ICNA Updates

Jan. 16, 2016

Eight members of the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association (ICNA) on Jan. 15 presented a letter of intent to the county legislature with an offer to purchase the 25.5 acres of woods and wetlands at Indian Creek for the purpose of preserving its natural state as a haven for wildlife, a diverse ecological mix of woods, creek and wetlands, a source of oxygen/clean air, and a buffer against downstream erosion and degradation.

The letter was submitted to Dan Klein, chair of the county legislature’s Government Operations Committee. The offer was made contingent on the buyers’ ability to raise the amount offered in firm pledges within three months of its being accepted by the county, among other details.

We sincerely believe that preserving all or most of the Biggs Parcel in a natural state, ultimately under some form of public or semi-public ownership, offers substantial and tangible/economic benefits to County residents, including:

– a less-than-zero carbon footprint;

– no increase in traffic along the already over-burdened Route 96 corridor;

– no need for municipally-financed upgrade of infrastructure;

– preservation of a large, oxygen-positive green parcel and habitat for wildlife;

– no increase in erosion/runoff for downstream property owners and residents; and

– opportunities for low-impact recreation and nature-appreciation, for county residents.

The Government Operations Committee will next meet Tuesday, Jan. 26 at 3 p.m. in the legislature chambers at 121 East Court St.

Because of the strong support ICNA has received over the past two-and-a-half years, we are confident that, if the county legislators respond to our community’s request, we can ensure that these acres of woods and wetlands continue to benefit the public and the environment. Thanks to your efforts, we’ve come this far.

Nov. 27, 2015

Dear Friends:

Indian Creek Neighborhood Association members gave a presentation and made comments to the Government Operations Committee on Nov. 24. We urged the county legislators to work with ICNA and the community “to create a model on creative land use that preserves green space and protects the lake’s watershed” in making decisions on what to do with the 25.5 acres of Indian Creek woods.

We also urged:

  • that the legislators not make any decisions on selling the property until a complete environmental review is conducted,
  • that the county Environmental Management Council (EMC) and Town of Ithaca Conservation Board be asked for recommendations,
  • that the EMC lead a study to determine whether the current Indian Creek Unique Natural Area (UNA) should be extended to include the Indian Creek woods, and
  • that the county Planning Department issue an open Request for Proposals to the public to ask for ideas for preserving and managing the woods and wetlands for low-impact public use like walking trails and educational programs.

Members of the committee, chaired by Dan Klein, did not directly address our proposals. Mr. Klein pressed our members to “make an offer” to buy the property.

We responded that property’s current property assessment of $340,000 was made in 2009 before its extensive wetlands were discovered. At this meeting, Jay Franklin, county director of assessment, said his office would “update the current assessment.”

County legislators did not respond to our request to meet with us in partnership to discuss best options, urging only that we rush to “make an offer” to purchase the property.

County Law Section 215, Local Law No. 3 of 1981 (http://tompkinscountyny.gov/adminmanual/01-07) states: It is the intention of the Legislature, when significant natural, cultural, or historic resources are identified, to allow resource stewardship organizations an opportunity to review and investigate the property to evaluate both the resource(s) and potential methods of protecting the resource.

“If a significant resource is located on the property, the Legislature shall consider withholding the property from sale in order to allow organizations to perform legal, environmental, cultural, historic, and other reviews and investigations of the property. If an organization expresses an interest in taking title to the property, then the County may negotiate the sale of the land so that the significant resource shall be protected for the public good.”

We have asked the county legislators for time and a collaborative process to make the best decisions for the Indian Creek woods. We do not understand the apparent rush to sell the land quickly. The woods have existed for 100 years and are not going anywhere. Let us take the time to make wise decisions as good stewards of the land for future generations.

We will announce an ICNA meeting in the coming days.

For more information, including maps and other background, visit our newly updated website at indiancreekneighborhood.com.

October 27, 2015

The proposed sale of the Indian Creek woods on the open market was NOT set in motion at today’s meeting of the county legislature’s Government Operations Committee, chaired by legislator Dan Klein.

After hearing comments from seven members of ICNA (about a dozen were in attendance), and from county planning commissioner Ed Marx, the committee delayed acting on Marx’s proposal to authorize listing the property for sale on the open market, in order to give community members time to come up with a plan to preserve the 26 acres of woods and wetlands.

ICNA will hold a meeting soon so that we may discuss ideas and options to bring to the committee at its next meeting on Nov. 24. We will send you details as soon as the meeting is arranged.

Thanks to the leadership of Dan Klein, our community now has an opportunity to participate in the future of this important parcel of land.

According to Marx, Tompkins County does not maintain unused land and has no ability to manage it; therefore, the county must sell the land. He said it would be too “time-consuming” for the planning office to put together another Request for Proposals for the site. He said the asking price of $340,000 for the land (based on its 2009 assessment) would likely be adjusted based on the extensive wetlands found on the site, and a proposed easement along Indian Creek.

Klein, along with committee members Dooley Kiefer, Dave McKenna and Glenn Morey, determined there was no pressing need to put the property on the market immediately. They responded to the community’s requests for participation in determining the future of the woods.

So — now the ball is in our court. We have worked very hard over the past two years to prevent the 26 acres of woods and wetlands at Indian Creek from being developed. Now we must come up with a plan to preserve this environmentally sensitive area.

Please send your thoughts and ideas to indiancreek@twcny.rr.com, and plan to attend our upcoming meeting to be part of this exciting project to preserve precious green space in the midst of our neighborhood. This is our chance to respond to the crisis of climate change by safeguarding the Cayuga Lake watershed, preserving natural habitat and being responsible stewards of land that is entrusted to our care.

September 16, 2015

The change of season is a good time to update you about the Indian Creek woods and our neighborhood association. There is – fortunately – no news to report at this time about county activity regarding our 25.5 acres of woods and wetlands.

Last March, County Planning Commissioner Ed Marx told the county legislature’s Government Operations Committee that his department is continuing to explore development projects for the land. We will report to you on any county efforts to sell or develop the land, as soon as we learn of them.

There is an upcoming lecture on Saturday (Sept. 17) at the History Center that is of interest to our group. Kurt Jordan, associate professor of anthropology at Cornell, will present a lecture about the “hidden history” of indigenous people in the Ithaca area.

In our research about the Indian Creek woods, we learned that the woods are at the site where an important native American trail once crossed Indian Creek, at the intersection of Rte. 96 and Dubois Road. Professor Jordan supported ICNA’s efforts by allowing us to cite him as one of the experts who urged that a complete archaeological survey be done before any development happened in the woodland.

His lecture will be of interest! More information is below.

The Indian Creek Neighborhood Association

“Destroyed, Forgotten, Never Noted: Ithaca’s Hidden Indigenous History”

The History Center in Tompkins County
401 E. State St., Ithaca, NY 14850 Phone: (607) 272-6959
Saturday, Sept. 19 2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.

On Saturday, September 19 at 2:00 pm, The History Center in Tompkins County and the Finger Lakes Chapter of the New York State Archaeological Association will cohost Kurt Jordan (Department of Anthropology, Cornell) presenting: “Destroyed, Forgotten, Never Noted: Ithaca’s Hidden Indigenous History.” The presentation is free and the public is invited. The event will be held at the History Center, 401 East State Street, Ithaca NY.

April 7, 2015

Today’s Ithaca Journal has a guest viewpoint about the Indian Creek woods: “Don’t develop West Hill land.” The viewpoint can be seen at

http://www.ithacajournal.com/story/opinion/2015/04/06/guest-viewpoint-west-hill-land/25374303/

March 24, 2015

The county planning department is still exploring options to develop the Indian Creek Woods on Harris B. Dates Drive, Ed Marx, the county planning commissioner, told the legislature’s Government Operations Committee today.

Marx said the county is looking at options that include smaller projects than the 58-townhouse development proposed by NRP Properties in 2013; NRP ultimately pulled out of the project because an environmental review found the wetlands on the property were bigger than expected. Marx said the county has had “informal” discussions with Cayuga Medical Center about building an aging-in-place facility. He also said he has spoken with Town of Ithaca officials who said they were not interested in acquiring the site. He said if no project is identified the county may sell the property. He referenced a resolution passed by the county legislature on Oct. 1, 2013, that declared the property “no longer needed for public use.”

About a half-dozen members of the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association (ICNA) attended the meeting. Several members spoke. Linda Grace-Kobas urged legislators to revisit the the vote declaring “no public use” for the property. She said the 25.5 acres of woods do have a public use: they are an important wildlife habitat whose loss would exacerbate the deer problem on West Hill; the site helps mitigate flooding on the hill slope; and it is an important historical site with documented early Native American activity. Keeping the land in public stewardship would be in step with the county’s conservation goals in its Comprehensive Plan, she said, adding that it was not realistic to expect private landowners to take the lead in land preservation.

Krys Cail suggested a community based solar project on the land. Roy Luft said that if an environmentally friendly project like that was considered, he and his wife would consider swapping some of their open fields directly south of the wood, which would be better suited for a solar field for county woodlands that could thereby be preserved. Steffen Schumann also spoke about the need to keep the woods preserved.

March 19, 2015

Throughout our long winter, members of ICNA have been trying to keep informed about any developments related to the Indian Creek Woods. We’ve just received this information:

County Planning Commissioner Ed Marx will report on the “Status of County Property on Harris B. Dates Drive” at the county legislature’s Government Operations Committee on Tuesday, March 24 at 3:30 p.m.

The committee allots a short amount of time for public comment at 3:35. Marx’s report is first on the agenda, at approx. 3:45 p.m. You can see the meeting agenda at

http://tompkinscountyny.iqm2.com/Citizens/Detail_Meeting.aspx?ID=2340

The agenda packet does not give any advance information about the content of the Planning Department report.

Though the meeting is being held at an inconvenient time for many people, please join us if you can to show the county legislators that people in the West Hill area are committed to play a role in development plans for our area. Members of ICNA will attend the meeting to speak. We will report back to you on what happens at the meeting.

September 3, 2014

Thank you to all the Indian Creek supporters who attended last night’s Town Planning Board meeting. We again had a strong show of support for the preservation of the Indian Creek woods. The planning board approved a resolution to establish itself as lead agency for the environmental review of the proposed housing development. The vote was close, 4-3 in favor, just narrowly passing. The three members who opposed the resolution did so after arguments that the county has primary responsibility for conducting the environmental review, and that it was inappropriate for the county to pass the enormous task of the environmental review to the town. Those favoring the resolution expressed the view that the town will do a complete and fair environmental review, citing concerns that the county would not conduct an adequate review.

One aspect of the environmental review will be an archaeological survey of the site. This is important, as the intersection of Indian Creek and Dubois Road was once a major Native American crossing along the “Taughannock Trail” which went from the south end of Cayuga Lake to Taughannock Falls. This trail is documented in “Old Indian Trails in Tompkins County,” published by the Historical Society of Tompkins County. ICNA has obtained the endorsement of four archaeologists (from Cornell, Ithaca College and the University of Pittsburgh) who attest to the significance of the site.

At yesterday’s meeting, ICNA presented the Planning Board with copies of petitions opposing the housing development signed by more than 250 people. Since NRP Properties is applying for more than $3 million in tax credits for the project, we have written to the funding agency urging that the tax credits not be approved due to the controversial nature of the project in the community. We have also written to the EPA regional office requesting a meeting to discuss the county’s use of the Climate Showcase Communities grant. Our letter states, “We firmly believe that the project does not fulfill the goals of the EPA or the Climate Showcase Communities grant program. It will destroy many acres of undeveloped woodland and wildlife habitat in the name of energy savings. It is a travesty.”

Town Planning Board chair Fred Wilcox assured us at yesterday’s meeting that there will be future public hearings about the project and that we will have the opportunity to comment on the project. We will be watching the environmental review process closely, and will keep you updated.

June 27, 2014

Thanks to your efforts, NYS Supreme Court Judge Phillip R. Rumsey has ruled in our favor in an important step in our legal efforts to prevent the Tomkins County legislature from selling 25.5 acres of public woodland to a private developer without conducting a proper and complete environmental review.

In a decision dated June 25, 2015, Judge Rumsey rejected a motion by the county to have our legal petition dismissed. This ruling soundly validated our legal challenge. In his decision, the judge also rejected the arguments the county has so far offered for its position.

This is an important ruling for all of us who want to protect and preserve the important natural resources that are the treasure of the Finger Lakes. It is an affirmation that county legislators must be active stewards of public lands, and that government bodies at all levels must strictly adhere to New York state environmental laws.

We urge that county legislators consider the 25.5 acres of undeveloped woodland at Indian Creek as an important natural resource that must be protected for the sake of the health and viability of the Cayuga Lake watershed. These woods cannot be replaced in our lifetime. We need to develop local ideas on how best to preserve this resource, not sell off public land to private developers from another state.

Judge Rumsey’s ruling was strongly in favor of our arguments. He wrote, “… the resolution authorizing sale of the property and the resulting contract of sale committed Tompkins County to sell the property to NRP for the purpose of constructing the proposed residential project, thereby committing the County ‘to a definite course of future decisions ….'” Thus, the judge ruled, “… the Legislature’s authorization of sale of the property was an action requiring SEQRA review of the proposed project ….”

The ruling also states, “Whether SEQRA review is required must be judged at the time the agency takes relevant action – not by subsequent events.” This negates the county’s contention that it could pass responsibility for conducting the SEQRA review to the Town of Ithaca.

Thank you to everyone who has helped to get us to this point by attending our meetings, contributing to our legal fund, writing letters and even playing music for our benefit.

And special kudos to the six plaintiffs who bravely filed the lawsuit, counting on the support of the community to be able to see the case through to the end. They are Roy A. Luft, Nancy Emerson, Deborah Geier, Steffen Schuhmann, Virginia Marques and Daniel Yokum. Heroes of West Hill! And a victory for good government.

Feb. 1, 2014

As you will read in today’s Ithaca Journal, six members of ICNA who live closest to the Biggs property have stood up for the principles we all believe in and filed a legal action against Tompkins County, NRP Properties and Better Housing forTompkins County Inc.

The legal action is the Article 78 we have been discussing in our meetings, and for which many of you have contributed generously to our legal fund. Specifically, the action calls for the New York State Supreme Court to approve:

1. Annulling and vacating the Tompkins County Legislature’s October 1, 2013 SEQURA Negative Declaration;

2. Annulling and vacating the Tompkins County Legislature’s October 1, 2013 Resolution Authorizing Sale of the Property;

3. Directing the issuance of a SEQRA Positive Declaration and requiring the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement prior to any sale and development of the Property; and

4. Granting such other and further relief as the Court may deem just, equitable and proper, and the costs and disbursements of this proceeding.

This is the beginning of a process that will require continued dedicated work by all of us. Preserving the 25.52 acres of the Biggs property as green space is critical. If 60 townhouses are built on eight acres of the land, it will be the tipping point that destroys the nature of the neighborhood we care about. Nearby woods will be replaced with buildings and parking lots. Light pollution from parking lots and buildings will obscure our view of the night-time sky and disrupt the natural life cycles of nocturnal animals such as owls that nest in and along the Indian Creek gorge. The Indian Creek gorge is an important habitat for wildlife like wild turkeys, and part of the delicate natural drainage system that takes water off West Hill and into the lake.

What can we do next? Go to the Journal site and comment favorably on our effort. Write a letter to the editor or Viewpoints article. Talk to your friends and neighbors about our efforts to preserve the ecosystem and beauty of West Hill. And most of all, please continue to help us raise contributions for the next phase of the legal battle.

The IJ article is at:

http://www.ithacajournal.com/article/20140131/NEWS01/301310068/Residents-sue-Tompkins-over-West-Hill-development

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