ITHACA, NY – The “uphill battle” began in earnest Wednesday night, as the Maguire Family of Dealerships and the project team behind the proposed waterfront-area dealership made their first pitch to Ithaca’s Planning and Economic Development Committee.

The audience was fairly packed, but only four made public comments — and most of them were more focused on the diversity requirements of CIITAP plan. The only references to the Maguire plan simply urged the committe and the city to takes things very slowly in evaluating the project.

Much of the rest of the audience, which remained silent, were sporting Maguire t-shirts.

Phil Maguire, president of the company, started the presentation by focusing on the community-oriented nature of Maguire. He first acknowledged the many Maguire employees who had come to support the meeting in support, then spoke about how the Maguire business is made up of community members and seeks to serve and enhance the community.

“Although tonight is about bricks mortar and glass, our greatest asset is our people,” Maguire said.

Maguire also explained that this project was the first in a three-phase plan. If completed, the Ford Lincoln Nissan Dealership would move to the Carpenter Business Park location. The Hyundai-Subaru dealership would move into its old location, and the original Hyundai-Subaru dealership would be torn down to make room for expanded service operations.

Next, architect Tom Schickel presented the most recent version of the Maguire plan, which we covered two weeks ago.

Committee concerns

Following the presentation, 4th ward Alderperson Graham Kerslick was first to offer his feedback. Kerslick clarified the reasons why the city established a temporary mandatory planned unit development (TM-PUD) for the waterfront area.

“The goal of (PUDS) is to further the health and welfare of the community, to be in accord with the comp plan and also to create at least one long-term community benefit,” Kerslick said. “It was an opportunity for us to look at creative, innovative proposals that didn’t fit the existing zoning… as (the Maguire team) pointed out, this is not one of those proposals.”

Kerslick complimented the team on the clear plan and their efforts to work with the farmer’s market and Community Gardens. However, he felt that the project could have done more to create better use of space and push for net-zero energy usage. He added that he felt that dealerships should be consolidated in one area, rather than spread out.

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“It’s going to take some convincing on my part,” Kerslick said.  “We have a vision for Ithaca: ‘it’s a great place to live, create, dream, learn, work and play’. I’m not sure I wanna have ‘buy cars’ in there.”

2nd ward Alderperson Ducson Nguyen agreed with many of those points, saying a truly innovative approach would be an urban-style dealership with little on-site inventory.

1st ward Alderperson Cynthia Brock brought up a slew of issues of concern to her: would the Fifth Street extension built as part of the project become a city road or at least have a public right-of-way? Does Maguire have any plans for the two Cornell Press buildings on the adjacent property? How much of the area will be open and realistically beneficial to the public?

Brock also expressed concern about the overall growth of Maguire and the “monotony of car dealerships” along Route 13 and that car dealerships can drive out a more diverse economic environment.

“Above and beyond”

Maguire noted that the presentation was only a mockup and was intended to show that they were open to ideas for making a project that was more than just a “business as usual” car dealership. The answers to many questions brought up, he said, would depend on what the city wanted and expected, assuming it kept the project financially viable.

“I assure you we’re open to doing as you like to make this beneficial to everybody,” Maguire said. “We want to partner with the city to make this project great and as comprehensive plan-approved as possible.”

“We can’t change the fact that our livelihoods are based on the automobile business. That’s what we do. People need to drive cars, people need to trade cars in and people need to go on-site to get service, just like they need to go out to eat or purchase any other good,” he said. “It’s our intent to prove that not only are we going above and beyond to overcome a lot of the objections and adhere to the comprehensive plan, but also express that we have a right to be a part of the community and do what we do for our employees and our customers and all the lives we positively influence.”

The committee voted to circulate the plan, which means it will be sent to city staff for feedback.

There will be a public information session on the Maguire project on Aug. 31, and public comment session at next Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting on Sept. 14.

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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.