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Is there a conflict of interest on the planning board against the proposed VSM campus?

OPINION COLUMN

Last week I attended the Nov. 1 meeting of the Citizens to Preserve the Character of Skaneateles in which they began to mobilize and coordinate their efforts to oppose, and even kill, the proposed Victory Sports Medicine Campus project off Route 20 in the town. In my story (published online and in this week's issue of the Press) I reported on the presence and public comments of Town Planning Board member Joseph Southern at that meeting, in which he was advising the CPCS on their opposition tactics. CPCS Executive Director Holland Gregg also told me that Southern was a member of the group.

Considering that the Town Planning Board is the designated lead agency on the multi-million-dollar VSM campus project and its decisions can make or break the project, is it not a conflict of interest that Southern, who has a vote and a say on all aspects of this project that come before the planning board, gave the CPCS advice on how to oppose the development?

Southern told attendees of the CPCS meeting that getting the project’s requested light variance killed by the Zoning Board of Appeals would cause a delay and necessary revision to the project plans and would be “hitting a good spot” against the project. He also advised the group that enough public opposition to the project could cause the planning board to rescind its previous negative declaration of environmental impacts, and even said he would personally “call it back” if the CPCS created enough opposition.

At another point in the meeting, Southern restrained himself from telling the group outright how to successfully oppose the project, and instead told them they could connect the dots to where he was about to go.

When I asked Southern if he felt his comments were inappropriate or a conflict of interest to his position on the planning board he said, “No not at all. I was just making an explanation of what the process is. I attend those meetings especially to share information they might be lacking in background. But in no instance would I ever attempt to influence a project or give any information leading them in any direction one way or the other.”

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Comments

teclo 1 year, 11 months ago

Is there a conflict of interest? You bet. There's a conflict of interest when people like this are allowed to push through their huge million dollar projects regardless of the concerns of neighbors and citizens. There's a real conflict of interests when the zoning board will deny someone from having a pool in the same area for no reason, but then blindly supports something like this. It's a real conflict of interest when a small shop is harassed relentlessly about hanging up a small sign in order to try to do business in the town, but a hundred acre development doesn't seem to be a big deal.

You don't think there's a conflict of interest when citizens show up to get information, ask questions, and express their concerns and they aren't allowed a voice? Or, how about being told that they shouldn't even show up? I didn't see you write a story about that.

Maybe Mr. Southern is the only one smart enough to consider that if there are so many residents concerned with this project and looking for a way to halt it, there might be a valid reason WHY. If you ask me it's about time someone from these boards starts having a little bit of concern for the residents who are trying to simply protect their properties, their village, the watershed, their tax obligations, and their communities, instead of just providing a secret backdoor allowance for every million dollar development that comes around.

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if 1 year, 11 months ago

What is it about this property that garnishes such protectionism. Residents have been against two past proposed uses and it appears these residents will be against any proposed use. The Town should just buy it and make it into a forever wild place so the issue is put to rest forever. Of course the taxes would have to be increased to cover the cost of the purchase - better yet instead of CPCS having a fund raiser for hiring an attorney to go "toe-to-toe" with VSM and hitting them in a good spot (what are we boxing?) use the money to start a fund to purchase the property. "Can't we all just get along?"

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twilliams 1 year, 11 months ago

I am writing to point out what I view as significant and troubling aspects of the “report” published in the Skaneateles Press concerning the proposed Victory Sports complex. Initially, I was amazed with the developer’s statement that the project was not a sports complex and the apparent lack of any curiosity by the “reporter.”

Perhaps it is “Not a sports complex”, with the exception of:

The outdoor athletic fields and recreational areas which will accommodate just about any outdoor sports available, such as football, soccer, lacrosse, field hockey, softball, baseball and others …to be utilized by youth, high school, college and professional athletes and teams…

multi-use basketball/volleyball courts, a raised indoor track, group exercise studios, locker rooms, a café/cafeteria for staff and guests, a rock climbing wall, ropes course, indoor courts and fields for multi-use softball/baseball/football/lacrosse/field hockey, which “would be used for practices, games, tournaments, coaching clinics… “

outdoor, covered, multi-use basketball/volleyball and tennis courts, nature trails for hiking, walking, running and biking throughout the complex; and there are plans for playgrounds, ropes courses, and more ….

The representation that the project has not changed in scope also seemed to have been immediately contradicted by the developer’s representative when he acknowledged that the original building plans called for an approximately 100,000-square-foot building , versus the 232,000-square-foot facility now planned. If the reporter is interested, the Village in correspondence dated November 7, 2012 noted that the information provided by the developer to obtain a water district extension to the site represented that the proposed district would serve a 5,000 square foot medical office and a 10,000 square foot indoor athletic field building using approximately 20 gallons of water per minute. The Village recently noted that the actual anticipated water use of 807 gallons per minute is equivalent to the current maximum demand of the entire Village and Town water systems combined and would compromise service to the entire population.

Finally, the ridiculous assertion that a conflict of interest exists where a Planning Board member attends a public meeting open to all, in the presence of a television camera, a representative of the developer and the Skaneateles Press reporter should not be taken seriously when the same reporter failed to inquire about an invitation-only reception held by the developer with Board members which excluded many directly interested neighbors. Where is the hard hitting expose' about that?

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if 1 year, 11 months ago

Jason did not assert a conflict of interest due to the board member attending a public meeting. Jason pointed out the statements and commitments made by the Planning Board member to a group whom met to discuss a project the group opposes is the conflict of interest.

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