Written by Maureen Harding, published with her permission:
There are several myths floating out there in Syracuse that somehow mistakenly are taken as “fact” concerning the Walkable Eastwood group of neighbors:
Myth: Redevelopment at the northeast corner of James and Midler (the former location of Steak & Sundae ) is being prevented by the Walkable Eastwood group.
Fact: The owner of the building at that location, Mike Muraco, has a vacant building because he had doubled the former restaurant’s rent. The restaurant owner decided to leave and build his own restaurant on Teall Ave. There were no other tenants even though there was vacant space. After that, Mr. Muraco submitted a request to the Planning Commission to have the building demolished (this falls under the City Zoning Code and NOT the James Street Overlay District). The Planning Commission denied the request because, under the City of Syracuse Zoning Code, you must have a site re-development plan in place before you can demolish. The owner did not have a plan. The owner retaliated against the Planning Commission with a law suit and he lost. The owner has yet to bring a site plan application under the James Street Overlay District standards to the Planning Commission. Therefore, the Walkable Eastwood group is absolutely not at fault since they had no control over what the owner does with his property, including failure to upkeep the property, failure to pay taxes on the property, or failure to lease the property (which would ONLY fall under the guidelines if there was any rehabilitation and new use in the old building).
Myth: The Walkable Eastwood group is responsible for the tattoo parlors, bars, salons, and pawn shops.
Fact: These land uses are permitted as-of-right under the City of Syracuse Zoning Code regardless of the Overlay District Design Standards. Therefore, the Walkable Eastwood group is absolutely powerless over what or who decides to open a business on James Street.
Myth: The Walkable Eastwood group is against development of any kind on James Street.
Fact: There has been one development application for site plan review on James Street that falls under the James Street Overlay District Design Standards (other than those by Mr. Pomphrey of Pomco) who generally complies with the spirit and the intent of the standards), and that is Walgreens (Five Points Development formerly HDL). The developer of Walgreens, Guy Hart, Jr., was on his own schedule and failed to submit a sign plan with his original site plan back in 2005 (the sign plan was NOT approved before). Therefore, the Walkable Eastwood group simply made sure that the design standards were complied with when he did submit his sign plan four years later. The hold-up was entirely self-created by the developer as he requested 11 waivers from the design standards. Had he complied (as Mr. Pomphrey does) he would have been through the process in a matter of weeks (as Mr. Pomphrey is).
Myth: The Walkable Eastwood group is responsible for that “hole in the ground that used to be the Bowling Alley” (the southwest corner of James and Midler).
Fact: The owner of that property, Tino Marcoccia, had worked with the original James Street Overlay District Review Board back in the early 2000 period (prior to the review board being dissolved by the City) on a site plan. The funding for Mr. Marcoccia’s project fell through and he did not return with a site plan. Therefore, he never went through the review process to have it denied or granted. The owner was approached with purchase offers, the owner refused to sell.
The Walkable Eastwood group is simply a grassroots volunteer organization of neighbors who value pedestrian-oriented development. This type of development is what is revitalizing Syracuse’s downtown as well as many other cities and towns in the country. It is 21st century-style development. Unfortunately for Mr. Hart, the Walgreens development was the antithesis of a mixed-use, pedestrian-oriented, traditional neighborhood Main Street design of which the Overlay District Standards require.
Some of the Eastwood residents are willing to settle for less…or are desperate (which is not a requirement under the Eastwood Overlay Design Standards). The Walkable Eastwood group is willing to hold out for something better because it knows that it’s possible to develop something uniquely Eastwood that looks and is cohesive, pleasing to explore, and diverse in its businesses. The group, comprised of people from a wide variety of backgrounds, includes professional urban planners, civil engineers, landscape architects, architects, and college professors who know by their training, education and expertise that the alternative, design centered on automobiles, is no longer acceptable. Auto-centric design is unhealthy, unsustainable and bad for property values. Thus they are protecting their own property values as well as those of their neighbors by using the tools and resources available to them. Nothing more, nothing less.