At a meeting of the Town of Ulysses Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) Nov. 30, the BZA passed a resolution approving a variance for Cayuga Addiction Recovery Services (CARS). The variance makes it possible for CARS to build a second residential building in the location if it desires by increasing allowable lot coverage from five percent to 26 percent.
The new 25-bed residential building would be constructed next to CARS’ existing residential building on Route 227. The property for the entire facility lies on a parcel of land that is located within both the Town of Ulysses and the Town of Hector; because CARS wishes to build on the Ulysses portion, the proposed plans are not within Ulysses’ zoning laws regarding lot coverage.
Paul Bursic, a member of the public who resides in Hector next to CARS, just across the border from Ulysses, spoke in favor of the expansion.
“I knew (CARS) since they were in an old frame house and then moved to the big facility they have now, and they have always been very responsible neighbors,” Bursic said. “The only noise I hear coming from CARS are the happy sounds of a competitive volleyball or softball game. I have never talked to any neighbors who had a complaint about CARS.”
Bursic said he recently retired from the position of senior director of benefits at Cornell, where he got to know “what a good and great organization they are.”
“They are doing extremely important work in one of the biggest health crises this country faces…they’re doing a great job doing what they can,” Bursic added. “I served on the Tompkins County Board of Mental Health for a number years and met the executive director [of CARS] at that time and found it to be a wonderful organization, and I think this group needs to make an extraordinary effort to meet their needs.”
Bursic was the only member of the public who attended the meeting, though nearby property owners have expressed concern about the project at other Ulysses public meetings in the past.
“The fact that we don’t have neighbors here shows outreach has been going well,” said Wendy Marsh of Hancock Estabrook, an attorney for CARS. The following week the same room would be used to facilitate even better communication between the neighbors and the CARS staff, she said, as the Town Hall would be hosting a meet and greet with those who reside in CARS’ neighborhood.
Bernice Hayward, CARS director of residential services, said she met with some of the concerned neighbors to discuss a new plan for what to do should unexpected circumstances arise.
“We gave everyone a staff number that the staff have on them 24-7 so that in the event something happens they can call and we’ll resolve it immediately,” Hayward said, adding that she recently spoke with 11 people as she went door-to-door from Indian Fort Road and the Corner of Route 227 to Boyd Hill Road and up to the Skyler County line “until you couldn’t see the facility anymore, and people at the very edges of that.”
Hayward said that a phone tree CARS had been using previously to spread alerts through the community was not working well, so neighbors were glad to hear they could now call a direct line.
When considering whether or not to grant approval of the variance, the board members considered five statutory factors and weighed the benefits to the applicant against the determent to the health, safety and welfare of the neighborhood if the variances were granted.
Prior to passing the resolution granting the variance, the five factors were discussed by the board. Cheryl Thompson, BZA member, said she did see change to the character of the area occurring as a result of the expansion. “It’s very dense compared to the rest of the neighborhood,” she said.
“I don’t see a big undesirable change, with the existing 60-bed facility that is there already,” countered BZA Member Andrew Hillman.
As a result, when it came to whether an undesirable change will be produced in the character of the neighborhood or detriment to nearby properties will be addressed by granting of the area variances, the board found that CARS is operated within its permitted use but also found that adding another large building in close proximity to the existing building in a largely rural/agricultural neighborhood may be considered an undesirable change to the character of the neighborhood.
“However,” the resolution states, “the impact is partly mitigated by conditions of the restrictive covenant.”
The restrictive covenant states that CARS agrees that, for the purposes of calculating lot coverage requirements imposed by the Town of Ulysses now and in the future, the entire premises, including both the Hector and Ulysses properties, will be treated as one entire parcel.
According to the covenant, CARS must also obtain written consent from the Town of Ulysses if it intends to apply for any right to build any improvement or structure on the Hector portion of land.
In the resolution, it also states that the board found the proposed construction would have an adverse impact on the physical or environmental conditions in the neighborhood/district, but that it has been mitigated by the restrictive covenant as well as the design of a new septic system and stormwater pollution prevention plan designed to a 500-year storm event.
The variance approval is conditioned on substantial conformance with the 500-year storm site plan and filing of the restrictive covenant against the Hector property.