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Kevin Rivoli, The Citizen 

Middle-schooler Sam Weiss plays his baritone during an improv workshop with the Huntertones, a jazz ensemble from Brooklyn, at Skaneateles High School.

Former Stella Maris site to become available as vacant residential lots

The former Stella Maris retreat center in Skaneateles is currently undergoing asbestos remediation so the large building can be demolished for the land to be sold as residential lots.

The lakeshore property, roughly nine acres located at 130 E. Genesee St. in the village of Skaneateles, was divided into three lots back in February 2016 — after Peter and Elsa Soderberg purchased the land — for the potential relocation and expansion of the Skaneateles Library. That plan fell through, however, when the library decided in the spring against pursuing the project, but the Soderbergs still intend to have the structure knocked down.

As of December, the property was changed to a two-lot subdivision during a village planning board meeting since a third lot is no longer needed for the library.

“We had always planned to demolish that building because it's loaded with asbestos,” said Peter Soderberg.

Although there wasn't much to salvage from the building due to multiple remodels throughout the years, Soderberg said, he and Elsa had some things removed for the Skaneateles Historical Society and some items were offered to Ithaca as well.

The Stella Maris Retreat and Renewal Center was run by the Sisters of the Third Franciscan Order of Syracuse beginning in 1954 as a place to seek peace, quiet, and God. They sold the building and property in 2015 due to no longer being able to afford and maintain the facility. The organization was the third owner of the building, first built and owned by Frederick Roosevelt, a relative of President Theodore Roosevelt, as a summer cottage. When the Sisters purchased the cottage in 1952, they spent two years building their retreat center by adding to the existing cottage.

Since November, the focus has been on remediation of the building, which the village code enforcement officer, John Cromp, expects to be done sometime this month.

“A small second floor section on the east side of the property, that contained no asbestos, needed to be razed so that the remediation firm could get to the asbestos underneath,” Cromp said in an email, explaining what may have appeared as demolition of the building already starting.

“When the asbestos is totally remediated, a demolition permit can be issued for the entire structure,” Cromp said.

The Stella Maris building will come down and the two lots, expected to be put on the market for sale in the spring, will each have street and lake access. The Soderbergs “intend to sell as an entirety as one lot or as two lots,” Soderberg said. 

“This was always the (contingency) plan,” Soderberg said, referring to plans made for the property if for some reason the library were to not be viable at the site.

Due to the property being a bit over nine acres, Soderberg said they had the option to divide it into as many as seven residential lots. The Soderbergs thought the most responsible and considerate decision was to divide the property into two lots.

When it comes to the Skaneateles Library, Soderberg mentioned they encouraged the library to look for another site in the area.

“We remain available to listen to any future plans,” he said, adding that along with the rest of the community, they are “in a watchful waiting mode to see where they go next.”

Meanwhile, the Skaneateles Library is preparing for the future by actively seeking potential new locations while simultaneously exploring options to renovate and expand the current building, library Director Nickie Marquis said in an email last week.

A site search committee composed of members of the library's board of trustees as well as professional architects, Paul Mays and Dave Nutting, are charged with coming up with the next steps in the library building search, Marquis said.

Mays, who specializes in library design, was asked by the board “to develop new designs for renovation of the current building based on the community feedback we've heard over the past several months,” Marquis said.

Marquis said community members are encouraged to share “any positive ideas to help us create the best future for a long-lasting asset in our community library” by emailing

Finger Lakes Land Trust acquires Niles property on Owasco Lake

The Finger Lakes Land Trust has purchased about 74 acres on the eastern side of Owasco Lake to be used for a public conservation area, according to a Monday release.

The land on Sam Adams Lane in Niles was purchased for $750,000 from Joseph F. Karpinski as trustee of the Joseph F. Karpinski Revocable Trust at the end of January, Cayuga County real property records show. The land was assessed at $516,000. Karpinski is a retired oral surgeon from Auburn and a long-time benefactor of the community. 


A map of Owasco Lake showing the land the Finger Lakes Land Trust hopes to acquire.

The land trust purchased the property through individual donations, an interest-free loan from Norcross Wildlife Foundation and an allocation from its revolving land protection fund, according to the release. The organization is still working to raise $950,000 to cover the purchase price of the property as well as to fund public access improvements, wildlife habitat restoration and a stewardship fund to support long-term management of the site. 

The land trust added that the state Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation has said it intends to purchase a conservation easement to ensure public access to the site and its continued preservation.

The property features forested bluffs overlooking the lake, meadows, brush, hay fields and a gorge. There will be 1,100 feet of protected shoreline, but Land Trust President Andy Zepp had told The Citizen in a previous interview that the drop-off does not allow for lake access.

"Acquisition of this land will allow the public to experience one of Owasco Lake's last stretches of wild shoreline," Zepp said in the release. "It also allows us to restore wetlands that will help filter runoff to the lake, helping to address harmful algal blooms."

For more information the the land trust, visit

Auburn resident surrenders after threatening to harm self, police

Auburn Police Department

An Auburn resident surrendered to police without incident early Tuesday after calling the Department of Veterans Affairs' crisis hotline and threatening to harm themselves, the public and police if anyone responded, the Auburn Police Department said.

Auburn police officers responded at approximately 11:30 p.m. Monday to a report of a suicidal subject in the Prospect Street area of the city, according to a news release. The Auburn Police Department activated its emergency response and hostage negotiation teams. The Cayuga County Sheriff's Office and New York State Police assisted with the response. 

Initial attempts to contact the individual, whose name and address were withheld by police, were unsuccessful. 

After more than two hours of trying to contact the subject inside the residence, Auburn police negotiators were able to communicate with the individual by telephone. The subject exited the residence and was taken into custody for treatment and a mental health evaluation, police said. 

Police found numerous loaded weapons and magazines inside the home. The subject had threatened to harm themselves, law enforcement and the public with guns and "electronic counter measures," according to police. 

Deputy Chief Roger Anthony said Tuesday that he does not foresee any charges being made against the individual as all the weapons were legally obtained. 

"These situations are very difficult because of mental health issues," Anthony said. "Threats have to be readily capable of being carried out, not just stated. The individual didn't make any attempt to carry them out and they weren't made directly to us, they were made to a third party."

The investigation is ongoing. Auburn police said in order to protect the subject involved, no names or an exact address of the residence will be released, unless charges are brought against the subject.

Herkimer native to seek Democratic nomination

For the last five years, Bill Bass worked as an environmental scientist for the Saudi Arabian Oil Company. But he left that job — and the Middle Eastern nation — to return to his home state and run for Congress.

Bass, D-Syracuse, is vying for the Democratic nomination in the 24th Congressional District race. He is one of four Democrats seeking to challenge U.S. Rep. John Katko, a two-term Republican, in the general election.

A Herkimer native, Bass decided to return to the U.S. and run for Congress, in part, because of President Donald Trump's environmental policies and the announcement that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate accord.

While working for the Saudi Arabian Oil Company, also known as Aramco, he said he worked in the environmental protection department and fought to ensure the company followed strict regulations. Seeing the Trump's administration's approach to environmental issues frustrated him.

"I need to get in this race," Bass said in a phone interview. "Now is the time to do it." He moved back to the U.S. and now lives in Syracuse with his husband.

After graduating from high school, Bass earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Southern California. He then engaged in community service and volunteer efforts prior to being accepted into Teach for America, a national nonprofit educational organization.

With Teach for America, he taught math and science in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina. He recalled teaching classes in a trailer provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Following that experience, he decided to go back to school. He attended what is now known as the SUNY Polytechnic Institute, where he earned his bachelor's degree in applied mathematics. He opted to go to graduate school, but was facing a heavy student loan debt burden.

And that's how he wound up in Saudi Arabia.

He earned a master's degree in bioscience at King Abdullah University of Science and Technology. He went to work at Aramco a year later.

"It's not the most accepting or liberal place for a gay man to live," he said. "I spent six-plus years there basically living in fear every day that they'd arrest me or kill me for who I was just so I could pay off my student loans."

With that chapter of his life behind him, he's focused on his congressional bid. He panned Katko's job performance and called his environmental voting record "horrendous."

He doesn't believe Katko represents the values of the 24th district.

"I know he does not represent the values I have grown up with," he said.

Bass is one of two candidates who are late entries in the race for the Democratic nomination. Scott Comegys, an alpaca farmer from Wayne County, also launched his congressional bid in January.

The two other Democrats in the race, Dana Balter and Anne Messenger, announced their candidacies last year.

Bass will join his three fellow competitors at a candidates forum Wednesday in Auburn. The event was organized by the Cayuga, Oswego and Wayne county Democratic committees.

After the forum, the three committees will meet to endorse a candidate in the race. ​

Bill Hecht 

The Finger Lakes Land Trust property on Owasco Lake.