ULYSSES, N.Y.—A cornfield off of Krums Corners Road appeared destined to become the Town of Ulysses’ first public park. Now, its fate seems less certain.

Officials in Ulysses announced on Aug. 4 that the town was planning to acquire a 30-acre parcel of farmland for $210,000 for the purpose of creating a park. Then, on Sept. 7, the town received a petition with 302 signatures that set in motion a yet-to-be-scheduled referendum to approve the town’s purchase.

The petition was submitted by the adhoc group Concerned Ulysses Taxpayers and Voters, which cited a litany of concerns as justification for a referendum, including the general surprise of town residents that the town was planning to purchase property for a park. 

Katelin Olson, Ulysses’ Town Supervisor, said the town government has been working to expand public recreation space in partnership with the local nonprofit group Trumansburg Community Recreation (TCR) since its founding in 2016. 

Purchasing the lot on Krums Corners comes with a limited window of opportunity, Olson said. The town is planning to use federal COVID relief funds to pay for the land. The funds need to be committed before the end of 2024, or the town of Ulysses will have to return them to Washington. 

Olson said that the town and TCR have struggled to identify a property that the local government can afford for the last seven years. The town is legally required to tie the purchase of property to a fair market assessment, which Olson said is $7,000 per acre for vacant farmland. 

“In terms of price, we know that we can’t compete on open markets,” Olson said. “The real estate is just too hot in Ulysses.”

Finally, the town found an opportunity. It struck a deal to purchase the Krums Corners lot with Heather and Mark Washburn, the town’s code enforcement officer. Heather has had the farmland in her family since 1920. In a statement released by the town when it announced the plans to purchase the property for a park, Heather said, “We’ve realized this is exactly the kind of opportunity we would love to see my grandfather’s family farm land used for.” 

The opportunity is unique, Olson stressed. 

“We see this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to actually bring something that people have been trying to do for nearly 40 years — possibly more — to actual fruition,” she said. “This is the closest the town has ever actually gotten to having its own park.”

Yet, there is dissent regarding whether the lot on Krums Corners Road is the right place for a public park. Nancy Cusumano, a Ulysses resident and an organizer opposing the land purchase, told The Ithaca Voice that she and other petitioners “absolutely agree” that the town needs more space for recreation. Their issue, however, is with the proposed location.

Cusumano raised concern that the property would require “considerable” regrading in order for it to be developed, that the park should be closer to the Village of Trumansburg, and that a “dark country road” is not the proper site. 

The lot is about six miles away from Trumansburg, the town of Ulysses’ population center. Ulysses has a population of about 5,000 residents, including Trumansburg’s population of about 1,700. Concerned Ulysses Taxpayers and Voters stated in a press release that the isolated location of the Krums Corners Road lot “raises concern about inappropriate use including partying and vandalism after hours.”

The location of the would-be park happens to be just around the corner from Cusumano’s home. She said the proximity to her residence is not a “main driver” of her opposition. 

“To me, it just doesn’t make sense that that location is where they’ve chosen,” Cusumano said.

Her “number one” concern would be the town’s zoning, and whether that would allow a park to be placed in the agricultural zone that the 30-acre lot sits within. 

However, Olson said the lot’s agricultural zoning does not present a real issue. She cited town zoning law, which permits regional parks and preserves, as well as campgrounds and other uses in agricultural zones under special permits. Olson added that the Ulysses town board has the power to alter its zoning laws if the need would arise. 

“It’s not like we have to go ask permission from the federal government in order to do something here,” Olson said.

Olson disagrees almost point-for-point with the idea that the location is unfit for a park. She said  the town government would be working with the certified planner it has on staff and its Planning Board in order to develop the field if the purchase goes through. The grade of the lot, Olson said, won’t be an issue. 

Since Ulysses is a predominantly rural town, most residents would have to drive to the park whether it was in the Village of Trumansburg or not, Olson said. “We’re a rural town, so there’s no perfect location.”

Despite her disagreements with the issues that have been raised about the viability of the lot on Krums Corners Road, Olson said she supports the referendum. “If a vote had not happened, there might always be criticism that this isn’t what the public wants,” Olson said. 

One of the main goals for expanding park space in the town is to increase the number of sports fields. The fields of the Trumansburg Central School District are at capacity, supporting all of the youth programs run by the school district, local nonprofits, and local government. 

“We’re all competing for space,” Olson said. “It’s some degree of a Hunger Games situation to try and actually get field space.”

Sports fields, or any use for the potential park, is not set in stone though. Todd Edmonds, the board president of TCR, said that whatever plan ends up being designed and implemented will involve extensive community input.

In the press release announcing its petition,Concerned Ulysses Taxpayers and Voters stated that Trumansburg Community Recreation advocated for a $2.3 million public recreation space featuring sports fields, a skate park, and other amenities in a 2021 plan. 

Edmonds and Olson both said that this was a previous plan to develop a park that is unrelated to the effort to purchase the lot on Krums Corners Road. 

Cusumano said she and other members of Concerned Ulysses Taxpayers and Voters are “in conversation” with TCR to potentially arrange the purchase of other properties in town after the results of the referendum are finalized. 

However, Edumundson said “the reality of those possibilities is probably not high because of timing and budget.” He added that if the town’s COVID relief funds aren’t spent on purchasing the Krums Corners Road property for a park, “it’ll go to something probably much more mundane.”

That more mundane spending plan will likely be redoing the back parking lot of the Ulysses Town Hall, Olson said. “Realistically, I think the parking lot is probably going to get at least a good chunk of that money if we don’t end up spending it on a public park.”

Corrections: A previous version of this article stated that Heather Washburn’s maiden name was Krafts. It is Shaff.

A previous version of this article used the wrong surname for the board president of Trumansburg Community Recreation. He is Todd Edmonds, not Edmundson.

Jimmy Jordan is Senior Reporter for The Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact him at jjordan@ithacavoice.org Connect with him on Twitter @jmmy_jrdn