Speakers cite concerns on Erie Canal Village fate to council

Mac Bullock
Staff writer
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Posted 4/26/19

Members of the Common Council heard concerns over the proposed sale of the Erie Canal Village as well as the planned Copper City Lofts downtown apartment complex at their Wednesday night meeting. The …

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Speakers cite concerns on Erie Canal Village fate to council

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Members of the Common Council heard concerns over the proposed sale of the Erie Canal Village as well as the planned Copper City Lofts downtown apartment complex at their Wednesday night meeting.

The seven-member body met at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at City Hall, 198 N. Washington St. To hear audio from the meeting, or to view the agenda, visit romenewyork.com/common-council/.

In the public comment portion of the meeting, several residents expressed concerns over the impending sale of the Erie Canal Village to Richard Rios of California. Rios intends to make the property into “Cross Roads Redemption Church,” though zoning restrictions and a requirement that the site be used as a tourist facility will complicate that effort.

Bobbie O’Brien of Martin Drive told councilors the historic preservation of the Village was at stake.

“Our city’s most significant contribution to the growth and prosperity of this nation is even more at risk now. Shame on Rome for not taking a positive stand on this acreage that is of such historic significance,” she said. “The city has not been a good steward of this asset.”

Of Rios, O’Brien said: “He can be educated on the historic value of the property, but he will never have a connection to the land that we do.”

Kelly Lubeck of Ridge Street asked if the site would become “a commune.”

“Nothing has been brought to light to the community as to what’s going on ... There’s a lot of questions regarding that and I’m kind of leery about the whole thing,” she said.

Councilor Kimberly A. Rogers, R-3, who has corresponded with Rios and who represents the area where the Village is located, responded on behalf of the council.

“The city has absolutely no control over whether or not this property is sold — the only control we have is from a zoning perspective, and the property is in a natural resources zone, which is the most restrictive of all the zones that we have,” Rogers said.

She continued: “I had a lengthy conversation with Rick Rios about the challenges that he would have if he tried to put a church on that property, because a church is not an allowed use on that zone. At a minimum, he would have to go for a use variance ... There are five points that you have to meet (to receive a variance) and they are hard (to meet) on purpose. They are hard on purpose because they are meant and intended to protect properties ... He’s going to have to prove he didn’t have a self-created hardship by purchasing the property and it’s not an allowed use.”

Rogers also said she had spoken with Rios regarding the stipulation in the deed that the Village be used as a tourist facility. If the stipulation is not followed, per the deed, the city can reclaim the property from its current owner.

“I won’t say that he was not open to and understood that he was expected to operate the Village in some sort of public capacity,” she said.

Regarding the city-owned artifacts still on the property, Rogers said the city “really (does) need to figure out what we’re doing with those ...”

On the topic of the Erie Canal Village sale generally, Council President Stephanie Viscelli told the public to reach out to councilors with questions or concerns.

“We’re all available — our phone numbers are public. Please call us if you have questions, please don’t assume everything you see on Facebook is true ... Last night, after I set the record straight (on Facebook), everything I posted disappeared.”

She continued: “We’re not trying to hide things from you, it just doesn’t make any sense for us to try to jump in and make comments on something that is just blatantly untrue ... Facebook is not fact — it’s often fiction. They don’t have to fact-check like the newspaper does, so that said, please remember we’re available.”

Contact information for each of the seven councilors and for President Viscelli can be found at romenewyork.com/common-council.

Anne Sullivan of Floyd Avenue asked councilors about the planned Copper City Loft artist housing, a DRI project, to be located at 183 W. Dominick Street across from City Hall. Sullivan wondered whether the community had enough artists to support the endeavor.

Councilor Riccardo D. Dursi told Sullivan that the aim of the project is partially to draw in artists from outside the area.

“(Project developer Kearney Group) believes their model works, and it has,” Dursi said. “They approached us and said ‘this is what this area needs.’ The city is here for development, we shouldn’t say ‘this is what we want specifically’ or ‘this is what we don’t want,” he said.

The Kearney Group has developed three similar projects elsewhere in New York, though Rome will be the farthest upstate that the firm has invested.

O’Brien and Sullivan also asked councilors where the De-O-Wain-Sta monument was moved to, after being uprooted from 300 block of West Dominick Street to make way for the planned Art Plaza.

Public Works Commissioner Butch Conover said the monument was in the DPW’s water and sewer maintenance shop, “inside in a secured area that is locked down.”

There are no immediate plans for the monument’s placement elsewhere.

Approved by the Common Council Wednesday:

A resolution naming the council as the lead agency in assessing the environmental impact of expansions to the Mohawk River Trail System, per state law. According to city documents, the trail will span from “its current terminus at East Chestnut Street approximately 4.5 miles north to the Delta Dam, all within the city,” bringing its total length to 8.3 miles.

An agreement with the County Youth Bureau to give the city $6,684. Half of the funding will go to the Police Department’s Juvenile Aid Division, and the remainder will go to the city’s youth programming.

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