Katie Sims / Sun Staff Photographer

Maguire owner Phil Maguire filed a lawsuit on Friday against the City of Ithaca, claiming their temporary waterfront zoning is illegal.

February 26, 2017

Maguire Dealerships Owner Sues City of Ithaca, Mayor Over Zoning

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Maguire Family of Dealerships has turned to Tompkins County Supreme Court to aid its year-long quest to construct a dealership at Carpenter Business Park near the Cayuga Inlet.

The dealership’s owner, Phil Maguire, filed a lawsuit in court on Friday against the City of Ithaca, the city’s planning and development director and all 11 members of Common Council — including Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 — arguing that the city’s zoning of the waterfront area is illegal.

Maguire claims, in the lawsuit, that Common Council’s zoning of the waterfront area as a Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development district exceeds the council’s authority, violates New York State law, is an abuse of power, is inconsistent with the city’s comprehensive plan and is unconstitutionally vague.

In an interview on Sunday, Phil Maguire said the dealership and Ithaca are in early, productive talks to potentially build a dealership on a city-owned plot of land behind Walmart on Route 13. He brushed aside the lawsuit, which makes sharp claims about the legality of the city’s zoning, as “nothing more than a contingency plan.”

“If everything fell through and we chose to get a second opinion on the TMPUD, we’re forced to do this in order to keep that option open,” Maguire told The Sun, citing time requirements for legal challenges. “Believe me when I tell you that everything has been very positive — it’s not anything negative.”

Maguire purchased six parcels of land through an LLC in August and September 2015 for just over $2.7 million, deeds show. One month after Maguire applied for a building permit in February 2016, Common Council created the TMPUD, requiring developers to work closely with the council for any project in the waterfront area.

Maguire, who is represented by attorney Anthony N. Elia III of Miller Mayer LLP, makes many arguments that the TMPUD violates state law, including claims that the zoning treats buildings in the same zone differently, that New York does not give cities the right to make PUDs mandatory and that the TMPUD authorizes or encourages “arbitrary and discriminatory enforcement.”

“The TMPUD is so vague that any application may be rejected,” the lawsuit says, later adding: “It is not clear what end the TMPUD serves other than to stop development.”

The TMPUD expires on Sept. 2, 2017, by which time Common Council plans to adopt regulations for the waterfront area consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.

Mayor Myrick told The Sun that the city followed “a thorough and legal process” and that all decisions made by Ithaca’s committees and Common Council were sound.

“We will defend against this lawsuit vigorously, protect policy makers and protect the city’s right — the people of the City of Ithaca’s right — to decide what uses are appropriate,” he said.

Myrick also noted the opposition of many Ithacans to a car dealership at Carpenter Business Park. Ithaca residents sent more than 240 letters to City Hall arguing against the dealership when it was being considered by the Planning Committee, which ultimately recommended against Maguire’s proposal in October.

Common Council officially killed Maguire’s proposal in December by a vote of 8 to 2.

“It’s just pretty clear that a car dealership at that site is not what the people have in mind and the people of Ithaca are entitled to make land use decisions,” Myrick said.

Maguire emphasized that he only filed the lawsuit to preserve the dealership’s rights if plans for the Southwest Business Park behind Walmart do not work out.

“The actual story is we’ve been having great dialogue and it’s all been positive and in good faith,” he said of conversations with Ithaca. “We’re working very well with the city to relocate us to Southwest Business Park.”

Maguire acknowledged that a dealership at Carpenter Business Park appears to not be in Ithaca’s vision for that space.

“Carpenter Business Park is not the best place for our usage, so we’re working hard to come up with something closer down to Route 13,” he said, adding that if the Southwest development works out, he will try to sell off his Carpenter Business Park properties at 742 Cascadilla Street.

Second Ward Alderperson Seph Murtagh, who chairs the Planning Committee, said he was committed to finding a solution for Maguire so they can sell their Carpenter Business Park properties and move to the Southwest location.

“I think that [Maguire has] heard overwhelmingly from the Ithaca community — the downtown community — they’ve heard overwhelmingly from the constituency that I represent on the Common Council that that site is not a good site for a car dealership,” Murtagh said.

“There’s not a lot of space,” he added. “[Maguire is] trying to expand their business. They’re trying to grow and they’re just trying to find a way to do that which works within the city’s rules and regulations.”