AUBURN | Federal grants designated to conduct site contamination studies at several properties within the city were approved by the Auburn City Council Thursday after a delay caused by questions about the future of those properties post-grant.
Two weeks ago, when the council was about to vote on authorizing the expenditure of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Brownfield Program grant funds, Councilor Peter Ruzicka asked that the item be tabled because he wanted to see a development plan for the 16 South St. property (the Auburn Schines Theater).
At Thursday's meeting, Councilor John Camardo agreed with Ruzicka that there should be a guarantee that properties receiving grants will be redeveloped and eventually put back on the tax roll.
"I think the city should have a plan for each of these properties," he said.
Christina Selvek, director of capital projects and grants for the city, clarified that during Phase II, the current phase of grant money that will test the properties for hazardous chemicals like asbestos, the city will be hiring consultants to take samples, test the samples and report back to the city, ensuring the city has full knowledge of what's happening to the grant money. Records will also be available to the public, she said.
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"We have to get Phase II done first because that's how the EPA does its process," she said.
She also explained that redevelopment of the sites is Phase III of the grant program, and said the city will be diligent in ensuring the properties are redeveloped.
"The property owners have to do a redevelopment plan regardless," she said. "To close out the program, I have to do redevelopment plans."
Councilors Matt Smith and William Graney and Mayor Michael Quill voted against requiring a redevelopment plan as a prerequisite to expend the grant money, while Camardo voted yes and Ruzicka abstained.
Ruzicka also abstained from the vote approving the grant expenditure on the testing at those properties, while all others approved the resolution.
Ruzicka's ethics were questioned by the Cayuga County Arts Council, owner of the theater, which believed he should have abstained from moving to table the resolution two weeks ago due to his membership in another Schines Theater group.
A couple of supporters spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting to say they were glad Ruzicka pushed for requiring a redevelopment plan as a prerequisite to getting the grants.
"Mr. Ruzicka is only doing his job as a councilor by requesting more information about the (Schines) project to help him make a wise decision," said Todd Gaglianese, of Auburn.
Laurel Auchampaugh, of Auburn, agreed.
"Councilman Ruzicka is just doing his job and protecting the Auburn taxpayers' money by exercising caution and recommending the Cayuga County Arts Council provide documentation of their plan for using the grant," she said.
Staff writer Kelly Voll can be reached at 282-2239 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at CitizenVoll.