ITHACA, NY – This article is intended to be an exploration of the project itself. A look into the controversy and contrasting views of the project will be including in a follow-up.

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Let’s start with a little backstory. Carpenter Business Park was formally established in 1991 during the Nichols administration, when the city was hoping to pull industrial and commercial business from the burgeoning suburbs back into the city. The city had purchased the vacant land from NYSEG in 1986, and earlier than that, the property was used as landfill for construction materials. The community gardens lease began when NYSEG still owned the land in 1982, and the gardens’ land is currently leased from the city. Ithaca has had plans to develop an industrial park on the site since the 1970s, but the problem is that the site is relatively small and isolated with one only access road (Carpenter Circle). The city explored development options with a couple private entities in the late 1990s, but no deals were finalized.

In the early 2000s, a company under the name Ithaca Templar LLC bought several of the parcels for $2.2 million, but the land remained vacant and the properties eventually went into foreclosure. The foreclosing lender put the land back on the market last spring. Enter Carpenter Business Park LLC, and the $2.7 million August and September land/building sales that my colleague Nick Bogel-Burroughs covered for the Voice. Nick provides a great background on the land sales and initial city reaction to the then-rumor that the Maguires had purchased the land.

Now a little background on the Maguires. The Maguire family of auto dealerships, started in Trumansburg in 1977, is the eleventh-largest employer in the county with over 420 staff. Phil Maguire and company previously approached the town of Ithaca with the idea of developing a headquarters and series of dealerships on Route 13 near Seven Mile Drive. However, the town board wanted to make the area a Planned Development Zone (PDZ, similar to the city’s PUD), while Maguire wanted an outright rezoning, which would have given the company more freedom with the way they used the property. The two parties couldn’t come to terms, and the proposal was tabled. Had it been a few years earlier, the plan probably would have been more acceptable, but as proposed it was counter to the small business and low-density residential the town was envisioning for the Inlet Corridor in its newly-passed Comprehensive Plan.

Meanwhile, in the past few years, the city’s been trying to figure out how to redevelop the Waterfront, and Carpenter by extension. Currently, it’s industrial land. Commercial buildings need only be 2 floors to be legally permitted, but residential is not. Waterfront mixed-use zoning had been floated in late 2013 and early 2014, but several city officials and at least one common council member shot the idea down. Then came last June’s Form Ithaca charrettes of what could be done under the ideas of the new 2015 Comprehensive Plan, and the passage of the plan itself. The dense, mixed-use, walkable allure grew stronger and has become the city’s official stance, but the zoning has yet to be updated as the plan recommends (it’s a long process, and the work is ongoing).

The city does allow for Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) on industrial land that could allow residential use, but only at the Common Council’s discretion. A proposal is currently in work for what’s called a Temporary Mandatory PUD that would force all waterfront projects to be approved by the Common Council along with the Planning Board. The Voice has written about that here.

So in the current case with the waterfront, it’s a situation all too familiar to the Maguires – the core of the issue is that the proposal conflicts with a newly-passed Comprehensive Plan.

The Maguire proposal incorporates a number of energy saving features. Above is a copy of the site plan. The area to the upper right is the NYSDOT redevelopment with the preferred layout; essentially a placeholder, since development is years off, if it ever happens. The Maguires propose a $12 million, 50,000 SF LEED Gold building with rooftop gardens, solar panels, extensive landscaping, rainwater harvesting, and a solar-powered battery charging station for electric cars. This location would sell the Ford, Lincoln and Nissan brands. The site proposes employee, service and some car display parking where power line right-of-ways (ROWs) prevent construction of permanent structures.

The project, with a proposed launch later in 2016, is intended as a Phase I — Phase II would renovate the current Ford/Lincoln/Nissan dealership at 504 South Meadow Street into the new Hyundai/Subaru location (at a cost of $5 million), and then Phase III would expand the Fiat/Chrysler/Jeep/Ram location into the old Hyundai/Subaru space (cost of $1 million). The three-year set of plans would result in about $18 million of investment.

Community benefits would be complimentary parking for the community gardens and farmer’s market, and sales and tax revenues. A report from TCAD suggests an increase of $340,000 annually in property tax revenue, and $436,000 annually in sales taxes ($776,000 total, of which the city’s share is about $294,000). TCAD projects the direct creation of 57 jobs when all phases are completed, with an average annual wage of $44,300. TCAD also predicts 13 spinoff jobs.

Along with the Maguires, local firms TWMLA, T.G. Miller P.C., and Schickel Architecture are working together on the proposal.

Correction: The history of the Carpenter Business Park has been amended. The community gardens were established in 1982 when NYSEG owned the land, not “the late 1980s”. The Voice regrets the error.

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Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.