Next February marks 60 years that Rocco Lucente will have been actively building homes in Ithaca. In those six decades, Lucente has constructed developments of homes and neighborhoods in the North East region of the town of Ithaca, where he owns 48 acres of land.
Most notable among them is Briarwood I, a stretch of homes that has caused an uproar from neighboring communities who claim the development has weakened water retention qualities in the soil, causing flooding downhill. Dissent has now sprung up in response to Lucente's planned Briarwood II, which would border the existing row of houses and augment water runoff and drainage problems, according to opposition.
The Town of Ithaca has imposed and recently extended a moratorium on development on Lucente's land, set to expire in December, to research other aspects associated with construction - namely, the disruption and potential negative effect on the ecological synergy of the wetlands that Briarwood II would surround.
Lucente and Larry Fabroni, who have been working on blueprint-type plans for more than 40 years, are frustrated with the opposition. They received approval from the town in 1965 to complete a master plan of the area.
"This used to be a big hayfield," Fabroni said, "and when they say [Lucente] hasn't been sensitive to the environment, picture this as an open hayfield, [then] drive down those streets and see how landscaped they are today."
"I would say I am the only builder that's planted thousands of trees around the new houses I've built," Lucente said. "Other builders put their lawn in and then leave it up to the people. If you go up Salem Drive, all these streets here, you'll see they've got trees and everything. Then you have people come to the meetings and they try to tell me that I destroyed all the trees."
Fabroni, who was the town engineer from 1974 to 1986, said things have changed significantly over the years. Previously, he said, it was acceptable to morph the terrain in a fashion that would accommodate housing.
"Back in those days, they would routinely reroute the streams along the lot lines or along the streets," Fabroni said. "Things have changed in the sense that, since the early 1970s, wetlands have become much more of an issue to be taken into account."
Now, builders have to be wary of the way construction can impact and potentially increase weather-related problems. Laws require that new construction projects do not add to water runoff after a big rainfall, according to Fabroni.
"When you do a project, no more water should go off in that peak period," he said. "And that's a dramatic change over 50 years in terms of thinking things through."
Fabroni said he built the first retention pond - a storage unit that can be as large as a swimming pool where water runoff is collected - behind DeWitt Middle School.
"That was the beginning of thinking about how to arrest peak flow during a big storm and protect the neighborhoods," he said. "That was never necessary in what Rocco built."
As times have changed, so have the types of issues brought to Lucente's attention.
"Their arguments have moved," Fabroni said. "Two years ago they were talking about water tables - underground passage of water. But there's no water table, because it's perched. The ground is so dense, about three or four feet down there's a fragipan that doesn't let the water pass down through it. My simple answer to that is that these areas are designed to arrest the peak so that it's no more than it was before development."
"We had a case early on," Lucente added, "where this one person accused my land of flooding his basement. I checked it out, and in order to flood his basement, he had water going uphill nine feet. If you can show me water going uphill nine feet on its own, things have changed."