Town Board Acts to Stand in Second Wind’s Path
by Robert Lynch, February 9, 2023
The mood: “I’m against this,” Rick Bryant told a firehouse room full of his neighbors Thursday. “You could build the Taj Mahal here; you’re still going to be bringing the same people up here.”
“I’m against it,” another man concurred. There’s no local enforcement. “Once you get ‘em here you can’t get rid of them.”
The public sentiment was unanimous Thursday night, and so was the vote, as the Newfield Town Board, following a much-awaited Public Hearing, adopted a “Town-Wide One Year Moratorium on Campgrounds.” It’s a local law unapologetically aimed at halting Second Wind Cottages’ plans to expand its 18-unit tiny house complex for the otherwise-unhoused by adding 25 campsite cabins intended to draw many more of the homeless to Second Wind’s site off Route 13.
And while word surfaced earlier this week that Second Wind may alter its campsite plans in a transparent effort to circumvent what the Newfield Board would adopt two days later, Newfield’s leaders and the residents they represent have signaled that the changes developers propose remain to them unacceptable.
The original campground project, which already has won initial funding support from a majority on the Tompkins County Legislature, would provide a so-called “low-barrier” encampment; an unpoliced, minimally-supervised collection of cabins, which many in Newfield fear could draw to Second Wind’s site serious substance abusers, lawbreakers, and sex offenders.
“I’m worried about the property value of my home,” one Newfield woman told Thursday’s hearing. “Please protect citizens who pay their taxes,” she begged the Board.
And the Town Board responded. It did so quickly. While the Public Hearing consumed about 35 minutes’ time—shorter than had been expected—the Town Board’s response was surprisingly swift. Before voting, Board members confined their remarks to just one or two crisp sentences apiece. Apart from the hearing, the Board’s discussion and vote took less than five minutes.
“We definitely need breathing room,” Newfield Councilperson Joanne James told Board colleagues and her audience before casting her vote to support the moratorium.
“We didn’t hear anybody objecting to this moratorium,” Councilperson Heather McCarty observed.
Councilperson Christine Laughlin, the Newfield Board’s lone Republican, appeared most adamant, critical of Second Wind founder Carmen Guidi’s plans to scatter the campsites behind his auto body shop north of the Newfield hamlet.
“Carmen’s heart is in the right place,” Laughlin acknowledged during the public hearing, “but he’s not looking at the bigger picture.”
“It’s hurting our residents” Laughlin maintained. “Get out of their bubble,” she pleaded of Second Wind’s leadership.
While nearly 30 Newfield residents filled the audience for Thursday’s meeting, only about a half-dozen spoke. Most notable among them was Newfield-Enfield representative Randy Brown, the Tompkins County legislator most critical of both the Second Wind expansion and a legislative advisory committee’s recommendation to allocate $510,000 in County-apportioned Community Recovery Fund grants to construct it.
“Carmen’s heart is in the right place, but it’s bad for Newfield,” Brown said of the campground. “I think they will back away from this proposal and ask for more cottages and the same amount of money.”
And Brown’s prediction is more than just idle speculation. In a surprise announcement at the Tompkins County Legislature Tuesday, County legislator Dan Klein, reading from a prepared statement, disclosed that Second Wind would likely scale back its plans, exchange its campground vision for construction of more stick-built housing on Guidi’s site, and retool its application for continued County support.
“Rather than building 25 structures in a campground-like setting,” Klein informed legislators Tuesday, “they (Second Wind) are planning to add additional cottages to their current 18 cottage facility.”
“The current version of the plan is to build 12 new cottages,” Klein’s statement said.
Klein said the Community Recovery Fund Advisory Committee—of which Newfield’s Brown is a newly-appointed member—would convene March 6 to review a revised funding request that Klein expects Second Wind to submit.
But neither the revised construction configuration nor the special favor granted Second Wind to let it take a second bite from the Tompkins County funding apple please legislator Brown. The Newfield rep says he’ll oppose Second Wind’s expected resubmission, and he asked those at Thursday’s Public Hearing to join him.
“Come to the meeting and voice your opinion,” Randy Brown told hearing attendees. “They need to hear from more than just me.”
Brown’s key concern about Second Wind’s expansion, a concern shared by Newfield Supervisor Michael Allinger, involves the community’s perceived inability to provide the emergency services that vulnerable Second Wind residents might need, along with the unwillingness of Second Wind to provide them itself.
“I’ve heard from a lot of neighbors,” Allinger informed the hearing. “I’ve often heard concerns of lack of supervision.”
Of Second Wind’s campground project, Allinger opined, “It can’t move forward without better supervision. They’ve lost control.”
As the Town Supervisor’s sees it, Second Wind’s homeless population needs “supervision 24 hours a day, seven days a week.” And Allinger insists that Second Wind doesn’t provide it.
Underlying the concerns of many in Newfield is the fear that by adding the proposed campsites and likely more than doubling Second Wind’s population, Tompkins County, with the City of Ithaca in hand, is unloading Ithaca’s unsolved homeless problem—centered at Ithaca’s so-called “Jungle” behind Walmart—onto their rural community using the rationale that out-of-sight is out-of-mind.
Regarding the Ithaca homeless problem, “the County is solving it by sticking it in Newfield,” resident Aaron Miller told the Town Board Thursday.
Disclosed publicly only a month ago, and tweaked during a Town Board meeting January 26, Newfield’s one-year moratorium would direct Town officials and employees not to “begin or continue to review applications for or grant any approvals relating to a Campground within the Town.” The adopted law defines “Campground” as “any parcel or tract of land including buildings or other structures under the control of any person, where five or more campsites are available for temporary or seasonal overnight occupancy.”
The adopted Local Law imposing the Newfield moratorium directly references the originally-proposed, 25-unit Second Wind homeless encampment. The law’s text acknowledges that the campground proposal “has generated significant concern in the Town based on health and safety concerns for people of the Town and those individuals that may be housed in such camps.” Those concerns list “lack of local police, EMS, and other social services in the Town” as well as “the relatively lengthy response times for police and medical services.”
Seeking a legal foundation, language often necessary to stave off a court challenge, the law asserts that the moratorium will give Newfield officials time to rewrite the Town’s 2013 Comprehensive Plan, a document that the law maintains never anticipated the sort of encampment that Second Wind proposes nor the “health, safety, and sanitation concerns that attach to developments that have a substantial number of persons living in a small area.”
Now ratified by the Town Board, the Newfield Campground Moratorium will take effect as soon as it’s filed with the Secretary of State. After Thursday’s meeting, Newfield Town Clerk Karen Miller Kenerson said she’ll file the papers Friday. She said the Tompkins County Planning Department, whose review the law requires before adoption, has already given its consent.
Residents and Newfield Town Board members departed their meeting Thursday in general agreement they’d done all they could, though they remained anxious that despite their best efforts, more battles may need to be fought.
“It’s nice to know we all feel the same way about things,” Councilperson Laughlin told her assembled constituents.