March 1, 2011

Water issues and gas drilling

A friend questioned the plausibility of my zoning fiction about dense development on Route 13, largely because the issues with water supplies and hydrofracking seemed tenuous. I'd based that on the failed plan to run water to Dimock, PA residents who found their wells going bad after local hydrofracking, but this piece on Wyoming drilling and water explores the questions around hydrofracking and water supplies in a lot more depth.

Posted by simon at 7:03 AM Comment

Ag cuts look counterproductive

This probably affects Dryden more than many places because of Cornell's importance to the local economy, but state cuts in agriculture look pretty dire. I have no idea what genius in the Paterson administration thought abolishing the Integrated Pest Management program was a good idea, but what's coming looks doesn't look much better.

Posted by simon at 8:08 AM Comment

Dryden legislator signs letter opposing Cuomo cuts

The Ithaca Journal site has an AP story about 40 Democratic municipal officials who joined in a letter opposing budget cuts proposed by the Governor, but didn't note who signed it. The Albany Times-Union has the letter and further discussion, and Martha Robertson's name is at the bottom of page 3.

The signatures are from all over New York - lots of Downstate, but also a fair number of Upstate people, especially from Binghamton. Pamela Goddard, Danby Town Clerk, is the only other Tompkins County name I see.

Personally, I'm feeling cautious about Cuomo. On the one hand, I agree completely that there are substantial inefficiencies in New York State government. On the other hand, I'm not really convinced that he's going to get to those inefficiencies. I didn't love his Medicaid Redesign Commission - at the time because the counties were barely represented but also in retrospect because there was so little consumer representation. Both the healthcare industry and unions seem to be supporting the result, a combination that makes me very nervous about what we're actually getting.

As I noted earlier today, the ag cuts don't look great either, though they appear to be a continuation of earlier bad ideas.

Posted by simon at 12:13 PM Comment

Seward votes "Yes without Recommendation" against LIFO

Update: The Senate was moving fast on that one. The bill passed the same day it came out of committee, 33-27, with Seward voting yes.

I was a little surprised today to hear that State Senator James Seward voted a more cautious "Yes without Recommendation" instead of a full "Yes" on a moving a bill to the Senate floor that would end "last-in first-out" for public school teachers".

Personally, I think it's a weird bill, targeting one puzzle piece of New York's relationship with one of its unions while letting its supporters (notably New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg) kinda sorta wiggle around on whether they have much use for the 24.2% of New York workers who are members of unions. I was pretty much expecting, though, that Seward would jump to support it happily. The "without Recommendation" piece lets him (and five other Republicans) say he voted for it without committing his support to it, which seems like a wiggly position on a wiggly bill.

Update: More on this here, including:

The six "without rec" votes could presage a fairly rare schism in the GOP conference, although after the meeting Lanza said that he might vote for the bill on the floor in order to "move the process along."

"I'll tell you this: This version of the bill is not going to be the bill that becomes law," Lanza said.

Update again: In one of the oddities of New York State lawmaking, the bill applies only to New York City.

Posted by simon at 12:27 PM Comment

March 2, 2011

Dryden school levy to climb six percent?

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports that the Dryden schools' tax levy may climb 6% this year in the face of state aid cuts and Governor Cuomo's proposed property tax cap. Even with that 6% tax increase, the budget's overall size shrinks to $31.88 million from $32.90 million, and includes some sharp cuts:

Even with a 6 percent increase, the district is predicting that almost 19 teachers, eight athletics and co-curricular employees, and four non-instructional staff members would be laid off, in addition to other non-staffing efficiency consolidations.

A Freeville man was charged with rape on Monday.

The SPCA will be having a Spay and Neuter Clinic this Saturday, March 5 for the first 25 cats. The article has details on registration.

Posted by simon at 8:27 AM Comment

Not (nearly) big enough for nodes

When I first started going to meetings about the Tompkins County Comprehensive Plan, the idea of building on existing transportation nodes seemed sensible and appealing, at least when compared to scattering houses across the landscape.

As I've learned more about planning, however, I've come to the somewhat awkward conclusion that "nodal development" as suggested for Tompkins County and Dryden is not so great an idea. The theory didn't seem to fit the reality, but I couldn't really put my finger on why.

The Route 13/366 Corridor Study (which I mostly thought was awful) talks about Nodal Development in the abstract, without ever really pinning it down. Tracking down the study that followed that one, the Route 96 Corridor Study, though, brought me to some more concrete definitions:

A node, as used in the Tompkins County Comprehensive Plan, refers to a relatively dense concentration of mixed-use development. Nodes include, and the concept is derived from, the traditional villages in the county as well as areas with infrastructure and an existing base of housing, services and/or employment that may function as a node or support development of a node in the future. It is intended that nodes provide employment, a mix of types of residences, and commercial and community services in a walkable community that can be connected to larger employment and service centers by public transit.

In order to keep a node walkable it should encompass roughly a 1/2-mile radius from the commercial core to the edge, with the densest residential development within 1/4 mile of a transit stop. (Ideally there should be a distinct rural/urban edge to the node.) This means a total land area of approximately 500 acres. Studies have indicated that a population of about 2,000 to 2,500 is required to support the most basic neighborhood-scale commercial services.

If half of the gross acreage, taking out land for streets, parks, public and commercial buildings, etc., is devoted to residential development and the average household size is estimated to be 2.5 persons, that requires a density of at least four to five units per acre. Of course greater densities will make it possible to provide a greater range of services (and make these services more economically viable) thus reducing further the need for vehicular trips. A well-planned node could easily accommodate a population in excess of 6,000 and still maintain the walkability standards. (Page 2, Final Report, February 4, 2010)

Here, finally, we have a cluster of key concepts that go beyond "dense mixed-use". "Walkable" is essential for the traffic-reduction and environmental benefits of nodes to actually work. There are populations given here - 2000 to 2500 as a minimum is lower than the 3500 to 4000 I've heard elsewhere, but at least those are actually numbers. 500 acres also provides a rough guideline, and it's worth noting that the acreage centers on a point. Spreading 500 acres along a highway doesn't create walkability, after all.

There's one major problem with this definition, however, which may be part of why it doesn't appear in the Route 13/366 Corridor Study: by this definition there are no nodes in Dryden, and only one place - the Village of Dryden - that is even close. In 2000, it had 1832 residents, though spread across around 1000 acres. "Greater Varna" had 976 residents. "Downtown" Varna had a mere 679 residents, Freeville 505, and Etna 379.

A 2010 study, Creating Walkable Neighborhood Districts (1.4MB PDF), includes estimates of how many square feet of different types of retail an average household can sustain. There's 72 square feet per household total, with about 40 of that possibly in a neighborhood-level center - but only 15 likely in an age with concentrated retail centers. That means 1000 households will support a 15,000 square foot "corner grocery" (though that seems big for a corner grocery), 2000 a 30,000 square foot small neighborhood business district, and 3300 a 50,000 square foot larger business district.

These estimates appear to hold true even for the places in the Town of Dryden that look (to planners) most like possible nodes.

The Village of Dryden certainly has stores, restaurants, and places to work, but it's not particularly organized as a node. Clark's Food Mart does well by serving a large area (including Freeville) between Ithaca and Cortland, not just by serving the people who walk to it. I took the 2006 exodus from the center of the Village to North Street as a sign that (visible) parking was more important than a central location to a lot of businesses, though from what I can tell there was more going on than that.

Varna used to have more business than it has today, including a drugstore that advertised itself as "deep in the heart of downtown Varna". There was a grocery store and a liquor store, but these were all fading by the 1960s. Stores drawing business from the road stayed closer to the newly moved Route 13, while stores serving local residents concentrated at East Hill Plaza in the Town of Ithaca, 2.5 miles away.

There are three main factors at work limiting the effectiveness of nodal development as a model for densifying these areas:

  • Completeness (stores, schools, work, entertainment, etc.)

  • Distance from other areas that support enrichment or consumption

  • The relatively low cost of travel

Completeness is hard. Once people get into a car for one thing, they're likely to add other things to the trip. If you have to go to work in Ithaca, you're likely to buy groceries on the way home. School is slightly different because of its dedicated bus system, but again, kids going to school far from home connects them with a social circle you're likely to drive to sometime - and probably shop or find other entertainment on the way. (Bus systems generally may reduce the tendency of people to stop their trips in the middle.) The Village of Dryden has a much more complete set of stores, schools, and jobs than any place else in Dryden, but even there it's clear that many people regularly drive to Ithaca or Cortland or beyond.

The Village of Dryden's location helps it, though, to maintain that completeness. As George Goodrich put it in 1897, "the proximity of Varna to Ithaca has always interfered with its prosperity as a business center." Even if Varna doubled in population overnight (adding another 385 housing units), East Hill Plaza wouldn't get any further away, most of its residents would likely be commuting elsewhere, and its children would go to school in Caroline. It seems that Varna hasn't been close to "complete" since its school shut down, and even in what seem to have been its peak as a cohesive place it has always been tied to Ithaca and the state highway.

The last factor, the cost of travel, explains how it was possible for Varna, Etna, Freeville, and Dryden all to be relatively "complete" places before the advent of the automobile - despite having populations far below 2000. They were all connected by the railroad, certainly, and you could walk or ride from place to place - but getting from Varna to East Hill Plaza wasn't the simple matter it is in a car with well-paved roads. The cost of travel was what created the "natural" node system of cities, villages, hamlets, and countryside that dominated before the car. It could return with higher gasoline prices, but habits will take a while to change unless prices are dramatically higher.

Unfortunately, much of the discussion around zoning in development has taken a line that "you can have the stores and walkability you want if only you'll let in denser development." The reality is much more complicated - the level of density needed is far greater than that usually suggested, and the benefits for each added unit of density will stay small for a very long time.

Overall, my conclusion is that rapidly densifying the Town of Dryden, even small areas in the Town of Dryden, is pretty much a terrible idea. The Village of Dryden is the only place that could plausibly become a complete walkable neighborhood, and even there it would be a stretch because so much of the population works elsewhere. There are real costs to increased density, and the benefits of density require a critical mass that we're not likely to achieve here. At best we're likely destined to become a gray area if we take that path.

If the County is serious about increasing density, they'd be much wiser to put that density in places where its benefits are easily realized. I hate to say that a lot of this development doesn't likely belong in Dryden, but looking at the Downtown Ithaca Alliance's Downtown 2020 Strategic Plan makes a lot more sense to me than any vision I've seen for large scale development in the Town of Dryden. 1500 units in places where they fit a lot more naturally? Sounds sane.

Meanwhile, Dryden should work on the kinds of things Dryden is good at. Strengthen our villages and hamlets, yes, and do what we can to reinforce our neighborhoods and farms. We don't need to destroy these places to improve them.

Posted by simon at 5:12 PM Comment

March 3, 2011

How long for our local power plant?

When NYSEG upgraded the power lines between Cortland County and the Etna substation, I heard rumors that it was to strengthen Tompkins County's connections to the grid so that AES Cayuga (formerly NYSEG's Milliken Station) could shut down without major disruptions. That power plant is now for sale again, as part of AES Eastern Energy, "four of the six plants AES purchased from NYSEG in 1999 for $1.85 billion."

What's the expected value of those four plants?

The value of AES Eastern Energy fell by $827 million in 2010, according to the company's fourth-quarter 2010 financial report, and the division now has a potential market value of "zero."

"Any salvage value of the asset group is expected to be offset by environmental and other remediation costs," according to the document, which blames state regulatory changes and falling natural gas prices for the decline.

If that plant closes, I wonder how long the rail line through Ithaca will have. The salt mine certainly uses it, but I see a lot fewer salt cars than coal cars going through.

It sounds like Governor Cuomo's Mandate Relief Redesign Team pretty much failed, on both process and substance. Better than nothing, perhaps, but not much better.

Posted by simon at 8:44 AM Comment

Redistricting bill mystery

Updated again: Her name is now on the bill, though I never did hear back.

Update: Still no word back from Lifton's office and her name isn't yet on the bill. I guess it's time to write a letter.

I've hoped for better redistricting in New York for years - having some saner process replace the horrible gerrymandered patchwork we pretend are "election" districts in this state. Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton hosted a forum about redistricting, a few years ago. Unfortunately, too much of it seemed to be former Assemblyman William Parment running out the clock by talking endlessly of details that the gerrymandering crew can hide behind. (Mike Lane provided a more promising approach later in the event.)

Today, I see that Speaker Sheldon Silver has given his blessing to Governor Cuomo's redistricting reform bill, and suddenly there's a rush to support fixing this trainwreck:

Koch noted that Silver, who, unlike Skelos, refused to sign his NY Uprising pledge during the 2010 campaign (actually, the speaker was the only legislative leader who didn't sign on), has introduced the governor's bill under his own name and opened it for co-sponsorship. So far, some 71 Assembly members - both Democrats and Republicans - have signed on, and at least nine others have pledged to do so as well.

I don't see Lifton's name presently listed on the bill which jumps uncomfortably (for me, anyway) from Lavine to Linares without pausing for Lifton.

I've called her office to see if she's supporting this, but haven't heard back yet. I'll update the story when I hear.

Posted by simon at 12:07 PM Comment

March 5, 2011

So if not nodal development...

My last piece on nodal development felt like a demolition, throwing an idea meant for urban areas out of the rural planning conversation. (I doubt its supporters feel I succeeded, but that's normal.) The question that always comes after demolition, though, is what's next?

I'm not sure there has to be a "next", at least not a "next grand story". As it turns out, we already have a set of planning tools that came before the county's push for nodal development, built on years of listening to the people of Dryden and a careful study of its carrying capacity and infrastructure. I'm not going to say that the Dryden Comprehensive Plan (10.6MB PDF) is perfect - it's definitely not - but that vision at least seems much less likely to create sprawl and traffic in the name of opposing sprawl and traffic than does the current zoning vision.

Here's a rough comparison, though the discussion of hamlet zones is far more uncertain than it seemed then.

I'll have more on this, but got enough questions from people that it seemed worth pointing to an alternate direction.

Posted by simon at 6:35 AM Comment

March 6, 2011

Little things - coffee

A few months ago, David Makar made the mistake of venturing into my avalanche-prone office. Out of the many things available to complain about, he noticed my growing pile of unrecyclable coffee cups.

I've been visting the XtraMart on the 13/366 overlap most mornings for the past year or so, getting coffee. It's been a 1.6 mile round trip, usually through dense morning commuter traffic. I've been able to confirm that yes, most of those vehicles have only one person in them while waiting to turn left (occasionally as long as seven minutes - I started timing it after a while) into the gas station.

The employees there are great, and the food and coffee selection good for a gas station. (I usually buy gas at the Valero that's closer to me, but didn't like their coffee much.) When Konrad or Sungiva comes with me - not often, as I usually go before they wake up - everyone's happy to see them. I like visiting there.

I decided last week, though, to start making my own coffee again. Why?

  • $1.83 for 20 ounces of coffee isn't terribly expensive, but it adds up.

  • About half the time I was buying candy or similar things as well, and I don't really need to be eating it.

  • It's $.25 to $.50 in gas per trip as well, depending on which vehicle I take, the price of gas, and the outside temperature.

  • I could have replaced the stack of coffee cups with a reusable travel mug, and I may do that eventually. Brewing at home, though, means I just have my regular mugs and the dishwasher.

  • I've pondered making the trip on my bicycle, but cupholders on a bike are strange, and I avoid riding on 13 whenever possible. 366 isn't great, but 13 is even less fun. And winter...

  • I won't have cups, but the grounds make good compost.

I wound up getting a french press - a 4-cup one to limit my dosage. There are no filters, pumps, heating elements, or electronics to mess with. Carafes break and I may someday have to buy a replacement filter mesh, but I'll have earned back the cost of the thing plus the coffee I bought for it in less than a month. After that, I should be saving around $50 a month. (Imagine if I'd been buying cigarettes... wow.)

I'll still go to XtraMart sometimes, I'm sure - just not every morning.

Posted by simon at 12:03 PM Comment

March 7, 2011

"Do a little. Save a lot." Tuesday night.

Dryden Solutions will be meeting Tuesday, March 8th, at 6:30pm at the Dryden Cafe. I suspect most of us will have dug out of the snow by then.

Dear Dryden Solutions Friends,

We are steadily moving ahead toward our goal of achieving energy efficient upgrades in 100% of homes in Dryden!

Many people are already engaged, providing inspiration and leadership. Benchmarking energy efficiency in the Sustainability Club at the High School. People calling their neighbors to encourage upgrades. Kiwanis, Rotary, Sertoma, the Masons, Varna Community Association - all informing and encouraging their members. Dryden is mobilizing!

We are ready to go. We have the information, the strategies, the goal. Now, can you spare a few hours this month to tell your neighbors or your friends or your organization or workplace how they can benefit???

We need to spread the word about how much money can be saved through energy efficiency. About the FREE energy assessments (usually $400-500). About the free and cheap money available to do the work.

If we get each of you to give just a few hours we can make huge progress. PLEASE come to the Cafe Tuesday March 8th 6:30-8:00 to learn how you can make a BIG difference - Save money! Reduce energy use! Increase comfort in the home!

Do a little. Save a lot.

What if we didn't need to use as much oil, coal, and gas????

Just a few hours. Easy. Organized. Effective.

Tuesday the 8th 6:30 at the Cafe.

We can do this thing!

Thank you SO MUCH to those of you who are already involved.

Anne Rhodes

Dryden Solutions.
Good People.
Good Talk.

Posted by simon at 6:38 AM Comment

Petition for Varna moratorium

I reported about a month ago that the Town of Dryden is getting ready to develop a Varna Master Plan over the next few months, spending about $70,000 to address one of the most criticized aspects of the proposed zoning. They had an initial public meeting in December, and finally seem to be getting underway.

There's one major potential problem with this process, however: it comes as a number of development proposals, most notably Steve Lucente's Varna II, are in the air. They have their own schedule, which may or may not mesh with the master planning process.

Does it really make sense to let developments start that could make that $70,000 planning process meaningless? New York State allows municipalities to avoid that problem with moratoriums, halting development until the planning process is complete. There are a lot of rules on them - they have to be for a defined time, connected to a clear process with a timeline - but it seems clear that in this case those rules have been met.

Varna residents have prepared a petition they'll be carrying, but given the weather right now an online petition is pretty appealing. They've posted a petition supporting a Varna moratorium, which states:

To: Dryden Town Board

Petition to the Dryden Town Board

Residents in and around the Hamlet of Varna hereby petition the Dryden Town Board in support of a moratorium for a period of NINE MONTHS to preserve the integrity of the Hamlet Planning process recently adopted by the Town Board until a plan and recommended improvements to local zoning can be completed.

Think about it, and please sign it if you support the idea. I very definitely do.

Posted by simon at 6:50 AM Comment

March 8, 2011

More on Varna moratorium, growth

This morning's Ithaca Journal examines prospects for a moratorium on development in Varna while the Master Plan is underway. Yesterday, I reported a bit on the residents' petition. What's new here is some perspective from Dryden Planning Director Dan Kwasnowski:

Town Planning Director Dan Kwasnowski said although the decision on a moratorium is up to the town board, he said receiving a development application during the creation of a master plan could be "a huge distraction" both for his office and for Varna residents.

He said including proposed developments in the master plan would allow for a more realistic idea of future water, sewer and traffic requirements, and might entice developers to be involved with more planning.

"I have urged developers to be involved meaningfully in the planning process," he said. "We don't have a lot of good experience with this concerted planning effort, so it's proactive to do this on a level playing field."

Tompkins County is growing, if not spectacularly quickly - 6.25% since 2000, reaching around 102,500 residents according to the Census Bureau.

A couple of events at TC3 highlighted hopes for Tompkins County. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher spoke on education powering New York State's economy, while the Tompkins Cortland Builders and Remodelers Association's Home Show showcased concrete construction possibilities.

In Ithaca, a CSA fair highlighted local farming, including some in Dryden.

There's a listing of upcoming Civil War Sesquicentennial events, looking back 150 years to the War Between the States. I just joined the Tompkins County Civil War Sequicentennial Commission, so there will be a lot more here soon. (I highlighted the Civil War Nurses Fund at TC3 earlier - donate if you can!)

Posted by simon at 6:51 AM Comment

March 9, 2011

Seussical on its way

Cathy Wakeman's Dryden Town Talk reports on Seussical, a musical based on Dr. Seuss, which Dryden High School will perform this Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. She also notes a new Eagle Scout, a tractor workshop Saturday, a Bluebird Society meeting March 19th, free tax preparation March 19th and April 2nd, the Freeville Food Pantry's work toward matched donations, and the Varna United Methodist Church's Ash Wednesday service tonight.

There's also a piece on the SPCA holding interviews with candidates for a new director. Update: There's a change in schedule.

Posted by simon at 6:54 AM Comment

Town Board agenda/zoning meeting tonight

I'm not sure what they'll be discussing, as the agenda page still shows February and there's nothing new on the proposed zoning page. It does look, though, like the Dryden Town Board will be meeting tonight at 7:30pm at Town Hall (93 East Main Street / Route 392, Dryden).

Usually the agenda meeting is about an hour, followed by the zoning discussion. However, the agenda meeting has been as short as half an hour and as long as an hour and a half.

Posted by simon at 8:47 AM Comment

What people read around here

Well, what they read on this site, anyway. These are the top 25 stories on Living in Dryden over the past year, as measured in page views by Google Analytics. The first story has about 36 times the number of visits as the last story - apparently ticks are vastly more interesting than paint.


























My guess is that nearly all of this traffic is driven by searches - there isn't a single 2010 or 2011 story here, and only one 2009. Most regular visitors seem to use the front page of the site as their main point of entry, and really only use the story pages if they want to leave a comment. Photos definitely help - the frost pictures in particular are a constant draw. There's also a lot of do it yourself and agricultural themes in there.

Hmm... now I probably can't do that again for a year at least, as people clicking to see what these "most visited" pages were contaminates future results. Oh well. There's some interesting stuff in that "greatest hits".

Posted by simon at 6:26 PM Comment

March 10, 2011

Pocket Moratorium in Varna

I'm still trying to figure out what happened during last night's discussion of a moratorium on Varna development. That's not because the conversation wasn't clear, but because the decisions reached make a confusing situation even more tangled. The Board's choice not to act (for now) will create even greater uncertainty for both Varna residents and prospective developers.

The Varna Community Association had requested that the Town adopt a moratorium that would restrict development in the study area for the Varna Master Plan for nine months, though the Town Board could remove it earlier. As described by Dan Kwasnowski, Director of Planning, it would halt projects of more than two acres or four units per acre. A hardship clause would have provided an opportunity for those who felt put upon by the moratorium to make appeals. (New York State has published a guide to Land Use Moratoria (176KB PDF), if you want a broader overview.)

Town Supervisor Mary Ann Sumner opened the discussion saying that she was "ambivalent - on the one hand I understand the concerns of the community, but on the other I worry that it takes pressure off" completing the plan.

Board member Jason Leifer questioned why the Town would put money into a master plan without taking steps to ensure it would still have value by the time it's completed.

Kwasnowski said that he didn't "foresee any major development being approved until the Master Plan is in place," but also noted that proposals could arrive that didn't require Board approval. The Varna Master Plan has been a little delayed by changes in financing and scope, and Town Attorney Mahlon Perkins noted that every moratorium in Dryden history has needed to be extended. After some discussion about how quickly or slowly a proposal could happen, and the Board settled on doing nothing until and unless someone shows up with a proposal - sort of creating a moratorium, but keeping it in their pocket.

The Board spent a fair amount of time discussing whether a moratorium would keep developers from participating in the Varna Master Plan, but so far as I remember no time on discussing its impact on residents' interest in participating.

There was some discussion of how surprised developers would be if they came into the office and found that there wasn't a moratorium but submitting an application might trigger one, and discussion of sending letters to the several people known to be considering projects in the hamlet area. Sumner noted that Tuesday's Ithaca Journal article was a warning, though I can't say it's exactly a Legal Notice.

Bruno Schickel found this capricious, noting the work Steve Lucente has put into his project, and worrying that this pretty much left developers in a state of uncertainty.

Much to my surprise, I agreed with Schickel, except that I see that state of uncertainty also extending to residents. So far Varna residents have been asked to invest their time in plans that the Board seems unwilling to do much about. The Town's past and current performance in the area has not exactly inspired confidence in residents.

The low point for me came at the end of the discussion, when Supervisor Sumner called an active community "a mixed blessing". In three words, that summed up why I question how interested the Town Board is in engaging with its own residents.

So where are we?

  • Developers are left to wonder about a Town Board that will likely - not certainly, but likely - pass a moratorium if they try to build anything large.

  • Residents are left to wonder about a Town Board that wants them to spend their time on yet another planning conversation, with no firm guarantee that the facts on the ground won't change between the start of that conversation and its conclusion. I suspect that residents will still participate, but will also be warier and less willing to give the Town the benefit of the doubt.

Legally, I doubt that a moratorium passed in response to a specific proposal will have the same strength as a moratorium passed before the arrival of that proposal. The Town Attorney seems to think it's fine, and I am obviously not an attorney, but a moratorium in support of a planning process doesn't feel like something best passed as a reaction to a proposal.

The one bit of "good" news is that the possibly wasted investment on the Master Plan is no longer $70,000 but a mere $40,000 plus staff time. No one said "Cornell", but it sounds like the $30,000 it had sounded like Cornell would contribute isn't coming, and the Town isn't interested in making that up. They've reduced the scope of the project to fit the budget, another not-so-strong sign of their confidence in this project.

At best, this is a muddle. It does nothing to build confidence in the Varna Master Plan process, throwing away an opportunity to respond to resident concerns while leaving developers wondering what's going on in Dryden. Sometimes annoying both sides of a conversation is a sign of a good compromise, but sometimes annoying both sides just annoys both sides.

Posted by simon at 7:25 AM Comment

March 11, 2011

Varna Planning - current status

(An update of my January report.)

Concerns about the possible impact of large-scale development (likely Stephen Lucente's Varna II) on the Varna Master Plan work that's just getting underway are apparently not enough for the Town Board to be willing to commit to a moratorium on development in Varna. Effectively, we kind of have a "please do not build anything too drastic here but we'll think about it" sign out - maybe it would be good to add that to the Varna road signs.

In the meantime, the Town Board is moving forward with zoning, just removing the density table from the hamlet section to leave a temporary maximum of one unit per 10,000 square feet, or 4.35 units per acre. If and when the new zoning is adopted - not likely sooner than May or June, though that seems optimistic to me - that would also put an effective if temporary halt to large-scale residential projects. They plan to amend the zoning with the results of the master plan when the master plan is complete. (They also plan to amend the Comprehensive Plan with results from the Master Plan.)

The Master Plan is somewhat delayed. In January, the Planning Board appointed Jim Skaley, Melissa Amodei, and Mike Richardson as community representatives, and it still sounds like they're aiming to finish by the end of summer, producing zoning language, comprehensive plan language, and maybe more. Cornell apparently did not end up contributing funds, so the $70,000 project is now a $40,000 project plus some staff time.

Posted by simon at 6:04 AM Comment

March 12, 2011

Schickel on prevailing wage laws

Builder Bruno Schickel found some time away from Dryden zoning to write a piece on New York State's prevailing wage laws for municipal construction. I was a little surprised by the comments, expecting the usual conservative cheering commenting squad, but it's a lot more mixed than usual.

(I have my doubts about how prevailing wages are determined, but this sounds more likely to drive wages down than taxes down.)

Murray Cohen of Dryden writes in support of novelist Philip Roth.

In the news section, a Dryden man was charged with assault.

In brighter news, the Dryden Community Garden is taking signups Tuesday night. Spring is getting closer!

Posted by simon at 6:12 AM Comment

March 15, 2011

Fire on West Main Street

I drove by the damaged building this weekend and wondered, but the Journal reported yesterday with a pretty complete report on what had happened. 72-74 West Main Street had a fire apparently caused by a natural gas wall heater. No one was injured, but five households are displaced, and the Red Cross is helping.

Dryden Community Garden signups are tonight from 6:30pm to 8:00pm at the Dryden Cafe.

Posted by simon at 7:48 AM Comment

March 16, 2011

Primary challenge for Congressman Hanna?

I think I've made a pretty strong reputation with my fellow Democrats for being cranky, unexcited about supporting candidates when I have doubts. I don't post signs for Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton. I lit into former Congressman Mike Arcuri at a meeting last year for his wobbling on healthcare, though in the end I did put a sign for him in front of my house with little enthusiasm.

Now, though, I'm feeling like a very calm, collected, prudent, and maybe even loyal party person by contrast with the folks over at One of Nine. Richard Hanna holds that Congressional seat now. After blasting Hanna for voting to support the continuing resolution, they've moved on to asking "Anybody up for primarying Richard Hanna?".

Hanna's only been in office for two months, and while the district tilts slightly Republican, I'm not sure their list of grievances will play better with the district than did Ithaca healthcare reformers' complaints about Arcuri.

My advice to them would be the same as I had for people who wanted to primary Arcuri. Challenging a more or less centrist candidate in this district from a more extreme position is a good idea, great for democracy, conversation, and getting the issues out. For better or worse, though, it also seems likely to me to strengthen the centrist in the general election unless by some miracle they lose the primary.

Posted by simon at 7:19 AM Comment

Farewell, Joyce Gerbasi

I first met Joyce Gerbasi and her husband Ross at the Sustainable Tompkins "salon" meetings at Rogues Harbor in Lansing. The salons were good, but most of what stuck with me from them was the conversations with the Gerbasis. Joyce knew the landscape and history of Tompkins County politics and environmentalism in amazing depth.

I first learned of the nuclear power plant that had been proposed for Cayuga Lake back in the 1960s from Joyce, as well as stories of how that played out politically. She was always clear about the cultural rifts that made politics difficult in Tompkins County, whether geographic, political, economic, or otherwise. Talking with her gave me a much clearer picture of both the Republican and Democratic parties here, as well as of people who don't find either to be of much use.

Two of my favorite political moments involved Joyce. I brought her a John Kerry sign to put next to her Sherwood Boehlert sign back in 2004, and I stopped by for a long and energetic conversation when I was running for Town Board in 2009. I've had more than a few moments in the last few years when I had to stop and say "Wow, Joyce was right about that too."

It's hard to imagine Dryden without her, but she passed away last Friday. There's a lot more in her obituary, though it really only can scratch the surface.

Posted by simon at 10:50 AM Comment

Village election results

The villages of Dryden and Freeville held elections yesterday, all of them uncontested.

Rachel Dickinson and Marco Cestaro were elected as Trustees in Freeville with 15 and 16 votes respectively.

In Dryden, Mayor Randy Sterling was re-elected mayor with 70 votes while Trustees Monica Armstrong and Paul Rachetta were re-elected with 68 and 65 votes.

Posted by simon at 12:10 PM Comment

March 17, 2011

Energy price scenarios for evaluating zoning

I wrote earlier about different ways people evaluate zoning proposals: at the personal level and at the community level, and using forcecasts ranging from a shrinking population to a growing population.

I'd like to combine those personal and community levels for a moment, as most people bring some deeply ingrained expectations about the world to these conversations.

Last night, 87-octane gas was selling at Valero for $3.66 a gallon. That means that travel in your average vehicle ranged from about 9¢ a mile to about 40¢ a mile, depending on whether you're driving a highly fuel-efficient car or a heavy truck loaded with tools. I tend to assume - for the sake of argument - that the "status quo" reflects anything below $5 a gallon. Enough people will still be able to drive at that price that development patterns aren't likely to change much. (Lowering the price may accelerate growth in outlying areas, but other infrastructure limitations keep it difficult.)

Based on conversations I've had with Dryden residents over the past few years, I don't think most would be surprised - not happy, just not surprised - by $5/gallon. Eyebrows start climbing rapidly at $10/gallon, and disbelief definitely sets in around $20/gallon. Electric cars may ease some of this, but have their own cost and infrastructure issues - they're not a magic bullet.

Suspend disbelief for a minute, and assume that this week's strife in Bahrain has spread to Saudi Arabia. The oil spigot doesn't close completely, but prices skyrocket.

What will you do differently if gasoline suddenly costs $10 or $15 a gallon (in today's prices)?

What will your neighbors do differently?

Would you still want to live where you live? Could you afford to? Could your neighbors?

Now imagine a decade of those prices. What would change in Dryden? What would change in Tompkins County?

I'll let your imagination run - really, don't panic! - but when I'm reading the Dryden zoning, I try to keep (at least) two possible futures in mind:

Business as usual

Energy prices stay more or less where they are now. Guessing that the future will be a slightly modified version of the present doesn't always work, but it's certainly possible and a key part of the conversation.

Higher energy prices

Prices become high enough to change the ways we live. Apart from our miraculous modern conveniences, the main thing that separates development patterns in Dryden 2011 from patterns in Dryden 1911 is the much greater ease of moving from place to place.

Of the two, I think the first scenario has to dominate the conversation. It seems to be what most residents are expecting, and that's not likely to shift unless it has to shift.

At the same time, though, I try to keep the higher-cost version in mind. First, I wonder whether the zoning can accomodate shifts needed to adjust to something like that? And second, there are times when I wonder whether some of the ideas that already seem questionable in the status quo scenario seem even worse in the higher-cost scenario.

I'll be applying these different scenarios to the next draft of the proposed zoning when it appears. In the meantime, look around, and think about what change - or continuity - might look like.

Posted by simon at 12:13 PM Comment

Congressman Hanna votes against defunding NPR

I just noticed that Richard Hanna was one of a very few Republican Congressional representatives to vote against defunding National Public Radio. The bill passed 228 to 192.

Update: Contrasting reactions at Dryden Daily KAZ and One of Nine.

Posted by simon at 4:34 PM Comment

March 18, 2011

Special meeting on broadband towers

The Ithaca Journal seems to have moved legal notices to stories, noting that the Dryden Town Board will be having a meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss permits for Clarity Connect's wireless broadband.

I've written about this project before - New York State awarded Clarity Connect $430,000 to build a wireless broadband network in Dryden, with the Town of Dryden and TC3 as partners. There's been one extension on the grant already, and it seemed pretty clear at Wednesday night's meeting that the project needs to be approved and in motion before the end of this month for the grant money to come through.

Even in the past couple of years, the technology needed to provide the service has improved. It's only a three-tower project now (plus some telephone pole repeaters), down from the original seven twelve. Those towers would be an existing site on Beam Hill Road, as well as new towers on Midline and Bone Plain roads.

Posted by simon at 8:33 AM Comment

"June" might mean "this summer"

Delays on government reports, especially complex and controversial ones, aren't entirely surprising. The Albany Times-Union reports that the New York State study on hydrofracking may not come out precisely on time:

"We're going to do a very thorough job...I'm confident we are going to have all the information we need to complete the supplemental generic environmental impact statement."...

"It's on or about June, is the precise words in the executive order," Martens said. "It will come out when I'm satisfied that it's ready to come out."

"I'm satisfied it's going to come out, but probably more like this summer some time," he said.

That will be a final draft, but apparently there will still be some public comment time afterward.

Posted by simon at 2:55 PM Comment

March 19, 2011

Armed robbery in Dryden?

I've heard several times now of an armed robbery in the Village of Dryden, but the Ithaca Journal hasn't had a report and the Cortland Standard didn't choose that article as the one they posted for the day to their web site. It seems to be kind of an important thing to be missing. (I so wish the Cortland Standard would expand their delivery area further west....)

Update: Thanks to Bob Ellis for a brief description:

I believe the robbery occurred at 37 East Main, an apartment house, just up from James St. As police report it, it was "not a random incident" meaning the robbers went to that address specifically for unknown reason. My settle a drug deal.

The Journal does report that the Lake Road bridge by Tannery Circle will be closed roughly March 22nd April 18th through April 22nd May 13th.

Posted by simon at 8:07 AM Comment

March 22, 2011

Town Board approves broadband tower special use permits

It took about two hours this morning to go through maps, questions, and other details about three towers that Clarity Connect has proposed building in Dryden, using a grant of $430,000 from New York State.

One tower will be on Midline Road, another on Bone Plain Road, and another on Beam Hill (town-owned) is going to be rebuilt. Tompkins County had required a supermajority for the Midline Road tower because of concerns about its visibility, but it seemed pretty clear that it wouldn't be visible, and the board passed all of these 4-0. (Clarity is also working with Tompkins County to reuse a tower on Mount Pleasant, but that was not in today's conversation.)

Using the FCC standard of 5Mbps download speed for "Broadband", Dryden has 2115 households without broadband access services. These towers should give 1952 of those households access at that standard or better. Pricing is guaranteed for the next five years, ranging from $29.95/month to $40/month depending on whether bills are paid annually, quarterly, or monthly.

(John Chadman of Frontier stopped in to talk about Frontier's offerings to residents in the 844 and 539 exchanges. While he agreed that Verizon customers had few offerings, he pointed to Frontier's 3Mbps service as something widely available through the Town. He didn't oppose the towers - he just wanted to make sure the record was clear on Internet availability.)

How quickly will this happen? The project is close to its (extended) deadline. Clarity Connect, now that it has the Special Use Permits, is starting up on a very speedy schedule to get invoicing done by March 31st and construction done by 45 days after that. It'll take a little longer to get service actually running - Chuck Bartosch said "two to three months, hopefully".

There are still some remaining construction details to sort out as part of the (administrative) building permit process.

There's one remaining piece the Town Board has to address: the fee waiver described in the initial application. When the Town first signed on to this grant as a 12-tower project, they agreed to waive $60,000 in tower permit fees and about $14,000 in engineering as their contribution to the project. The three-tower approach has dropped that pretty dramatically, to $15,000 in permit fees and about $8200 in engineering expenses (beyond some 2010 expenses that the Town and Clarity Connect split). This got complicated because of a detail in the local law for waivers requiring that they be submitted at the same time as the application, but David Makar found correspondence that was the waiver request.

The Town will be having a public hearing April 5th at 10:00am to discuss the fee waiver piece. Hopefully the rest of this will move quickly and much more of Dryden will have high-speed Internet access soon.

Update: Here's the Ithaca Journal report on it.

Posted by simon at 2:43 PM Comment

March 23, 2011

Spring activities blossoming; American "in-fracktion"

Yes, there's plenty of snow coming today, but Cathy Wakeman is also right that the pulse of Dryden activities is picking up. She notes not only flowers, but a craft fair, lasagna dinner, roast beef dinner, jazz desert night, youth lacrosse and track and field registration,grant application season at the Dryden Youth Opportunity Fund, a session about New Roots School, and the Dairy Day theme: "Dairy Through The Ages."

Joanne Cipolla of Freeville writes a letter on the mysterious New York institution of "compulsory integration". To me, compulsory integration takes the worst use case of eminent domain - property seizures for private benefit - puts it underground, and hopes no one will notice. One of these days I have to figure out how our legislature passed such an insane law. (It was even in the late 1990s, not that long ago.)

Housing sales in Tompkins County seem to be off to a slow start in 2011, and county bridges need a lot of work.

At the state level, there's renewed talk of separating Upstate and Downstate New York. As always, I think the odds of it happening are tiny, but can't help supporting it overall. Upstate needs to address its own problems, and hanging on to Downstate stifles those conversations.

Posted by simon at 6:36 AM Comment

March 26, 2011

Arrest in armed robbery; census; who matters?

This morning's Ithaca Journal reports on yesterday's arrest of a suspect in an armed robbery on East Main Street last week.

The Town of Dryden grew 7% over the last ten years, moving from 13,532 to 14,435. The villages of Dryden and Freeville both grew 3%, with Dryden growing fro 1832 to 1890, and Freeville fro 505 to 520. The county as a whole grew 5%, from 96,501 to 101,564. (The state actually looks striped.)

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher spoke at the We Live NY conference at Cornell this week. The Journal describes her offering "a bright message to the hundreds of young professionals who gathered for the event: you matter."

Just a quick note to people who weren't at the conference and may not be young or professional: you matter too. The world seems all about young professionals these days, but we also need to remember that they're only one part of the community.

There's a piece on buying local, and a good way to do it: maple syrup is on its way. (You can see some Dryden syrup here.)

Cornell's column includes a warning about driving around farm equipment. They're right - some of the scariest moments I've had on 366 involved people not paying enough attention to farm equipment (and other traffic) on the road.

Posted by simon at 11:09 AM Comment

March 28, 2011

Zone names

I'm still waiting for a new draft of the zoning, but I've had a repeated conversation that seems worth noting even before a new clean draft arrives.

I've had several conversations, two in the last few weeks, about what the Conservation zone is for. There's been an active core of people opposed to the details of that zone, but these weren't people in that core - they were just people wondering what it meant and "how much conservation is really in that zone"?

The short answer is that "conservation zone" here doesn't mean "nature preserve". The long answer, though, is that the word "conservation" suggests a lot more restriction than is really in that zone. Yes, it includes nature preserves, state forests, and wetlands, but it also includes a lot more.

I suspect that a better way to convey what the "conservation zone" actually does is to call it simply "rural". That gets across the point that it's not expected to be intensively developed, but also reflects the reality that the zone allows a wide variety of uses.

Conservation seems the most troublesome zone name, but maybe it's worth reconsidering all the zone names. Perhaps I can propose:

Current nameSuggested name
Neighborhood ResidentialNeighborhood
Rural ResidentialSuburban
Rural AgriculturalAgricultural
Light Industrial / OfficeLight Industrial / Office

Commercial and Hamlet could change for reasons to do with their content, but for now they seem like the clearest names in the set. I can't come up with a clearer or shorter version of Light Industrial / Office, but maybe someone else can.

I'll hold off on comments about the details of these zones until the new draft, but this piece seemed simple enough to discuss in the meantime. (I have a lot to say about the current conservation zone in particular.)

Posted by simon at 12:14 PM Comment

Three car accident on eastern edge of Dryden

Sunday was a bad day at Route 13 and Dryden Road, with an accident when a rear-ending pushed a car turning left into oncoming traffic. Four people went to the hospital, though not the driver ticketed.

Posted by simon at 10:26 PM Comment