Editor's note: After we published this story we heard from Stephen J. Donnelly, president of the public relations firm Dynamic Innovation Group. He wrote that, contrary to Dr. Cohen’s assertion in the next to last paragraph of the story, the Village of Owego did not force the company to move. “Upstate Shredding is its own mega shredding/ processing facility in Industrial Park and was started there on its own from its inception, never were they required to move,” Donnelly wrote. “There is another Ben Weitsman facility in Owego that is right in the heart of the village and has been a fixture there since 1938. I think [Dr. Cohen] was confused thinking that Upstate Shredding and Ben Weitsman of Owego were one and the same when in fact they are two different locations in Owego. They are owned by the same person but are two different locations nonetheless.”
By Eli Ruiz
LIBERTY The Town of Liberty Planning Board fielded comments from local residents during a public hearing held last Tuesday stemming from a proposed transfer station to be located just off Exit 99 of State Route 17.
In 2010, Adam Weitsman, president of Owego-based Upstate Shredding, LLC also known as Ben Weitsman & Son agreed to purchase Liberty Scrap Metal, Inc. from owner Gary Zalkin.
Local consensus was split among those who took part in the public comment portion of the hearing, with some calling into question the process that led to the six-parcel area where the facility is to be built being rezoned from residential to industrial last December after Weitsman expressed interest in the land.
Local dentist Jeffrey Cohen of Liberty was one of about two dozen residents in attendance and called for a “more complete” analysis of the project and its impact on the area as well as the local economy, and called for the planning board to wait on a decision regarding a suit brought on by himself, architect Howard Perez and other Youngs Hill Road property owners seeking a reversal to the so-called “correction” to the Sheehan Road land’s zoning. The suit names the Liberty Town Board, Ben Weitsman and Gary Zalkin as defendants. Cohen says the town is looking to have the suit dismissed on grounds that the plaintiffs did not name the current Sheehan Road property owner in the suit.
“If the court agrees with the arguments of the petitioners, the ‘correction’ would be rolled back and the property in question would be zoned residential.… In this case the proposed use would be impermissible,” said Cohen.
Cohen referenced a 2001 law the Town Board passed that would prohibit the creation of any new “junkyards” except for the three that already exist in the town.
Cohen believes that Weitsman got the board to rewrite a local law that in turn allowed him to relocate the scrapyard from its current location on Fishman Road to the Sheehan Road location. Furthermore, Cohen believes Weitsman exerted his influence to have the town reverse ground and rezone the property from residential to IC or industrual/commercial.
Some, like Liberty resident Dan Ratner Sr., spoke in support of the project.
“These guys [Weitsman and Sons] are putting their money where their mouth is, and I’m sure that if they need a study, they’re gonna do a study,” Ratner said. “Why do we have to chase away everybody that comes here with the goods to do the job and yet we welcome with open arms the carpetbaggers that take our money, take our property and leave?
“I say we give them a chance. They’re a legitimate business and they’ve got a great track record,” added Ratner.
John Nichols who called himself a lifelong resident was another proponent of the proposed Weitsman and Sons project and said, “This project is going to bring jobs to this town, it’s gonna bring tax revenue to this town… tax revenue that we have not seen on a new project in many years. This is the type of project we need in our town.”
Tim Edwards, who owns a residence on Sheehan Road, said he hadn’t even heard of the proposed Weitsman project until about a month ago.
Architect Howard Perez has owned a home on Youngs Hill Road since 2000 and said he believed he owned the second closest property to the disputed lots in question.
Perez said, “Being an architect, planner and designer for major corporations in the City, I’ve seen things done in the City that have really upset me and dissuaded me from my profession, and I’m starting to see some of those things occur here.”
Perez became emotional when he spoke about the little boy he shares with his former wife, saying, “He loves my home. He comes up to the home and plays outside with the dog.… I’m hoping the planning board will consider what Jeffery Cohen has so eloquently said about the facts.”
In an interview with the Democrat Cohen spoke about his worries that there may be many lead acid batteries buried on the old Zalkin property and talked about the preferential treatment he believes Weitsman is receiving from the board.
“Think about it. In his own town [the City of Owego] Weitsman was required to move his plant three miles out of town and… into the Tioga Industrial Park. They did it right out there,” said Cohen.
“Don’t get me wrong, we’ll welcome Weitsman with open arms, but in the right district… not in people’s own backyards,” added Cohen.