Patricia O'Rourke began her tenure as a Village of Lansing Trustee when she was appointed to fill out Larry Fresinski's term when he moved out of state. Since then she has won two elections, first as a Community Party candidate, and the second in a write-in campaign.
O'Rourke has lived in the Village for 32 years. Her travel agency was also located in the Village for 22 years. Now she is a substitute teacher in the Ithaca school district. O'Rourke and her husband Thomas have one grown daughter.
Lansing Star: Why are you running and what will make you a good Trustee? What qualifications do you bring?
Pat O'Rourke: I'm running because I'm a great believer in giving back to the community. I started as a Trustee in 2010. I was appointed to the position, and then I ran. I think over the years I'm gaining knowledge, so I feel very close to the Village. I feel we've been doing a great job. It's had some ups and downs. I feel like I'd like to continue. I feel young enough to continue and I enjoy it. I like working with the Trustees and the Mayor and the Planning Board.
I feel I am coming to the point now where I'm really understanding the position and government. So I'd like to continue.
Let’s get the “elephant in the room” in this election out of the way right at the top: if the zoning change on the Bomax Road lot were to be voted on a second time, how would you vote and why?
I would still vote for the rezoning, because I think there is quite a bit of land that's already there that's zoned for business and technology, which Cornell owns. This is a small parcel in the context of the whole parcel, and I think it's good. I think it's good for the Village. It provides a tax base for us and our residents. And I don't feel it's going to hurt the people. If anything, rezoning it for residential actually enhances their property.
Personally, if I lived there I would hate to see some sort of factory or industrial building, and that could happen. Because it was zoned for that. So I would vote for it again.
We took a long time on this rezoning. We talked about it and all of use were unanimox0us that it was good for the Village, not just one neighborhood. You can't be a trustee or a mayor and pick out particular parts of the Village. You have to think of it as a whole. I think we did that and I would do it again.
What key challenges do you see the Village facing in the next two year term?
First of all, if I can bring up another project before Bomax, I think we're now coming up against the BJ's property. We really want him to build the senior housing. It was part of the reason we allowed him to build BJ's in the first place. I think that's going to be a challenge, because things are going on there about rezoning.
I personally, and I'm sure the rest of my colleagues feel that we would like to bring our opposition in and explain reasons why we went with the rezoning. I think that's going to be an extreme challenge, because they obviously don't want it. Maybe we could explain it to them, or maybe bring them on board.
Are you still talking about the senior housing project or the Bomax rezoning?
Well, that's going to be a challenge, too. It's obvious that there was a bit of a split there (between the Planning Board and the Trustees on whether a small piece of the senior housing property will revert to commercial zoning for a small coffee shop or similar business convenient to residents of the new senior housing development) so that will be a challenge. But I feel that if we get reelected then we'll still have a challenge with (the neighbors who oppose the zoning change) because I'm sure they're going to appeal (a court case that challenged the zoning change that was dismissed by the court) or try to repeal it. We'd like to not isolate them, but try to bring them in. Well, that's what I'd do, and I'm sure my colleagues feel the same way, and explain our reasoning for voting for the rezoning.
It's upsetting to have a part of your Village have no confidence in you and feel that we made the wrong decision.
I also feel that our opposition don't seem to be running for something -- they seem to be running against something. It seems like it's one issue. They haven't come out with any others. We've never seen them at a meeting prior to this. They've never been to a meeting since. It you feel that you really want to be elected as mayor and trustees, I would have believed that they would have attended meetings to see how the Village is run, or what goes on.
There will be some challenges, and there may be some others that come up. Rezoning is definitely a thing that possibly might happen again. There are not many places left to rezone. We've got residential and the business/technology park and a couple of other spots.
There are going to be some challenges, I think. We've been on the board, and I think we are capable of dealing with them. You have to think of the Village as a whole. I think that's the main thing.
is there anything that the current board has not worked on that you'd like to see the next board work on?
One of the things we have been slow on is pushing Eric (Arrowhead Development's Eric Goetzmann). That's the one thing -- that he build the senior housing (that was a condition of building BJ's Wholesale Club) -- I think we're coming up to nearly five years since opening BJ's.
I think it's not going to be an easy thing. He's geared up to have a little bit of rezoning done on the property. We're going to have to work with the Planning Board and figure out what goes on there. And if we decide that he can't have the rezoning, I think that's going to be a bit of a challenge to get him to do it.
The Greenway Committee When the new park near Northwoods is complete will there be enough public parks in the Village? (Will Poison Ivy Point ever be a park?)
The Greenway Committee has been working on the new park. They haven't reported recently because they're in the process of cleaning up the park. It was the Greenway Committee that came up with the park in Northwoods. I think of our opposition saying that they want to keep green spaces in the area virgin, so to speak, because they like walking there and that sort of stuff... we've done that over the years. If we go back to Sundowns -- I was not on the Board but I fought hard for the Board when I worked as a volunteer with a few others.
We went against the zoning there and we won. That's open space. People may forget that.
They wanted to zone it for commercial use?
Yes, they wanted to build a hotel and a golf course. It was a Chicago-based group. Basically that started my interest in the Village. People can't just come in and say oh, we're going to build this... and it's a beautiful piece of land. I know the person has the right to sell to whoever they want, but it was rezoned.
And then we built Dankert Park. That's preserving a park. And then we bought land (on Northwoods Rd.) and now we're building a new park. It's village-owned and it's sustained by us. And it's beautiful.
That's part of what I wanted to ask about. When this park is done will there be enough parks in the Village?
I don't know. To maintain a park is expensive. We're finding this with the new park, because it's going to have soccer courts and that sort of stuff. I'm not sure what land is left and what land the Village can purchase -- we have to think about other things we have to maintain in the Village. So I would not like to say yes, there will be another park. This is a big piece of construction we're doing now.
At this point with most Village business-zoned areas built out, what should the Village do to support business here?
There is still quite a large parcel left at the Business and technology Park. Cornell still has a big chunk of that. We'd like to encourage business to come in. But one of the things that's hard to say is let's ask business people to set up in Ithaca if they don't have housing. That is, again, why it's good, in a sense, to rezone, because we do need housing. Businesses need to house their employees.
We do encourage business and we still like to. So it's not like we're going to rezone everything for residential, or zone everything for business. What we need is to keep it vibrant, to keep the Village going. 'Come on in. We want the business. But we also need the housing.
What about the businesses that are already here? I know there was some discussion in the Village and in the Town about putting up signs that point to local businesses, for instance.
Some businesses thrive here and others do not. So it's trying to find the right mix, the right business to bring in. Obviously we're supportive. TCAD (Tompkins County Area Development) gives grants to bring business in. We have to make it attractive for them to come, and attractive for them to stay. They certainly would have our support. The Village is for all: residents, business, students...
A lot of people move to the Town because of the quality and size of the schools there. For Villagers, some are in the Lansing school district and most are in the Ithaca district. Would you favor redistricting so that all of Lansing (including all of the Village) is in the Lansing school district? And why?
It doesn't seem long ago,.. they did redistrict in Ithaca and quite a lot of people were upset about it. They divided Triphammer Road- part were Cayuga Heights and part were Lansing... people moved because they were told that they would have to go to schools downtown or somewhere else... I'm not sure of their reasoning.
To me, if there's anything that the school district does well as a side effect of being there, it creates community. The Village is a small community anyway -- a village without a village -- it doesn't have a small communal center. On top of that you have residents split between two school systems. it seems to me that it's disruptive of the community.
I think it might be something to look at. When I first moved to the Village of Lansing I thought my daughter would go to the Lansing School District. I wanted her to go there initially because I'd heard various things about Ithaca. But suddenly I'm in the Ithaca School District. There had been a lottery. When she started school there that was a time when they had a lottery and you could apply to go for open enrollment at Lansing. But they stopped that because Lansing was getting over crowded.
Certainly, we built that new Village Hall, which helped a lot to have people feel they are in a village. The old meeting room (in the old Village Hall) will help a lot to have people feel they're in a village because it's going to be open to people to have various meetings there. That's on the budget to do some work on it, and then it will be open to the public and community. But you're right, when they opened Lansing Market and the other few things there, and the Lansing library... that's given the people in the Town of Lansing a bit more community because it's got its own market and that sort of thing.
Maybe one day (the town and village) will just become one, but I'm not sure that will happen.
Well, that's my next question! Village officials say the Village will never merge with the Town, the cultures of the two communities are different, and there is no cost benefit in merging. Town officials say there is a cost benefit and the cultures and values of the municipalities are much closer together than they were when the Village was formed. How do you stand on merging, and why?
There's an awful lot of history. I'm now the board representative on TCCOG (Tompkins County Council Of Governments). One of the things that comes up at pretty much each meeting is shared services. I've been wanting to talk about it on the (Village) Board, but the last few meetings have been so volatile with other things going on that we've had to put that aside.
Maybe down the road. I know that certain people in the Village say no, it doesn't pay us to do that. Then you get the version from the Town of Lansing. But we may have to go that way one day. It depends on the Governor and the money coming in... the State has been certainly trying to get that with municipalities. But this was only my third meeting, so I am still learning about that.
I came on the board with the history that no, we'll never be one.
What about Town taxes? The Mayor has been trying to get them reduced for Villagers because he says taxes are more than services provided by the Town. The other thing is Village taxes are going up a good chunk this year. Where do you stand on those issue, and what will you do to work on it?
Our Mayor has really kept our village taxes pretty low. Obviously we have things to do. We have lots of projects. The infrastructure needed work, so I know we had to put the taxes up. This year it went up. I'll let the Mayor comment on that.
But you're a village taxpayer yourself. Are you happy about it?
Well, I'm never happy when taxes go up. I think we pay enough taxes in New York State to start with! But at the same time, being on a village board I do understand that there is a need, sometimes, to raise it. I don't want to see it raised too much if we can keep it at a level.
What would you like people to know about your candidacy that we haven't already discussed?
I've worked hard over the years. I'm pretty much a moderate, and that's the one thing I can say that you need on a board. You can't have everyone say just flat out 'this is the way we should do it'. I feel as a woman -- I'm the only woman on the Board. At one time it was an all women board.
I've lived in the Village for a long time. I had a business in the Village for a long time. I've been a substitute teacher now for the last ten years. So I can see the school side of it, I can see the village side of it... I can also see the town side of it because I know so many people here. I feel that I'm there to govern for the village community, but I would like to involve the Town also.
It's a learning process. You start, just going in as an elected official and not knowing too much about it. But I've learned now. I go to the fall training each year, and I would like to go again if I get elected because it teaches you so much about the Village. That was one of the things I brought up in the caucus -- you need to know the ins and outs and the rules. I would like to continue governing for the residents of the Village, and like I say, the Village as a whole, not just one neighborhood or two neighborhoods.