Ithaca, N.Y. — A proposal to give developer Jason Fane a tax abatement for a development in downtown Ithaca was narrowly rejected by a government agency called the IDA Thursday night.
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Fane has said repeatedly that the development at 130 Clinton Street will not move forward without the abatement. Some city officials had supported the abatement as a way to help encourage development and growth in the city’s urban core.
However, after a series of speakers took turn opposing the project for environmental, neighborhood and economic reasons, the Tompkins County IDA voted down the abatement. The vote was two in favor and three opposed. Larry Baum and Tompkins County Legislator Jim Dennis voted in favor; Grace Chiang and Tompkins County Legislators Will Burbank and Nate Shinagawa voted no.
Two other IDA members — Mayor Svante Myrick and former Congressional candidate Martha Robertson — were absent. A few dozen members of the public, as well as Fane, packed the Tompkins County Legislature chambers for the meeting.
Thinking of the IDA members opposed
Shinagawa said his thinking changed when he learned that the IDA had greater latitude in judging the merits of the project than he had previously realized.
Shinagawa explained that he thought one deficiency in the project is that it’s not mixed use; without a commercial component, he said, its economic impact would not be as great as some of the other projects that have gotten abatements. (Shinagawa cited the Keynesian “multiplier” effect in making his argument.)
“So I don’t plan to support this project tonight,” he said.
Shinagawa also proposed revisiting the process for approving abatements. Whereas a previous abatement policy was too cumbersome and restrictive for developers, according to Shinagawa, perhaps the new policy is not restrictive enough.
“We need to find something in the middle,” Shinagawa said.
Will Burbank, who also voted against the project, said the project could have hidden costs such as more strain on city infrastructure.
“Different kinds of projects put different kinds of burdens on the city,” he said.
Thanking the crowds who had trudged through the snow to make their voices heard, Burbank added the IDA may want to hold out on granting abatements in case other developers come along that do more to promote environmental sustainability.
“If we build this now, we’re stuck with this,” Burbank said.
The thinking of the IDA members in favor
Dissenting was IDA member Larry Baum, who emphasized that he believed “this was a really good infill project that was just the kind of thing downtown Ithaca needed.”
Baum said that the city and county have a serious affordable housing problem that needs remedying.
“We’re doing a really, really poor job creating housing units, and rejecting projects like this doesn’t help the situation,” Baum said.
“I certainly believe Jason Fane is committed to this community; he lives here.”
Jim Dennis, also voting in opposition, said he worried about the message developers around the state would draw from the rejection of an abatement for a project like Fane’s.
“Tompkins County is pretty much viewed by a large part of the business community as being no growth — and that is a disaster,” Dennis said.
Dennis appeared to worry that Fane’s personal notoriety was having an outsize influence in the discussion.
“I don’t know if this is appropriate or not, but if there were a different developer downtown named ‘William Brian Associates’ I don’t think he’d have a problem getting through this board,” he said.
“(Fane) has a reputation, whether it’s deserved or not … that people latch on to. If I were him I would feel bad about that … I think it’s a real mistake to turn this down.”