're building so close to the old rail bed, so the building would become part of the view. So that's the con.
But if you were a senior citizen living there you would utilize the trails more. You would actually have more advocates for a trail system.
LS: And they would have the view from their apartments. I have joked that a way around that issue is to put an observation deck on the roof of the senior building, but I'm only half joking.
KB: I'm not joking at all. I think there should be a rooftop garden and an observation deck. There could be a green section of roof like they have at the hospital. You could educate people. It could be a beautiful thing.
LS: It seems like Lansing is on the cusp of a lot of things right now. I want to ask you about broadband. The Town Board voted a few weeks ago to support this grant proposal that could bring wireless high speed Internbet to almost all of the town that doesn't have it.
But the Town is going to have to pay something for that. Do you think that's the right thing to do?
KB: Part of the proposal is to go after the grant money. 425 million total is being cut up, and different communities can vie for that. The piece we want is $3 million for a project that Clarity Connect has proposed.
I fully believe that to keep economic classes from pulling further apart that everybody needs access to the Internet. One of the reasons I was promoting the library when I was on the board the first time was because I felt that a library is available to everyone. If you didn't have a computer you could go to the library to use one. You could apply for jobs... there are not a lot of jobs that you don't need a computer to apply for. You need to be able to write your resumé on the computer...
That was a drop in the bucket. This is a big town. There are a lot of unserved residents. It's not fair when half of one street has access and the other half doesn't.
Financially the Town's in a hard place, the State's in a hard place, and the world's in a hard place. We can't do everything. We have to select when push comes to shove. But I'd like to think that we'd make an attractive pitch for a good amount of that funding, and be creative with the piece that's left.
LS: A good chunk of it is in-kind work of the sort that Town employees do all the time.
KB: Sure. And if we had a tall senior center building you could put something up there.
LS: We're well into a one year moratorium in heavy industry. in the legalese it says heavy industry, but everybody knows we're talking about a fracking moratorium to give the Town time to put its ducks in a row. Is the Town putting its ducks in a row?
KS: That's a good question. I am concerned that sewer and town center may be a large enough distraction that we might not be pushing the other pieces. I don't know the answer to that, but I am concerned that we don't need to get too far along before really hammering out the details of how we're going to protect Lansing.
LS: We know the comprehensive plan piece is being done, because the committee was formed and has started meeting. There were ordinances and zoning issues the Town planned to look at and I'm not really sure where we are on those at this point. Do you think fracking should be allowed at all in the Town with restrictions and licensing, and maybe escrow accounts for road damage, and this kind of thing?
KB: No I don't. I don't believe it's a type of energy we should be focussing on here because of the potential for damage to our fresh water. Some people say there's a 98% change that nothing will happen.
But if something happens, not only do we lose fresh water and have health impacts, but there is an incredible negative direct impact on the tourism industry. That's one of the Finger Lakes' meat and potatoes industries. How are you going to sell your wine if the grapes have been contaminated?
I just don't see it as reasonable at all. If you look at the type of rock layers that we have, you cannot force something down one hole and not expect that it will travel through unseen cracks in many directions that you can not even imagine. It's just not feasible.
LS: What were the one or two main issues you focussed on when you were on the Council before, and what do you expect your one or two main issues to be this time around?
KB: Yes, because I'm only one person and it is a lot of work. When I was on the Town Board last time, all of a sudden in the middle of a meeting one day, probably the fifth or sixth that week, I said to myself, 'Now I know what it means to be a public servant.' You spend a lot of time trying to do the right thing for the public.
When I was on the Board last time, creating a town library was really important to me. When a few of us met with the County library about opening what they thought should be a 'reading center' I was adamant that it should not be called a reading center. So we compromised and early on it became the Lansing Community Library Center. It had to have the word 'library' in it.
LS: Aren't they two different things? A reading center is like a branch of the county library, right?
KB: Right, there is no autonomy at all. So it can be just a room filled with books and have access to the Finger Lakes Library books that would cycle through.
LS: You were looking for something more ingrained in the community?
KB: There are so many little towns around here that have gems of little libraries, and I looked at that brick building, as did other people, and said 'This brick building is perfectly fine. There are plenty of uses it could be put to. It should not be knocked down and made into a green. It just seemed like a no-brainer at the time.
I know that it's changed and taken on a life of its own that make some people proud and some people angry. But every time I go in there there are more people using the books, more people of different sizes and ages. They're using the computers. That is a vibrant hub for this community and I am proud to have been a part of having a vision, seeing that it could be possible.
I was very much involved in the landscape design around the Town Hall and some of the parks. I imagine I will continue to do that, and as we get into the details of the comprehensive plan and how a town center might look I will certainly have a lot of input about that because of my educational background and horticulture business.
I am a strong anti-fracking advocate.
It would be very easy to be involved in too much and not do everything the way it should be done. So I will have to watch myself on that. I would really like to be at the comprehensive plan meetings, and I really think the zoning needs to be tightened up. We can have a town center, but then what's to say everything in the RA (zones) isn't going to look like the town center because we don't have the zoning that would keep it from doing that?
LS: Is there anything I haven't asked that you want voters to know?
KB: I think that I'm a good listener and I am not going to take sides if I can help it. I want to hear everybody's thoughts. I have my own opinion, but when you're a public servant it's more important to listen to the broad viewpoint, take all those opinions and weight them, and check them with your own. You find yourself changing your opinion sometimes on some important things, because there is a lot of good thinking going on in the community. I'm not going to assume that I have all the answers.
LS: After this year are you planning on running for a full four year term?
KB: I am.