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Chapel House, Cape Haven to build tiny homes for homeless

Two Auburn human service organizations are working on projects to build tiny homes to provide long-term, permanent housing to homeless persons in the community. 

The executive directors of Chapel House and Cape Haven, Christina Thornton and Mary McLaughlin, respectively, both said they hope to break ground on their separate projects by the spring of 2018.

Thornton said shelter staff and board members have been working on the project for about a year, planning what they want the homes to look like and identifying properties to build the houses on. The homeless shelter received an undisclosed amount of money from a donor, who wishes to remain anonymous, to build the homes, Thornton said. 

The anonymous donor proposed the idea for the tiny homes and shelter staff was on board with the idea, Thornton said. She and other staff looked at similar projects in Syracuse and Ithaca that offer tiny homes to homeless veterans. Now, they are in the process of finding land to build the homes. 

Thornton said the shelter is looking to purchase smaller parcels of vacant land around the city in areas surrounded by mostly rental properties. 

"We're looking to maintain the integrity of the area and build the houses to fit in well with surrounding buildings," she said. 

The first home will go to a veteran. Last year, Thornton said, the shelter helped 56 homeless veterans, who make up nearly a quarter of the shelter's population. 

However, the project may face some setbacks if a proposed update to the city's zoning code is approved by members of the Auburn City Council. 

The current draft of the city's zoning code revision prohibits tiny homes smaller than 384 square feet and only allows them to exist in clusters of at least four tiny homes. 

Originally, Chapel House's plan was to build five to seven tiny homes around Auburn, Thornton said. The homes were going to be smaller than 300 square feet in order to keep the cost of utilities down for individuals who will be living there. 

"We want our individuals to be part of the community and not segregated in their own little sections," Thornton said. 

A representative from Chapel House spoke during a recent zoning code public hearing and requested that the city change the code to fit the shelter's project. Thornton said she and other shelter personnel met with City Manager Jeff Dygert in March and they believed the city was supportive of their project.

Cape Haven's McLaughlin spoke during the Nov. 9 Auburn City Council meeting and expressed her support for Chapel House's project and urged city officials to amend the currently proposed regulations. 

"The city of Auburn’s proposed zoning recommendations ... would, in my opinion, be cost prohibitive in the extreme for very low-income housing," McLaughlin said during the meeting.

During an interview with The Citizen on Monday, McLaughlin said her project fits within the parameters of the new zoning code. She said Cape Haven's plan is to build a cluster of at least six 370-square-foot homes on an 11-acre parcel of land behind the Auburn Walmart. 

McLaughlin said she is still working to finalize a budget for the project in preparation for submitting a grant application for funding at the end of the week, but she estimates construction costs will be $100 per square foot. 

McLaughlin, a rehabilitation psychologist with a Ph.D. from Syracuse University, said she conducted a formal research study several years ago in Auburn among the "chronically homeless population." She found that 85 percent of those who have been homeless for extended periods of time suffer from traumatic brain injuries.  

While the homes will be available for all people in need, regardless if they suffer from brain injuries, McLaughlin said she designed the homes with the mentally disabled in mind. 

"One of the advantages of the tiny homes is they can come and go on their own," she said. "They don't have to interact with other tenants where their behavior might not be understood by the other tenants or the landlords."

McLaughlin said she has been "very successful" working with homeless populations in the past.

"There are no hopeless cases out there," she said. "I've dealt with the sickest of the sick out there and I've been astonished what can happen when the right services are provided by the right people." 

DEC issues streambank violation to Skaneateles mayor's construction site

The state Department of Environmental Conservation issued a notice of violation to the mayor of Skaneateles for an unpermitted streambank disturbance to a Skaneateles Lake tributary.

Skaneateles Town Supervisor Jim Lanning said village of Skaneateles Mayor Marty Hubbard, owner of M. Hubbard Construction, was building a basketball court at his property at 2570 West Lake Road, which borders Minnow Brook. Though the project had been approved by the town this summer, Lanning said its footprint was about five times the approval size, trees had been clear cut and sediment bypassed silt fences through a drain that contractors had installed in the middle of the property. Lanning said the drain led to the brook, and eventually to the lake.

"On November 7, 2017, DEC issued a Notice of Violation (NOV) for an unpermitted streambank disturbance of a Class AA tributary to Skaneateles Lake," the DEC said in a statement to The Citizen on Wednesday. "The NOV requires the West Lake Road property owner to complete several actions to restore the streambank habitat to its previous condition."

At this time, the DEC added, no fines have been imposed.

In a submitted letter to the editor, Hubbard wrote, "The news coverage contained a number of wild and inflammatory allegations claiming that we had polluted a stream leading to Skaneateles Lake, had created a public health hazard, and had violated our building permit. ... The City of Syracuse and the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation have inspected the site on three separate occasions and stated 'no water quality violations were observed.'"

The DEC confirmed Monday that its violation notice was specifically for the steambank habitat disturbance and did not constitute a water quality violation.

In a phone interview Monday, Hubbard declined to comment on the streambank violation or what was being done to remedy the site. He did say, however, that he felt everyone was manipulating the situation.

"Regarding television coverage, newspaper reporting and social media — I see no reason to get into a smelling contest with a bunch of skunks," he said. "What that means, as polite as I can say it, they've burnt their bridges with me. They've maliciously attacked me, and I'm not going to continue to barb and play wordsmith games with them."

The DEC said it will actively monitor the site "to ensure implementation of the prescribed remediation timeline. The NOV also outlines implementation of stormwater best management practices to prevent water quality violations for the duration of the project."

Lanning said the town halted the construction work at the beginning of November, but if the public sees activity at the site, it's likely contractors remedying the streambank. The project site has been put back on the town planning board's agenda for discussion this month, he added. 

According to the village's website, the planning board will meet 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 21, at the town offices, 24 Jordan St., Skaneateles. 

Cayuga County stops harmful algal bloom toxin testing, Onondaga County continues

Harmful algal bloom toxin testing of Owasco Lake drinking water has finished up for the season, but Onondaga County continues to test samples from Skaneateles Lake. The state Department of Environmental Conservation, too, has finished its regular bloom tests this season, according to its harmful algal bloom notifications page.

Kathleen Cuddy, director of the Cayuga County Health Department, said testing finished up on Thursday, Nov. 9, after three consecutive samples of raw water tested negative for toxins. The department has collected samples from the city of Auburn and town of Owasco's water treatment plants since July 5, sending raw and treated samples to the state Department of Health's Wadsworth Center for analysis. 

The center has tested the water for microcystin, a liver toxin that can be released from some harmful algal blooms. With the help of state-funded carbon treatment systems, neither the city nor the town had any detection of toxins in the treated drinking water except for once, which officials believe was an anomaly. There were some toxin hits in the raw Owasco Lake water entering the plants — 12 for Auburn and seven for Owasco. The majority of those occurred in October.

"We're feeling quite confident that we're done with HABs (harmful algal blooms) for the season," Cuddy said at a Cayuga County Legislature Health and Human Services Committee meeting Thursday. "Some more next year, sure."

Skaneateles Lake water continues to be tested for microcystin, with the latest samples on Nov. 2 and Nov. 7 showing no detection in the Skaneateles or Elbridge water plants. There was a slight detection on Nov. 1 in two wells of the village of Skaneateles gatehouse at 0.22 micrograms per liter and 0.32 micrograms per liter. 

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's 10-day health advisory for microcystin is 0.3 micrograms per liter for vulnerable populations and children under the age of 6. It is higher at 1.6 micrograms per liter for children and adults over the age of 6.

Moravia teacher for print

A technicality cost Justin Vossler a berth in the "Jeopardy!" tournament of champions semifinals. 

Vossler, a Homer resident and Moravia High School history teacher, competed in the final quarterfinal that aired Friday. He trailed fellow contestant Andrew Pau by $10,800 entering Final Jeopardy, but with $16,000 he was in a good position to clinch at least a wild card spot and advance in the tournament. 

The Final Jeopardy category was "Awards & Honors." The answer: "The Victoria Cross is for military bravery; this cross first given in 1940 and named for Victoria's great-grandson is for civilian bravery." 

Vossler, who wagered $7,000, responded with, "What is the George's Cross?" But that was incorrect. The name of the award is the George Cross, not the George's Cross. 

The technicality proved costly for Vossler. He finished with $9,000 and narrowly missed one of the four wild card spots in the semifinals. 

Vossler was invited to play in the tournament of champions after his successful run on the game-show earlier this year. He won five games and $112,000 during his streak, which was filmed in the spring and televised in July. 

Not long after his episodes aired, "Jeopardy!" officials notified him that he was eligible for the tournament of champions. He returned to California in September to film the episode that aired Friday.