Following six years of public debate, plans are finally underway for large-scale development along Ithaca’s Route 13.
On Jan. 4, the City’s Common Council approved the Southwest Area Land Use Plan, which makes available one million square-feet of new retail and office space in the City’s Southwest Area.
The 6-1 vote came after little debate.
“People felt there wasn’t a lot of new information,” said Alderperson Susan Blumenthal.
A parcel of 200,000 square feet has already been earmarked by Widewaters Group, across from Buttermilk State Park. The Syracuse-based developer’s commercial tenants include Pier One Imports and Target, which plans to open a store in the southwest land area next fall.
“I believe this has the potential to improve most existing business,” said Alderperson Ed Hershey. “Right now, people living in Ithaca drive to Elmira or Syracuse to buy what they consider necessities instead of spending locally.”
Hershey said that visitors coming to Ithaca to shop at large-scale developments — such as the stores proposed for southwest Ithaca — will be likely to frequent specialty stores on the Ithaca Commons.
Despite its prompt approval, the plan has long been subject to controversy, with a number of Ithaca residents opposing it on environmental and procedural grounds. However, the latest of the legal challenges comes from the developers themselves.
In a lawsuit filed Jan. 10, Widewaters contested a site plan review provision that requires it to pay over $1 million in infrastructure costs necessary for the development.
Although the payment requirement was approved by the Planning and Development Board last fall, it is not an official part of the city’s contract with Widewaters Group.
“You have to rely — in large part — on the goodwill of the developer for these things,” said Alderperson Josh Glasstetter ’01. “I’m concerned about the City backing down on this if Widewaters wins the case. If you aren’t getting money from developers, it becomes a form of corporate welfare,” he said.
Ithaca has long sought to attract new business to the area. Dan Cogan, spokesperson for the Citizens’ Planning Alliance (CPA), expressed uneasiness about the city’s uncertain footing in the deal.
“Ithaca’s loss in court would show that the City is in a one-down position, and will have a hard time getting [future developers in the area] to pay for anything,” Cogan said.
Speaking for the CPA — a county-wide group — Cogan added that the Widewaters project would not be “a healthy or innovative form of development.”
In the long run, a loss for Widewaters could make the southwest area less appealing to developers. However, both Hershey and Blumenthal were certain that the lawsuit would not affect Target’s building plan in Ithaca.
“This is more a question of money than construction,” Hershey said.
Archived article by Sana Krasikov