Tag Archives: real estate

Urban myths about Walkable Eastwood

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.

The city isn’t just a business

Sent to the Walkable Eastwood email group and reposted here with the permission of the author:

For the last few days I’ve been staring at this sign on the Steak and Sundae, trying to understand what’s really being said.  Mr. Kimatian is a Republican and a former broadcast executive at Chanel 3 TV.  At the primary mayoral debate, in part sponsored by Walkable Eastwood, Mr. Kimatian made it clear he would run the City as a business.  I think that is an important point and I definitively agree.  Over the 30 plus years I’ve called Syracuse my home the City of Syracuse has been operated as a disconnected series of fiefdoms with one part of the City not caring about the others.  The political system has always promoted one part of the City at the expense of the others. Continue reading

Other cities series: Buffalo’s Elmwood Village

Dave and I just got back from a visit to Buffalo, another much-maligned city in upstate New York that has, nevertheless, managed to move forward in its thinking about sustainable urban development. While the addition of one more national chain in Eastwood has caused much furor, Buffalo’s Elmwood Village is just a step or three ahead of us. They’ve lived through the installation of a Kentucky Fried Chicken and its demise. Now take a look at what’s replacing it – photo taken directly from this article in Buffalo Rising:

"Elmwood Village" project

Looks pretty much like the kind of buildings that used to be built in cities where people walked. There are many reasons for this design choice, and a quick search on “walkable” in your favorite search engine will provide them. But a quick review:

  • Density (numbers of people living in the buildings above shops) creates walkability – the people want to walk to businesses nearby so businesses get built for them.
  • Transparency from the street and sidewalk to the interior and also back out creates safety for the same reason the elevators are made of glass in malls: you can see what’s going on outside and people outside can see what’s happening inside.
  • Natural surveillance from the upper floors where people live 24/7 keeps eyes on the street at just about all hours.
  • Parking is located in such a way as to make quick getaways difficult, resulting in lower crime rates.

There’s a lot more to it than that, but let’s take a look at one more fascinating aspect of a densely populated urban community: real estate value. Buried in the comments of the above article is something we might want to pay attention to:

If you want to buy anything within .5 mile east or west of Elmwood you will pay through the nose.

Elmwood does not have a lot of the kind of gorgeous buildings we see in Skaneateles, Geneva or Canandaigua. It’s quite similar to Eastwood’s James Street business district, and I’d be willing to bet that it wasn’t all that long ago that it looked much the same, struggling to shift from the downward spiral to becoming the interesting and walkable destination district that makes it the most desirable neighborhood in Buffalo.

Now look at the home values. Two-family homes  near this project, similar to the many we have within blocks of James, are going for $160,000 to $206,000 (according to zillow.com). By national standards that’s still wildly inexpensive. But it’s about 25-50% greater than what we have in Eastwood.

How does this kind of good development happen?  In part, help from enlightened government. From yesterdays’ Buffalo Business First site (bolding mine):

Plans to demolish a vacant Kentucky Fried Chicken outlet along Elmwood Avenue and replace it with a mixed-use building have cleared another hurdle.

The Erie County Industrial Development Agency’s directors, Monday, unanimously approved an inducement package that will help the development trio of Orchard Park’s Krog Corp., Buffalo architect Karl Frizlen and lawyer Michael Ferdman construct a three story, nearly 20,000-square-foot building at 448 Elmwood Ave.

… The building will house a Coffee Culture outlet on its first floor and upscale apartments on the its second and third floors.

So how do we entice a developer like Krog Corp to build correctly on James and Midler?

All mayoral and Common Council candidates may now weigh in. :-)