ITHACA, NY – Despite indications that it will be an uphill battle, Maguire is pressing forward with their plan for a dealership on Ithaca’s waterfront.

In order to move forward, Maguire will need to convince Ithaca’s Common Council that it fits with the city’s comprehensive plan, which calls for dense, mixed-use, walkable development.

The city instituted a Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development or TM-PUD, which means that any development in the waterfront area is subject to approval from Common Council, in addition to the usual approval process through the city’s Planning and Development Board.

Last week, they unveiled a detailed 130-page application for the PUD outlining their vision for the prime waterfront site. Here’s a few key elements of their proposal:

1 – By the numbers

Here’s a few of the notable raw numbers:

  • Approximately 50,000 square foot building as the central structure on a 10.9 acre parcel (including the 2.1 acre Community Gardens)
  • $5.75 million increase to tax rolls
  • 18.5 full time equivalent jobs created (15 direct and 3.5 multiplier jobs)
  • $44,300 average wage for direct employees ($38,800 for multiplier wages)
  • Construction aimed to start in November and finish in November 2017
  • The site would feature three new showrooms along with an independent cafe/restaurant and insurance offices
  • Total estimated cost: $11,500,000

2 – Reworking the corridor

One of the selling points that the plan pushes is the way that it would alter the Route 13 corridor.

Pending approval from the New York State Department of Transportation, the project would make two major changes:

First, Fifth Street would be extended across Route 13, and a light would be added. According to the project documents, this would calm traffic in the area and provide another pedestrian crossing in the area.

Second, a sidewalk would be built along the west side of Route 13, stretching from Cascadilla Street to Third Street, around where the Community Gardens and Farmer’s Market are located. The sidewalk would be seperated from the road by a treeline and decorative fence intended to provide a pleasant view for both pedestrians and drivers.

Both of these changes work together toward the goal of making the area more walkable, which the city’s Comprehensive Plan is pushing for.

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3 – Sustainable construction

Some people have objected to a new Maguire dealership on environmental grounds, as it necessarily promotes a culture reliant on fuels that harm the environment.

Maguire, for their part, are taking steps to make the facility as environmentally friendly as possible. The building is planned to be LEED Gold certified and solar powered. There will also be a a solar charging station for electric cars.

The plan outlines a number of other environmentally friendly elements: a green roof garden and observation deck overlooking Cayuga Lake, rain water harvesting for washing cars, porous asphalt to naturally absorb stormwater. The landscaping also features significant planting of trees, grass, shrubs and perennials.

4 – Community Gardens support

Ithaca Community Gardens has occupied a 2.1 acre area on the north end of the development site for years. One of the major questions about this potential development — or any other development that might ultimately end up here — is what affect that will have on the gardens.

The Maguire plan would relocate some of the gardens, but keep the total acreage the same. Maguire has signed a Letter of Intent with Project Growing Hope (PGH), the non-profit that runs the gardens.

The Letter of Intent is not an official endorsement of the project, rather it represents a commitment from both parties to make a good forth effort in negotiating toward certain terms.

The proposed terms of the agreement, should Maguire secure approval for the project, include:

  • Relocation of approximately two­thirds of the ICG plots to adjacent areas owned by Maguire
  • Relocation of the road that now splits the Gardens to a route next to the railroad tracks
  • Opportunity for PGH to purchase all the land on which the Gardens would be located (post­move)
  • $200,000 donation to PGH by Maguire to pay for the relocation, for upgrades to Gardens infrastructure (new fence, new water lines, new tool sheds, real bathrooms, etc.) and to buy the site
  • Support by Maguire of future PGH fundraising

As previously reported, the Ithaca Community Gardens have had a sometimes fraught relationship with the city — currently the city reserves the right to terminate the gardens with one year’s notice. PGH members maintain that any attempts to relocate the gardens would likely be the end of them.

As such, the Maguire proposal opening up the opportunity for PGH to buy out the land and officially and permanently own it was a major factor in the group signing the Letter of Intent.

Overhead view showing the Community Gardens relocation. (Courtesy City of Ithaca Planning documents.)

5 – What’s missing?

While the dealership does fulfill several of the goals set out by the Comprehensive Plan and TM-PUD, it is missing some key elements. It’s not particularly mixed-use, and it’s not particularly dense.

The reasons for this have been discussed before — the site is just problematic to build on. The Maguire plan points out:

[su_note]The constraints on the site severely limit its potential for housing as the site is surrounded by railroad tracks, electrical poles and wires, the sewage treatment plan, DOT storage, gas station, petroleum storage, etc. To make housing feasible, even with State support, there needs to be a density, which is only profitable when buildings are tall, over 3 stories.

If the site has soils that are like so much of the flats and the valley (we are currently pursuing a geotechnical analysis) the project would require either piles or unusual foundation systems which makes conventional housing unaffordable to build without some subsidy.[/su_note]

Ithaca’s Common Council will ultimately decide whether or not that reasoning holds, or if they think that a different approach or proposal might hew closer the goals of the Comprehensive Plan.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at msmith@ithacavoice.com, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.