Pin It
Ithaca Mall

Representatives of the owners of the Shops At Ithaca Mall were back before the Village of Lansing Planning Board Monday to attempt to move their plan to subdivide the mall forward.  In a nutshell, the owners propose to sell anchor stores to the current tenants (or interested parties) to provide stability to the mall that can then be used to attract smaller tenants who don't want to locate in a mall where the anchor stores have less incentive to stay (and lose resulting foot traffic for all stores). But the discussion continued in a loop, largely revolving around stormwater management, that has not yielded any resolution since the project was proposed three years ago.

Target already owns its store and some of the surrounding parking lot and ring road.  Namdar Realty Group and Mason Asset Management, the two companies that and own and manage the mall, wants to create more subdivisions, keeping the central core to rent to smaller tenants as they do now. remains of the mall once the large stores are sold.  Only one of the parcels is outside the existing mall building,  a parcel behind the Clarion Inn that Namdar wants to sell to a hotel chain for a new extended-stay hotel.

Village Engineer Brent Cross and planning board members spent a good portion of Monday's meeting expressing concern about a stormwater pipe that is laid beneath the mall building that Cross said was inadequate to handle large rainstorms like the one in July, 2017 during which the parking lot and several stores were flooded.  Cross argued that the pipe's capacity may have diminished over the years, and Village officials wanted an analysis of the pipe in particular and stormwater measures generally.  Mall attorney Michael J. Gavin argued that water from that storm ran downhill from overwhelmed stormwater drains owned by the Village, but Cross noted that water always runs downhill and said it is the responsibility of each landowner along the route to mitigate the flow so it does not damage neighbors further downhill.  He also said parts of the Village system were built by previous mall owners and then dedicated to the Village.

Gavin argued that the subdivision requires zero physical changes to the already existing mall building, and that it would be up to the hotel owners to present their own stormwater mitigation plan when they approach the Village with their building project.  Gavin said that he can't request a budget for an expensive new study of mall infrastructure without also being able to tell the owners that once the study has been submitted the subdivision will be granted.

The discussion grew quite heated at one point, because Gavin charged that planning board members continue to bring up new requirements with no resolution in sight.  Cross replied that is true, noting that this is the first 'backward subdivision' the Village has been presented with -- a subdivision in which the building already exists before the property is divided.  Planning Board Chair Lisa Schleelein added that because it is so unusual the Board cannot use the normal checklist it typically applies to subdivisions.

In an attempt to cool down the discussion and to move the project forward Cross offered to create a comprehensive list of issues the Village wants addressed.  He said he hopes to produce the list in a week's time, and Village and mall officials agreed to meet 'off line' about ten days after Monday's meeting, giving mall representatives a chance to digest the list..

Planning Board member Carolyn Greenwald said that after thinking about the plan to use anchor store ownership to encourage new rentals, she thinks it is a good plan.  But she said she has concerns about how neighbors will handle issues like floodwater coming from the mall when there are so many owners and no clear idea of who is at fault. 

Gavin and mall representative Ken Farrall said that the Easement Covenance Cross-access Restrictions (ECCR) agreement, a sort of 'homeowner's association' document that all tenants and owners must abide by, would mean there is only one entity to deal with in the event of flooding or other such issues.  According to the ECCR owners and tenants pay a fee for maintenance of the common areas such as parking lots, and in the case of renters, common mall areas.  Gavin said he is providing Village Attorney William Troy a copy of the document and working with him to explain how the ECCR work.  He said that Planning Board members should trust their own attorney if he is convinced the ECCR would protect neighbors in cases where there is a dispute.

Left unsaid is the fact that no other plan to revitalize the mall has been put forward by anybody.  Farrall and Gavin say this plan has worked at other malls across the country.  Owners Namdar Realty Group and Mason Asset Management own about 100 malls.  But planning board members are not yet convinced that the idea is the best solution for a mall that is hemorrhaging tenants.

Planning Board member Jim McCauley noted that board member Monica Moll had questioned whether the plan is good for the Village, and said he is also not convinced. Scheelein said that both mall representatives and the Village want the same thing -- a thriving mall at the center of the Village.  but she added that its the Board's responsibility to protect the Village.

Gavin asked for some assurance that the Board either thinks the plan is a good idea that it may agree to, or something the Village just doesn't want at all.  he said that if the latter is true the money it would take for a stormwater infrastructure study would be better spent on tenant incentives or similar initiatives.  Schleelein said she needs more information before making that determination.

Cross, Village Code Enforcement Officer Mike Scott, and Troy set a date for an 'offline' meeting a few days after Cross's comprehensive list is sent to Gavin and Farrall, to get a clear idea of exactly what the Village needs in order to move the project forward.  The next planning board meeting is scheduled for August 25th.

Pin It