Plan Would Develop Land in Inlet Valley Gateway

Phil Maguire on the site of proposed car dealership.

Maguire Family of Dealerships, with car dealerships in the city of Ithaca, the village of Lansing, Watkins Glen, and outside Trumansburg, is hoping to expand its business in the town of Ithaca. Maguire President Phil Maguire recently pitched “a loose sketch plan” to the town board, and then continued talks with the town planning committee on Thursday, Oct. 30. 

The admittedly rough concept proposal would move sales of automobile brands—Subaru-Hyundai, Fiat-Alfa Romeo, and Nissan—now in the city down Elmira Road out to the town. It would also relocate its Chevrolet Cadillac dealership from Lansing to Ithaca, and renovate its Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram dealership, which is in front of Wegmans.

“We are trying to do a couple things,” Maguire said. “First and foremost, we would like to upgrade our current facilities that we have, both in Ithaca, and also expand with a couple of new franchises. In doing that, we would need to add real estate to basically put up three new dealerships, because we’re pretty congested in our existing sites. So, we’re trying to move the Chevrolet Cadillac dealership up in Triphammer [Lansing]. We’d like to move that to downtown Ithaca, and build a new dealership.”

Maguire said the site his company is looking to purchase Roadway Inn & Suites [654 Elmira Rd], as the owner would like to take its business to California before it loses any more business to ongoing hotel boom in the city of Ithaca, where more than 300 rooms are expected to be up and running by 2017. Maguire’s proposal, however, would be more complicated than simply knocking down a motel and building a car dealership. 

It would also relocate the proposed Sapony Park, which was intended to be next to the 654 Elmira Road property, but was never built, Maguire said, because of a bad location and poor planning. Maguire has proposed relocating the park on Seven Mile Drive, and more than doubling its acreage from 8 to 17 acres. The park would then act as a buffer between the new car dealerships and the residential area. 

“What we’d like to do,” Maguire said, “which, right now is more just of a [discussion] starter—we would donate another nine or 10 acres to Sapony Park, and move it up to buffer the existing neighborhood. That’d be an ideal placement for the park, and making it bigger is obviously better. By doing this, it adds more open acreage on Route 13, which is kind of the commercial district.”

“Our hope,” he continued, “would be that we could invest in this area and do a ‘naturesque’ design that has a lot of trees, trails and looks nice. At the same time, it would increase property values and help anchor the area for more development, such as shops and restaurants. Other benefits to the town would be higher property taxes, and it would help the economy. It’s a $15 to 20 million project, and we generally use local workers and contractors for construction.”

The town is intrigued by Maguire’s proposal, but has said that moving forward with the discussion could be complicated, as the recently adopted 2014 comprehensive plan outlines a conflicting vision for the land. According to the plan, the Inlet Valley Gateway calls for “small-scale retail.” Director of Planning Sue Ritter said it was too early to speculate as to the exact wording changes in the plan that would be necessary, but that if the town were to move forward with the Maguire proposal, it would need to amend its comprehensive plan.

Committee Chair Rich Depaolo said he had some reservations about putting another car dealership along Route 13. 

“My initial reaction,” he said, “is that car dealerships … I think of the presence you have [in front of Wegmans], is high-impact, visually. Car dealerships require high visibility, typically require a lot of lighting, and there’s a lot of impervious surface involved.”

Maguire said that this car dealership would not be traditional, but would be “for lack of a better term, an artisanal car dealership.”

DePaolo said he could not put the words “artisanal” and “car dealership” together in his head.

“Really,” Maguire continued, “what our design concept comes down to is to try to produce a combination of modern architecture and a naturesque, university-style campus. Imagine your typical car dealership spread over a large area with a lot of green space. Our intent is to try to accomplish that to have a car dealership that blends into the landscape and serves as an entry way into Ithaca that is park-like, but also has fresh, beautiful buildings.”

“Modern architecture might actually scare me,” said DePaolo.

Though Maguire’s proposal seems far away from getting put on the fast track, the town was clear that it was not ready to shut down such an idea.

“The door is still open,” Ritter said. “[Planning] committee members asked for additional information from the Maguires. The Maguires have some timing issues, and the committee explained that their consideration of the project [and subsequent consideration by the entire board] will take some time. If the Maguires are willing to continue pursuing the project in the town, given the timing issues, and provide additional information [economic related and graphics/photo examples of other dealerships with sensitive designs], the planning committee will consider scheduling a meeting in November to further discuss the project.” •

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