Posted by: Dan | October 7, 2006

Save Sapsucker Woods

A new local blog is up and running, acting as an online petition and press room for some local Ithaca citizens concerned about a proposed development running into Sapsucker Woods. If you’re a birdwatcher and haven’t heard of Sapsucker Woods, you should have: it’s the home of the famed Cornell Lab of Ornithology, one of the most well-known centers for ornthiological and ecological research in the United States, if not the world.

And I mention it now, because I only recently heard about the proposed development, and also because today they put up really nice nature essay that’s worth a read.

Updated info below…

According to the Save Sapsucker Woods blog, the land in question is part of the same woodland corridor that includes the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and is adjacent to the CLO, but privately-owned lab. Further, the developers are preposing to donate 25 acres of this land to the CLO, while razing and developing on 18 acres. This sort of tradeoff might appease people, or it might not.

Other problems with the deal, as I’ve read about it:

1) This land was designated a “Unique Natural Area” by the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council. For the UNA brochure, click here. Unfortunately this doesn’t appear to afford the area legal protection from developers though.

2) “[Save Sapsucker Woods] believe[s] that the loss of 18 other acres of woodland, in an area already burdened by suburban sprawl, would significantly impair the remaining woods’ and wetland’s ability to sustain diverse wildlife.”

3) And also, residential development in this Northeast area of Ithaca has in recent years been dominated by ugly, modular homes. There’s something to be said for affordable housing, but I for one depressing to think how such a housing development would mar these woods – and I don’t even live in that part of Ithaca.

Number (2) seems to be of the greatest concern to me though – and I quoted it directly from the Q & A section. The problem is that this appears to be a vague statement – I’m sure it’s true, but I would have thought that Cornell’s Department of Natural Resources (a strong department hereabouts) would have some hard data supporting such assertions. I’d like to see that data.



  1. The “Save the Weeds Coalition” should be more selective in taking on causes. They screwed up badly in taking on the parking lot on the former Treman estate. (I will not call it Redbud Woods. People who do not own property do not get naming rights.) Maybe the Sapsucker Woods development is worth opposing, I don’t know. But the overactive enviros have lost some influence with me through their previous mistake.

  2. Sure, there are “overactive enviros” out there, but this is a separate, unconnected case, as far as I can tell.

    But yes, whatever happens, we need clear definitions and hard data on what this development could mean to the woods and wetlands, as well as whether the neighbors want such expansion in their area.

    Two things though – (1) this will certainly further out from town, and have significant impacts in traffic in the NE area of Ithaca, with very little shops and businesses within a short distance of this land. Such a development could exacerbate expansion out of town, when businesses in the already-developed areas are already doing poorly. How would this development effect traffic and business? And (2), I really hope that they don’t put in ugly modular-condominiums if they do build there.

    But I guess these are more questions for the immediate neighborhood, and we should stick to questions about woodland/wetland impacts – I’m curious as to what those impacts will be, and I recognize that housing developments might take such concerns into consideration – which is why I emailed the Save Sapsucker Woods petition drive for more information.

    So, when you say “Maybe the Sapsucker Woods development is worth opposing, I don’t know,” I agree whole-heartedly, and respond with “Well, let’s find out.”

    I’ll let you know what further info I turn up.

  3. The reply I received from the Save Sapsucker Woods admin:

    Thanks for your interest in this controversy. We are working on posting more detailed information about the developer’s proposal on the website, so do keep an eye out for additions there. If you would like to investigate this proposal in detail you could request a copy of it at the Planning Department in Town Hall. I’ll try to answer your questions to some satisfaction.

    Wildlife issues: We have a cluster of environmental concerns that might be divided into two categories. The first involves objections to the data presented to the Planning Board by the developer. One
    example is the rare bird study conducted as part of the proposal’s environmental impact statement. That study was conducted on a very limited basis (only in the southern portion of the subdivision site)
    over three years ago (2003), but there is now ample evidence that two state-listed species of concern (red-shouldered hawk and cooper’s hawk) might be nesting on or near the development site. So we believe there should be further, independent animal studies conducted. The wetlands delineation was also done by an organization hired by the developer, and the Planning Board failed to require independent corroboration. The developer intends “to utilize the wetlands for stormwater management,” with a “management plan that does not conform to those recommended designs of stormwater facilities as outlined in the New York State Stormwater Management Design Manual” (quoting from the developer’s Environmental Assessment Form). We have a hydrologist analyzing this proposal, but the developer acknowledges that this kind of plan has not been implemented in this area before.
    The second category involves qualitative objections. These, as you might imagine, are less open to data analysis. Given that the woods slated for destruction are part of Unique Natural Area 106 (designated
    by the Tompkins County Environmental Management Council), contiguous with the Cornell’s famous bird sanctuary, the last remaining wildlife corridor passing south in a suburban environment, and valuable open space for all residents in this area, we strongly disagree with the Planning Board’s conclusion that the loss of eighteen acres of woodland habitat is not “substantial” (as indicated in question 9 in
    the developer’s Environmental Assessment Form). Question 11 of the EAF, regarding whether this development would affect “aesthetic resources,” which seems to refer to the valuable open space, was also erroneously answered “no.” Given the developer’s history of building in the area, the extent of sprawl in the northeast, this subdivision’s increase of car-dependent living, traffic and pollution,
    there are very strong moral objections to the scale of this development.

    The drainage issue is complex, and perhaps the group’s most fervent objection to the development. The Briarwood II development is one part of the developer’s decades-old master plan for this area. The developer, Rocco Lucente, has built most of the houses in the Sapsucker Woods area over the past thirty years, and the houses on the streets to the west of the woods–Salem, Winston, Briarwood, Birchwood–have all suffered from perpetual drainage problems. Most still do to this day. Many residents in the area are upset that the Planning Board has allowed this development to proceed through the
    approval process without addressing the problems caused by _previous developments. In short, the private property rights of the developer should not trump the private property rights of dozens if not hundreds of homeowners in the area (their right not to be inundated with storm water). The Briarwood II development involves a very complex storm drainage retention system (mentioned above), a system still awaiting approval from the New York DEC and Army Corps of Engineers. Local residents fear this very sizable subdivision (47 units on 18 acres) will only exacerbate their problems with drainage.

    I hope the above manages to answer your questions. Let me know if you would like any more details or clarifications.

    That sounds pretty reasonable, especially the quantitative issues towards the top. Detailed and accurate building codes and drainage issues simply MUST be adhered to. Further, it is in the town’s and the neighborhood’s interests to limit the effects of sprawl, population expansion, and habitat destruction. That said, I think that such sprawl is, to a certain extent, a sad and unfortunate truth about today’s world – there is simply an overabundance of people, and not enough space to put them all, and the best that we can do is work together with the developers to minimize the impacts of said overpopulation.

    I hope that the above questions are answered, and the concerns of neighbors in NE Ithaca, are answered before (if) this development proposal moves forward…

  4. Please save Sapsucker Woods…these areas are getting smaller and smaller, fewer and fewer. Our lives depend on nature and what it offers. Thank you


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