SCRIBA, N.Y. – Vandals spray painted vulgar and anti-Semitic imagery on an affordable housing development under construction in the town of Scriba earlier this week, and state police are seeking more information. 

Champlain Commons is a 56-unit, $13.5 million development off City Line Road in Scriba that officials expect to open later this summer. State police said Friday thousands of dollars of damage occurred at the site as a result of spray painting vulgar images, including a swastika, on doors, siding, concrete and excavator equipment at the construction site.

Troopers responded to a criminal mischief complaint at the complex July 8, according to a state police spokesperson. Police estimate the cost to repair the damage is about $3,000.

Oswego County Opportunities (OCO) owns the affordable housing complex, which will be managed by Rochester-based Cornerstone Property Management, and 17 of the units are earmarked for “housing vulnerable” residents. During the planning stages, a vocal group of local residents opposed the project, citing neighborhood safety and declining property values.

OCO Executive Director Diane Cooper-Currier called the vandalism “really unfortunate,” but said it didn’t necessarily feel like the complex was targeted due to previous opposition to the development.

“I don’t believe it was a specific target, because it happens at construction sites,” Cooper-Currier said of the vandalism. “I would like to believe it was somebody just having too much time on their hands and wanted to start some mischief. I hope that it wasn’t anything other than that.”

Cooper-Currier said the construction company has put security measures in place to ensure no more disruptions occur.

Kevin Hill, president of the Safe Haven Holocaust Refugee Shelter Museum board of directors, called the anti-Semitic vandalism “deplorable,” and said any such act of hatred and intolerance is unacceptable and must be condemned at every level. 

The Safe Haven Museum tells the local story of nearly 1,000 European refugees of the Holocaust who made the journey to America and called Fort Ontario home for a short time. Hill said there are “countless stories” of kindness and friendships between refugees and residents, which came at a time in which there was significant anti-Semitism in the county. 

“I am proud of that history and it is absolutely disheartening to see any act of this nature,” Hill said of the Nazi symbolism.

Hill said people often like to think society has come a long way in combating hatred and intolerance, and though in some ways it has, acts like the Champlain Commons vandalism are a reminder more work must be done.

Late last year, a number of Scriba residents voiced concern about safety, diminished property values and claims the facility would house sex offenders and drug addicts.

Local officials and New York State Homes and Community Renewal (HCR), which helped fund the project, said in November 2018 there was no plan to house sex offenders in the development.

“It will provide affordable housing for 56 low-income New York households, including 17 apartments for vulnerable populations who will have support services that help them live full and independent lives,” an HCR spokesperson said at the time.

Officials said the 17 units receiving supportive services are reserved for formerly homeless families and individuals, including survivors of domestic violence and individuals who have mental illness or are recovering from substance use.

More recently, there were unfounded reports that the housing complex would be home to a refugee population. In response to those rumors, Cooper-Currier said she did not know where that information came from, adding “anybody can apply to live there” and be chosen if they meet income eligibility guidelines.

Cooper-Currier was careful to say that doesn’t mean refugees couldn’t end up living at the facility, but there were no units specifically set aside for refugees.

“From a fair housing perspective, we cannot discriminate against anyone in terms of ethnicity, race, religion or gender,” she said, adding the only set aside unites are the 17 for “housing vulnerable people.”

Due to the vandalism, contractors would have to install new siding in the areas that were spray painted, as attempts to clean the paint were futile, Cooper-Currier said, noting the incident, though costly and unfortunate, was not likely to alter the construction timeline.

“We just hope that it doesn’t happen again and we trust that we will move on and continue our construction and it will be a good addition to the community,” Cooper-Currier said. “We’re looking forward to opening up the doors and having people move in. I think the future tenants are really excited about being able to move in there.”

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