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La Bourgade owner Bruno Schickel, left, makes a point to Congressman Tom Reed with Seneca Lake in the distance.
Mr. Reed goes to Bourgade
Congressman tours the "hillside village" overlooking Seneca
Bourgade: A village of scattered dwellings; an unfortified town. (Merriam-Webster)
By Charlie Haeffner
BURDETT, June 19, 2018 -- The media alert made it to my computer just hours before the event. It read like this:
WHO: Congressman Tom Reed; Bruno Schickel, Owner of La Bourgade Homes; builders; members of the tiny homes community.
WHAT: Congressman Reed will be discussing how tax reform has impacted economic development, tourism, and small businesses in the Finger Lakes Region.
DATE: Monday, June 18, 2018
LOCATION: 3690 La Bourgade Lane, Burdett, NY 14818
RSVP: Please RSVP to Molly Safreed at Molly.Safreed@mail.house.gov
Well, that was a media release with an apparent touch of misdirection.
Oh, the Congressman was planning to visit La Bourgade on Seneca, a developing "hillside village" of modestly sized rental units down a slope from Route 414 in the stretch between Burdett and Hector.
But the Congressman wasn't going there to discuss tax reform; he made no mention of it. He said he was there for a tour of the place. He was there because he was in the area and hadn't seen La Bourgade yet. He'd visited a similar "village" created by La Bourgade owner Bruno Schickel in the Tompkins County Town of Caroline, and wanted to see this one, too.
And he wasn't there at the scheduled 3:15 either. I have yet to see a national politician show up in Schuyler County on time. But he was reasonably close.
When he did arrive, he was greeted by Schickel, Atwater Estates owner Ted Marks (who had heard of the visit and dropped by from his nearby vineyard), and one reporter, which is to say me. Nobody else bit at the opportunity, which I attributed to the lateness of the notice. But it seemed like an opportunity to get the Congressman on the record on a key ongoing topic: the separation of children from their parents at the U.S.-Mexican border.
Reed has been a supporter of the policies of President Donald J. Trump. He was even on Trump's transition team back in late 2016 and early 2017. So I was curious. Would he, like some other Republicans in Congress, go against the President on this topic?
Whether I would get the opportunity to broach the subject, I didn't know.
The day was hot, and the slope of the "village" being created by Schickel was a challenge to walk. Reed had in tow two young associates, a young man and the young woman who had sent the press release. She works out of his Corning office, and has been doing the PR bit for about three months after serving in other roles. She called herself "a field rep."
The turnout was a disappointment for her, but she said dealing with Finger Lakes media is tricky. Outside of Ithaca, Elmira and Corning, there are no daily newspapers -- just weeklies or online entities.
I didn't ask about the details of her media alert; about the tax reform reference. I wrote it off as hype; as an attempt to attract flies (which is to say media) to honey (which is to say her boss). He clearly wasn't focused on that topic, if he had thought of it at all. He just wanted to see what Schickel has created so far, learn what his plans are (40 buildings, each a self-sustained unit, generally in the 900 to 1,000 square foot range) and to meet, while there, any workers who might be around. There were actually just two, both working on a half-finished structure.
They seemed pleased to meet their Congressman.
Reed was curious, asking question after question of Schickel and marveling at the entire village construct, which Schickel said was designed from the top down -- which is to say the first buildings erected were at the top of the slope, near Route 414. "I like to say we are tumbling down the hill," he noted.
When the current half-built structure is complete, there will be 15 units on hand, 12 of which have been filled. They are being rented -- normally a year at a time -- "by medical people, other professionals and retirees," Schickel said. There will be 21 buildings completed, he said, by the end of September, and the full 40 units by the end of next year.
These units are larger than the ones in the Town of Caroline "village," where 500 square feet is not an unusual size among the 100-plus units there.
The property at La Bourgade is 16 acres in a narrow configuration -- 330 feet wide "by a half mile long," said Schickel. Rentals run from $1,595 per month to $2,095 -- the latter for a structure with a commanding second-floor view of Seneca Lake.
"We're not halfway down our property yet," said Schickel of his construction schedule, noting that the western property line is about 200 feet short of the lake. When all of the units are built, he said, he expects there will be a few young adults mixed in with the older professionals. Whoever lives there can have their pets with them.
After the Congressman met the two workers at the village's soon-to-be-completed 15th unit, he broke away to speak with Schickel and Marks, leaning against the half-building, its main-level flooring open to the elements. Eventually, Marks edged away and I moved closer. Schickel was asking about President Trump's tariffs. They were having an effect on his business, he noted.
Reed said that yes, there would be short-term "impacts," but that people just need to "take a deep breath" -- that ultimately, long term, the result will be "equal and reciprocal" trade.
The disputes among the United States, Canada and Mexico, he said, will all be settled, with the result "a free market among the three nations. It ultimately is a chess game about how to align (those three countries) into the Chinese negotiations. Hopefully everyone will be aligned by then and united in our cause."
There was a pause, and I maneuvered through it.
"How disruptive is this immigration mess that’s going on?" I asked, less than artfully
There was discussion then between Reed and Schickel about some immigration proposals, including a pair approaching possible House action in the near future. It sounded, from what he had just told me and their talk, that Reed was supportive of the President's current actions.
Reed shook his head at my question.
"There’s a case out there that Obama ignored -- I think it was Flores, it was a legal case where they sued to separate the kids from the adults because the kids were being held in adult jail settings, as opposed to where they’re being held now, in juvenile detention facilities, which are much different than an adult jail.
"And so, Obama ignored the court; Trump essentially is following the court but it is the zero tolerance policy that’s forcing these two to be pulled apart." I wasn't sure which two he was referring to, although I thought it might be mother and child; he accented the words by motioning with his hands, pulling them apart, as if separating two halves.
"And that’s not good for anybody," he said.
He was done then; turned to look toward the lake. I thought his immigration answer had been a little vague; a little too pat, and I wanted to pursue it; but instinct born of long experience told me the opening had closed. Accordingly, I felt rebelliously puckish.
"When are we going to start building a wall between us and Canada?" I asked.
Reed laughed. I think the question surprised him.
A tour of another building followed, and ultimately a chat by Reed with one of the residents. Between the two events, I asked Reed for his judgment.
He hesitated, perhaps thinking I was asking for a judgment about Donald Trump. After a moment of hesitation, he sought clarity.
"You mean about this place?"
"Yeah," I answered.
"Oh," he said. "It's well done." And he added words like "creative" and "innovative," and said that Schickel is "filling a niche."
"Plus," he added. "It's capitalizing on one of our crown jewels: the lake."
And he swung his arm out, toward the water in the distance, a placid scene which, I couldn't help thinking, was worlds apart from the Mexican border and children there being pulled away from their mothers.
But I had to agree on one thing. The scene in front of us was really quite beautiful.
Not long after this article was posted, Congressman Reed's office released a statement "on children being separated from their parents at the border." It read:
"We care about these children being separated from their parents. These kids are unfortunate bystanders to a long-standing epidemic of weak border security and outdated laws. Congress must act in this week's immigration reform bill to change the law so that children are not ripped from their parents' arms, but provided a fair and compassionate solution to this heart-wrenching issue."
Addendum to the Addendum: A day later, the President, under intense pressure against the migrant family separation policy, reversed course and temporarily suspended it. Questions remained as to how long that might last, how it would fit into a continuing "zero tolerance" immigration policy, and how splintered families might be reunited.
Bruno Schickel makes a point to Congressman Tom Reed as they look out over the lake. This photo was snapped through a railing from a stairwell leading to the second floor of one of La Bourgade's rental units.
Photos in text:
Top: Congressman Tom Reed, left, with La Bourgade owner Bruno Schickel.
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