Speaker urges council to address wording in Heritage District legislation

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A representative of Rome Historical Society addressed “concerns relative to the wording” of proposed legislation that would result in the creation of the Heritage District-Erie Canal (HD-EC) for further development of Erie Canal Village on Rome-New London Road during a public hearing held prior to Wednesday’s Common Council meeting.

Bobbie O’Brien of 6307 Martin Drive, a trustee of RHS, was the only person who spoke during the 10-minute public hearing held in Common Council Chambers of City Hall. She requested that the new district ordinance remain tabled until the city Planning Board had time to view the proposed legislation with the proper verbiage before its Sept. 14 meeting.

O’Brien said she made it known during the Aug. 25 council meeting that the version of the resolution to create the special district, submitted to Corporate Counsel and subsequently made a part of that agenda, was not the final proposed content.

“Citing just two examples, reference to the new zone was not described as Heritage District-Erie Canal, and under Item C Uses, it states art gallery rather than cultural facility as would be allowed in that zone,” O’Brien stated. “The point of creating this new zone was to ensure the continuance of the living history museum to interpret life along the canal. As a reminder, on that property and predating the two iterations of the Erie Canal that are on that acreage as well, was the Inland Lock Navigation Company’s Rome Canal which utilized Wood Creek. That is sufficient tangible history to support this new district zone being specifically created to continue honoring canal history.”

O’Brien then further requested to the council that it strike any reference to Fort Bull or Fort Wood Creek in the new zone district.

“You are creating it specifically for a church to operate Erie Canal Village; the zone name states Erie Canal,” she said. “There are hundreds of years of canal heritage and multiple canals on that property to more than cover their state and City of Rome-mandated activities.”

O’Brien said, “Please keep Ordinance 9468 tabled until after such time as the wording of the legislation is updated and the Planning Board has the appropriate version in order to assist their review.”

During the public comments portion of the regular Common Council meeting that followed, O’Brien reminded the council that while Resolution 72 would designate the Common Council as the lead agency for the property’s state Environmental Quality Review (SEQR), for the pending new heritage district, it would be the second SEQR on the property. She said the new SEQR should declare that Cross Roads Redemption Church be held accountable for maintaining the Erie Canal Village property, and that it be the responsibility of the city to see that owner Richard Rios is held accountable.

“The first of which was Resolution No. 39 dated Feb. 28, 2001, which resulted in a Conditioned Negative Declaration for the sale, at that time, to Rail Star Corporation and The Olde Erie Canal Village property,” O’Brien explained. “I will quote the condition, ‘To prevent the destruction of possible archaeological sites of state and national significance, the buyer has agreed to enter into a covenant requiring an archaeological review by a qualified archaeologist in consultation with the State Historic Preservation Office, known as SHPO, of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation prior to the initiation of any action that would require any subsurface excavation.’ That condition remains in force as stated within the Bargain and Sale Deed now held by Cross Roads Redemption Church, and should be maintained as a conditioned negative declaration in this new SEQR.”

She again asked that the ordinance be tabled so that the amended version of the legislation be delivered to the Planning Board for review and so members can provide their recommendations to the Common Council. 

“I’ve stated before that I am in favor of this new zone and appreciate everything the council and others are doing to make it happen,” said O’Brien. “However, once finalized there should be a heightened level of responsibility that not only falls to Cross Roads Redemption Church but to the city as well. There has been no accountability regarding activity at the property in the last two years. Yes, it is privately owned, however, there are deed restrictions and city codes that are in place for a reason.”

She said, “This land is an extremely significant part of our country’s history which is why those restrictions are in place. There have been some egregious actions that have taken place in the last couple of years – some very recently – that have gone unaccounted for, such as digging into the banks of Clinton’s Ditch without notifying SHPO, drainage and flooding issues due to damming the canal bed, tearing down the Baird Transfer Building prior to obtaining permits, the attempt to build a wall facade without proper oversight and permitting, open burning during state mandated burn bans; and buildings crumbling and falling down, just to name a few. There have been no fire inspections or Codes Department visits for years. Activities at the property continue unabated because no one is holding them to required standards. You are providing a new avenue for the church to have a clean slate and do the right thing, living up to the responsibilities inherent in their deed and as legislated by the city and New York State. There needs to be accountability, and that responsibility falls to the city.”

During councilor comments, Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers informed O’Brien that the ordinance would need to stay on the table because the Planning Board had not yet reviewed the proposed legislation.

The next meeting of the Planning Board is 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14. She assured O’Brien, however, that the ordinance had been amended as the “A” in “Ordinance No. 9468A” had indicated.

The legislation “is not on the Planning Board agenda until Sept. 14 and we’re required to wait for a recommendation” from the board, said Rogers. “This is still a work-in-progress, so we will get to all those things.”

Resolution 72 designating the Common Council as lead agency for the SEQR as it pertains to the zoning change related to the new Heritage District-Erie Canal Zone and classifying the action as a Type I action, was unanimously approved by the council. The ordinance that would create the new district was tabled.

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