TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. – Plans have been in motion for years to move the county’s New York Department of Transportation facility from its current waterfront site in Ithaca. After a proposal to move the facility to Dryden was dropped, a 15-acre site at the edge of the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport was selected for the relocation. Neighbors on nearby Hillcrest Road, however, are not pleased about having the facility in their neighborhood, according to public comments at Tuesday’s Tompkins County Legislature meeting.

The DOT facility will house about 10 plow trucks and, along with mechanic services and a diesel refueling station, will feature a 4,000-ton salt barn, according to a presentation by DOT representatives Kathleen Joy and Eric Buck at Tuesday’s legislature meeting. Buck said the facility’s busiest hours would be during snowstorms, when about 30 vehicles – including plows and workers’ personal vehicles – could come to and from the site when shifts turnover.

Neighbors said they are concerned the facility will bring noise, traffic and pollution to the area.

A nearly 1,000 page environmental assessment report says a noise study found “there will be an approximately 2-decibel increase in the noise levels at the property lines of the adjacent residences during normal hours of operation. This increase would be barely perceptible and not likely to be noticeable.”

“Does anyone really believe that?” a Hillcrest resident said incredulously during comments.

Joy and Buck said the project team has worked to mitigate impacts on neighbors. For example, DOT initially planned to paint a large “I love NY” logo on the roof of the facility’s main building, visible to plane passengers as they arrive and takeoff from the airport. After outcry from residents about the logo dominating views from their properties, DOT agreed to scrap the idea.

Joy said the team wants to hear residents’ concerns and suggestions and is willing to make some accommodations.

She said the team does not plan to consider other sites for the facility, though.

“What I’m hearing from neighbors is that this is going to really affect their lives, and what I’m hearing from you guys is that the location is pretty much set. Is that correct?” Legislator Amanda Champion asked Joy.

“Yes,” Joy replied.

Preliminary site plans in the environmental assessment report show the proposed orientation of facilities on the site. Warren Road is to the east and Hillcrest Road runs diagonally toward the northwest.

The 15-acres slated for the facility are within the Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport, with DOT planning to be a sub-resident. The DOT relocation is part of a larger airport redevelopment project. When Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced state funds for the airport overhaul in May 2018, he included the DOT relocation as part of the package and said it was a step forward in plans to redevelop Ithaca’s waterfront.

“It makes no sense to have a DOT facility on prime real estate on the waterfront – it’s interrupting hiking and biking trails and all the redevelopment of the area,” Cuomo said. “We’re going to take that maintenance facility and bring it to the new airport and make that site available for commercial development.”

As Lansing residents pointed out Tuesday, however, plans to move the DOT facility away from the emerging waterfront neighborhood imply that the facility is undesirable. If nobody wants to live near the current DOT facility, a Hillcrest resident asked, why should it be dumped in an existing residential neighborhood?

In response to questions from commenters and legislators about whether the facility could be reconfigured within the 15-acre airport site to minimize impacts on residents, Joy and Buck were noncommittal. Buck said it might be possible to reorient parking spaces to buffer residential properties, but would depend on feasibility for trucks with wide turning radiuses. Joy said it might be technically possible to cluster facilities further south on the site, but would be “logistically difficult” because it would create “dead space” at the north end of the lot.

Members of the public can weigh in further at a meeting from 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 16 at the Lansing Town Hall, 27 Auburn Rd., hosted by DOT.

While the meeting is an official public hearing for the project, comments from the public will be accepted until Feb. 2 and can be submitted to Mike Washburn at Michael.Washburn@dot.ny.gov. Commenters are asked to include the subject line “PIN 3M00.18″ or” Tompkins County Sub-Residency at Ithaca Tompkins Regional Airport.”

Featured image: A salt storage facility (stock photo). 

Devon Magliozzi

Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at dmagliozzi@ithacavoice.com or 607-391-0328.