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Myrick vows to withhold tax abatement recommendation over library demolition plans


Travis-Hyde Properties presents its plan for demolishing the old Tompkins County Library on Thursday night at Ithaca City Hall.
(Photo: Thomas Giery Pudney / Staff Photo)

A frequently tense public meeting on plans to demolish the old Tompkins County Library stretched on for more than two hours Thursday evening, resulting in Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick committing to push the site’s developers to approach the demolition more safely.

The demolition of the old library appeared set to move forward last month despite activists' concerns. City officials said permits for the demolition were issued, and the only thing left was for sidewalk permits and air quality monitoring to be set up before demolition could get underway.

But pressure applied by residents and activists over the possibility of environmental hazards stemming from the plan caused the city to call a meeting with the building's owners and would-be developers, Travis Hyde Properties, and local residents to air concerns.

Demolition plans for the asbestos-contaminated building, in accordance with New York State Department of Labor practices, call for water to be sprayed on the site to control the spread of dust that could contain asbestos as an excavator dismantles the building.

The city’s authority to demand that the developers, Travis Hyde Properties, go beyond what is demanded by state law and city code appears to be limited. But Myrick did settle on one “point of leverage” the city could use to urge a more measured approach to the demolition.

Myrick's recommendation for or against a valuable tax abatement is the only real bargaining chip the city has. Travis Hyde Properties, the site's owner since its sale in late 2017, plans to apply for an abatement on the senior housing set to be built on the site.

“More expensive tax abatements can be used when we ask for things that are above and beyond; that’s kind of like a carrot,” Myrick said. “But there’s also a stick."

The stick — as Myrick described it — is his recommendation.

The Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency, upon the developer's application seeking an abatement, will seek the input of the city.

The abatement program allows property owners to reduce their property tax burden for up to seven years. The program was designed by the county to create incentive for community investment.

The planned progression on the library's demolition.
(Photo: Thomas Giery Pudney / Staff Photo)

Myrick admitted the agency could choose to grant the abatement without his blessing, but promised concerned residents that he would not write the letter recommending the abatement unless the city is given time to hire an outside engineer to inspect the building.

“If the engineer comes back with a second opinion and says it’s absolutely unsafe to send workers in there ... OK,” Myrick said. “But if the engineer's report says that you can send workers in there to sure up the building, I will insist he do that, or I won't recommend the abatement.

“The abatements represent a lot of money,” Myrick added. “No project downtown has happened without an abatement. Every time an abatement gets denied, that project doesn’t move forward.”