Clay residents speak out against residential removal requests by Onondaga County
Clay residents speak out against requests for residential relocations
Paul and Robin Richer are childhood sweethearts who have lived on Burnet Road their entire lives. Paul described themselves as “the boy next door who ended up marrying the farmer girl.” Paul’s father built their house in 1954 and Paul was able to buy it for himself six years ago. A few weeks before Christmas, the Richer’s received a letter saying that someone wanted to buy their house for a price of $125,000. According to Paul, his house is at least double that.
On Burnet Road in the town of Clay, residents are being threatened with the removal of their land by the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency to build a semiconductor plant within the area.
The residents’ fight for their homes began in October of 2020 when residents were approached by unknown representatives from OCIDA with an interest in purchasing their homes, Paul said. Residents requested a meeting with Ryan McMahon, Onondaga County Executive, who is one of the major proponents of the project.
By December, Paul said residents received formal letters from OCIDA containing purchase offers with extensive confidentiality clauses, requesting a response by Dec 28. According to an environmental impact statement released by OCIDA, the proposed project area is two square miles, roughly three times the size of the New York State Fairgrounds, and about 4% of the town of Clay.
Paul said he and his wife are considering moving to a different county.
“We’re gonna buy another house that might not be affordable in this area for someone that’s retired and on a fixed income,” said Paul.
Paul said that at this point a majority of the people on the street have lawyers to help them negotiate. Paul said that many of the lawyers in the county are under OCIDA, and that if they represented one of the residents it might be considered a conflict of interest. Many of the people on Burnet Road have accepted they will have to leave, Paul said.
“Some people are getting ready to leave, everybody is getting ready to negotiate because of the threat of eminent domain,” said Paul.
Some residents have already had to vacate, including Robin’s relatives, who had been on the land since the 1850s. Robin described seeing her family have to move as devastating and heartbreaking.
The background for the proposed semiconductor plant goes back to the late 1990s when OCIDA began buying vacant land at the northeast corner of Route 31 and Caughdenoy Road in Clay to create the Clay Business Park. The land went undeveloped for years until 2019 when OCIDA bought up neighboring residential properties. By March of 2019, the area comprised 450 acres and was renamed White Pine Commerce Park.
On August 3, the county approved a $20 million economic development loan to OCIDA. The money in the fund is intended to be set aside for COVID-19 relief programs, although to date OCIDA has not specified what the funds will be used for.
Mary Kuhn, 7th District Onondaga County Legislator, took to Twitter to criticize both OCIDA’s move and what she said was a lack of transparency by the county.
“American Rescue Funds are designed to help our community recover from a pandemic and the funds are meant to go to people that were hurt by it, whether they are essential workers or small businesses in your community,” Kuhn said in an interview.
Kuhn also said that despite being given these funds, the current status of the project is unknown. Kuhn said that Rob Petrovich, executive director of OCIDA, spoke at the meeting about the funds and said that they plan to develop the land for potential buyers. According to the loan documents, there are no specifications about when the money must be paid back.
Residents are continuing to fight OCIDA. All along Burnet Road are signs protesting the development. Websites such as saveburnetrd.com are being updated to fill people in on the situation, and petitions are being shared to stop the project from going further.
83-year-old Barbara O’Brien has lived on Burnet Road for 50 years. She voiced her frustrations and said she hopes there can be more clarity in the future so that residents, like herself, can have peace of mind about where they will be living.
“It’s been very traumatic, very unsure, very sketchy not knowing what each day will bring and not knowing whether I’ll be owning my house at the end of the week,” O’Brien said.