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DOT Warren Road Facility

Over neighbors' objections the Town of Lansing Planning Board Monday approved resolutions that affirm that the Town has no jurisdiction over the New York State Department Of Transportation (NYSDOT) 30,000 square foot 'sub-residency' maintenance building and supporting buildings on Warren Road, immediately south of Hillcrest Road, and approving the subdivision of about 15 acres on the north side of more than 50 acres owned by Tompkins County.  While two Planning Board members abstained from the vote, and others said they were not affirming that they approve of the site plan, the board had little choice but to accept the State's sovereignty over the Town and authority over the project.

"This is what the DOT has proposed," said NYSDOT attorney Kathleen Joy. This is what has been submitted.  And this is what we're going with."

Buildings in the project include the 'sub-residency' maintenance building, a 5,000 square foot Cold Storage, a 8,200 square foot Salt Barn, and a 2,500 square foot Hopper Building (covered lean-to).  The proposed maintenance building will have vehicle storage for 10 trucks, a loader and tow plow, with one additional double depth mechanical bay and single depth, drive-thru truck washing bay. It also includes an office area (three rooms), lunch/break room (30 people), toilet/shower/locker rooms, storage rooms and mechanical/electrical rooms. The site will also contain stockpile areas for pipe, stone and millings, and ancillary site features include parking for 40 vehicles, and stormwater management facilities. A new access drive will be constructed from Warren Road.

A fueling facility was included in the final site plan drawing, but Joy said that it is no longer part of the plan. instead DOT vehicles will be fueled at a shared facility behind the Sheriff's office.  Last February Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the State awarded the Ithaca-Tompkins Airport $1.5 million to build the facility that will be used to fuel airplanes and other county vehicles on both sides of the airport fence.

"There was an approval that was received by the airport less than a month ago, after the designs were already submitted," she said.  "But we've got a commitment that once it's built at the airport we will move our facility there.  It will be a shared fuel facility at the airport."

NYSDOT Warren Road Facility

While the State maintained the project is exempt from Lansing's jurisdiction, the project was subject to FAA (Federal Aviation Authority) land release approval and environmental review because the property was part of airport operations, mainly to prevent development that close to the end of the northwest end of runway 32.  That was granted on April 1st, clearing the way for the construction to commence.

Joy told planning board members that she was requesting they pass the resolutions at the suggestion of Town Attorney Guy Krogh, even though the State claims jurisdiction over the project.  NYSDOT held a public hearing on January 16th, at which a group of Hillcrest Road neighbors protested the project, saying it would impact their property values and quality of life because of truck traffic, noise, and lighting at the facility that borders the home of the most vociferous opponents, Bill and Lansing Judge Maura Kennedy-Smith.

Maura Kennedy Smith admonished the Board not to vote on anything unless they had the materials long enough to read and clearly understand what they are voting on.  But Planning Board Chairman Jerry Caward Jr. said they did have enough time to review the materials before voting.

"Our counsel drew up the resolutions for us, and we've all read them," said Caward.  "We're simply admitting that through many legal tests that the State has in place, that we don't have the authority to demand anything from them. We can only ask."

The Kennedy Smiths were not the only ones unhappy with the site plan.  Long-time Planning Board member Larry Sharpsteen challenged the height of a proposed berm that would be part of a buffer between the NYSDOT property and neighboring properties, asserting it would be inadequate.

"We wanted to asses standards on that bunker so it will be adequate for long term protection," he said. "We've had buffers and berms that have not been maintained that deteriorated over time.  I am still not satisfied with the buffering between the residences on Hillcrest Road and the back of the property.  The plan doesn't show me that there is going to be adequate planting west of the berm on the DOT side of the fence that is going to help screen the residents of Hillcrest Road from noise and light."

A berm is planned with plantings on and near it to provide a buffer between the facility and the neighboring properties, particularly Bill and Maura Kennedy-Smith's historic home on Hillcrest Road.  Joy said that would maximize growth, rather than building a higher berm that needs more ground space because of the slope of the berm and does not provide as large a space for roots to take hold.

Joy said experts had advised NYSDOT that a higher berm would require more of a slope that would bring the berm closer to the Kennedy-Smith property, as well as choking growth of plantings designed to help mitigate the view and sound.  She pointed out more than once during the meeting that NYSDOT's response to objections to the site plan is that it has already been approved at the state level, and that the Town does not have authority to put conditions on it.

"With all due respect, this is for a resolution to determine that the DOT and the State of New York meets the balancing test, and there is no site plan approval and no subdivision approval by this body," Joy said.

The only authority the Town had over the project was over whether or not to extend sewer service to the property.  Last month the Lansing Town Board authorized the creation of a map plan review Wednesday for a proposed Sewer District #2 that would bring sewer service to NYSDOT facility.

That mirrored letters Joy had sent last month to Lansing Director of Planning CJ Randall and a letter to Caward in which she wrote,  "Use of the land by NYSDOT is for a governmental purpose.  The State is not subject to zoning restrictions in the performance of its governmental functions.  The principal is based on the State's sovereignty over local governmental entities.  Therefore the State is not amenable to local zoning regulations, and municipal corporations lack power to impose such regulations on the State or its institutions."

Joy sited the County of Monroe nine point balancing test' as a guide for the Planning Board to affirm the State's authority.  The resolution they passed Monday found in favor of the DOT or was neutral on all nine points.  The first point established that the land is being purchased by the State from Tompkins County, both of which are sovereign governments above the Town government.  The resolution elaborated that while Tompkins County has no legislative grant of authority, New York State, of which the DOT is a part, does.

Bill Kennedy-Smith reaffirmed objections to the project, but board members said they had no choice.

"We're not voting in approval of the plans as such," said Planning Board member Dean Shea. "We're just voting saying that we have no jurisdiction.  That's all we're voting on.  The board is not voting saying yes we think highly of this plan and support this plan."

The resolution was passed with four planning board members voting in favor, and Sharpsteen and Planning Board Alternate Member Tom Butler, filling in for absent regular members, abstaining.

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