February 16, 2001

Southwest Development Will Need Reapproval

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New Target and Pier 1 imports retail stores may not be moving in for a while longer, as plans for the development of Ithaca’s Southwest area have stalled.

Ithaca Mayor Alan Cohen ’81 announced yesterday that the City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board has rescinded its approval of the site plan review for large-scale development in Southwest Ithaca, acting on a claim that plans had not been submitted early enough.

The site plan review had approved a project for the undeveloped land where the Widewaters Development Group wants to build a 197,000-square-foot shopping center including a Target and Pier 1 Imports.

On Dec. 26, a group of Ithaca residents filed a lawsuit claiming, among three other points, that the City’s Planning and Development Board did not give the Tompkins County Planning Department enough time to comment on this project.

Cohen announced yesterday that, “when the City did research on these claims we realized that one was correct. We’ve done our homework and [we want to] remedy the situation.”

Appellants in the case note, however, that the City has yet to address other concerns, such as the demand for a full environmental impact statement.

Cohen conceded that the County planning department was sent the site plan review only six days before the public hearing, instead of the necessary ten stipulated by New York State General City Law section 27a.

“We, the City, didn’t know about this law,” Cohen said. “This nullifies the vote on the site plan review. The board has to start over from the point of the mistake.”

The City did follow the New York State General Municipal Law that requires the site plan review to be submitted to the County planning department 30 days before voting.

The City is scheduled to deliver information concerning the project to the County today and a public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 27. A second vote for approval will be conducted on March 27.

“My personal outlook is more for the whole project; the process is very flawed,” said David Gallahan, one of the appellants in the citizen’s lawsuit. “It’s certainly good news [but] who knows what plan [the mayor] has up his sleeve.”

He noted that the mayor acted before the court had actually heard the case, currently set to be reviewed on March 2.

“The reason we’re doing this now is [that] it will allow us to move sooner rather than waiting for the court,” Cohen said. “There will be less delay in the re-approval of the project.”

Joe Wetmore, a spokesperson for the appellants, emphasized that the City has still not agreed to a full environmental impact statement of the plan, another point in the lawsuit.

“To go back and give everyone proper notice is only half of what the citizens asked for. If the City goes back and does a full environmental review, then people will have an impact,” Wetmore said. “The law requires it; it has certain thresholds of what has to happen.”

Two other lawsuits are still pending against the City in addition to the other points still being brought up from this suit. Another suit is being brought by the Widewater developers against the City. It asks the courts to throw out a planning board requirement that Widewater pay $1.1 million to compensate the City for infrastructure and environmental review costs associated with the project.

“I think there’s a lot of different things that impact what the City decides, for instance, the Widewater suit,” Gallahan said.

If the City loses that suit, residents will make up the cost in taxes, he said. The plan is “so questionable how it was, it seems impossible to convince people [that they should be taxed for it],” Gallahan said.

Despite the setback, Cohen noted that the City will move forward with plans to develop the Southwest. “We feel comfortable with the rest of the lawsuits,” he said.

Archived article by Beth Herskovits