Fur flies at city meeting

Critics lash proposal to relocate Humane Society to Fort Bull site

Published Jun 15, 2017 at 12:01pm

The Common Council has agreed to ask for state permission to alienate parkland as part of the Fort Bull site next to the Erie Canal Village, in part to explore whether to put the Humane Society of Rome’s new building there and also to retroactively get approval for a snowmobile group’s existing storage there. The legislation is primarily a proposal to put the Humane Society on the site. It was criticized by several members of the public who spoke against the proposal. Most of those speakers are or were active with the Rome Historical Society and the Fort Bull site.

Arthur L. Simmons III, former executive director of the Historical Society, said he opposes the plan to put the Humane Society in part of the parking lot adjacent to the Erie Canal Village — approximately 300 yards north of the Historical Society’s Fort Bull-Fort Wood Creek property. The Fort Bull site has been nominated for inclusion on the National Registry of Historic Places, several noted at the meeting.

“How it has been determined by the mayor to be an ‘ideal location’ for the Rome Humane
Society is beyond my comprehension as it would seem that a city of 75 square miles would perhaps offer up a more suitable site,” Simmons said. The site, he said, “is one of the most historically significant locations in this country. It’s history dating back to the Iroquois Nation, the French and Indian War, The Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Western Inland Lock Navigation, Erie Canal 1 (Clinton’s Ditch) and Erie Canal two (The Enlarged Canal).” There is, he noted, at least one mass grave known through the historical record.

Simmons noted that the fact that the legislation states the “land is not currently utilized as parkland and should therefore be considered surplus” is a direct result of the city ignoring the reverter clause contained in the deed of sale of the Village in 2002 which states “in the event said use is discontinued for a period of 90 consecutive days or longer, with the exception of seasonal closures, the title (of the Village) may revert back to the City of Rome.” He urged the city to hold the owner accountable by using the clause.

John Carmody, secretary of the Fort Bull Research Group, also spoke in opposition. He noted from a host of historical documents that there are multiple burial sites there. The group’s nomination of the place for the National Registry, he said, could lead to inclusion on the list, which would place it “on a different level when planning alterations to the site.”

Frank Corradino, a former Historical Society trustee, said the proposal unfairly “puts those two organizations against each other,” referencing the Humane Society and Historical Society. He said he’s against the proposal, and offered his help searching for a better site for the Humane Society.

Michael Brown, executive director of the Rome Main Streets Alliance, said the group would like to host a town hall style meeting on Aug. 16 to discuss the proposal and allow both sides to have their say.

Humane Society President Lynn Rosen spoke at the meeting to communicate the group’s long-time site search. “I understand all the concerns of the Rome Historical Society,” she said. “The Humane Society of Rome is just as important,” she added to the comments that the site has historical value. She asked how, if history must be preserved there, the West Rome Riders Snowmobile Club was allowed to use the site and how it has also been home to the Rome Sports Hall of Fame for decades.

The Humane Society, Rosen said, has been looking for a new home since 2002. It has raised $1 million to help fund what it wants to be a $3 million complex that would include the shelter but also offices. The group has worked with four mayoral administrations and reviewed five sites. “I think we’re out of options,” she said. There are several requirements, she said, for a site to work: within the city limits, a non-residential area, city water and sewer services, four or more acres and no environmental issues such as wetlands.

If no suitable site can be found, Rosen said, the Humane Society might have to scale back its operations and get out of the shelter business. That, she said, would put such operations back into the hands of the city, which contracts with the Society for those services. The current plan would be to have the city’s Animal Control Department within the new facility.

The council approved the legislation that asks the state Legislature to allow alienation of parkland. The parcel is 4.3 acres of the Fort Bull site off Rome-New London Road including the far edge of the Erie Canal Village’s parking lot. The city has been allowing the West Rome Riders Snowmobile Club to use part of the property for storage of its trail grooming equipment. The state approval would legitimize that use as well, and the club would still be allowed to use the site while the Society moves in nearby.

Councilor Kimberly A. Rogers, R-3, said she supports the idea of a public referendum to determine the future of the site, including the city’s invocation of the reverter clause for Erie Canal Village. If the state approves alienation but then the city does not ink a deal with the Humane Society, it will remain parkland but the snowmobile club’s use of the site is safe. She urged the city to protect the site’s historical significance. “The city is not committed” to the Humane Society deal, she noted.

Councilor Frank R. Anderson, R-5, said getting state approval would not automatically mean approval of the Humane Society proposal. He said the approval is in part an issue of the future of the site in total.

“We need to do something,” said Councilor Riccardo D. Dursi Jr., R-6. The Rome Free Academy history teacher said, “We basically need to make a decision on Erie Canal Village. Things are getting ruined.” He urged the city to take action before the site can only be demolished. He also said he support a referendum or something similar. “Do I think it’s the right location? No,” he said of the proposal to put the Humane Society there.

Councilor Louis J. DiMarco Jr., D-7, also said he supports the request to the state as a first step in the process. “We want to work with you,” he said to Rosen. “We want to make sure” the group gets a site that is a good fit.

Council President Stephanie Viscelli noted that Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo assured her that she is aware of the historical significance of the area and will protect it.