- By Dan Veaner
The Village of Lansing Board of trustees got a first look at the next phase of the Shops at Ithaca Mall Monday, when a representative of the new owner approached them about a new approach to making the mall successful. CMC Engineering Manager Kenneth Farrall said that by subdividing the property so that larger stores can own their own piece of the mall, it would provide more stability to the mall and attract more smaller businesses to locate there.
"The trend in the industry is that the shop owners want to own their own property," he said. "Once they own it, if they are going to close multiple stores they'll hold on to a store that they own. Rather than close it, they will close stores that they lease first. This is a situation where we're going to get a tenant who is going to buy the property and invest into it."
The mall changed hands earlier this year, and Farrell said that the new owner has used this business model successfully in other states including Iowa, Florida, and New Hampshire. He said that getting approvals quickly would be key to making the plan successful, and tried to get a sense from the Board of how long it would take to get a Planned Development Area (PDA) approved. He said a PDA would be the best approach, because it essentially sets forth specific zoning with special conditions. When subdividing property various rules apply, such as having a setback between buildings on the property and the street or adjoining properties. Obviously when subdividing a mall you can't have space between the stores and the main mall area.
But he stressed time is also a factor, and if the Village can't approve a PDA in a relatively short period of time his client would opt to pursue normal subdivision procedures that exist within established zoning law, then ask for variances to make it work in the context of a mall.
"A PDA might make more sense, because we could tie everything together as one, with different uses," he said. "Some of the uses we are talking about are maybe recreation use, or medical use or different things like that that may not be in there. Setbacks, parking, etc. - it would tie all that together. And you have sewer, water, taxes... a mall that's part empty doesn't do anybody any good."
He added that when anchor stores are leased rather than owned smaller stores are loath to locate in the same mall because there is less assurance the anchor stores will stay to attract the traffic that all stores benefit from.
We would like to proceed under a PDA, but obviously we would like to move this along as quickly as possible," he said. "Time is money. The sooner we get this wrapped up, the sooner we can get it moving.
Farrall showed the Board a groundplan of the mall showing from five to seven potential subdivisions. Part of the plan is to also subdivide a portion of the front parking lot behind the Ramada Inn for an extended stay hotel. Farrell said it wouldn't compete with the existing hotel because it would focus on long-term stays rather than nightly rooms.
Village Mayor Donald Hartill noted it would continue to be allowed to park at one store or at the movie theater and shop in the other stores without parking again. Farrell explained that stores that buy their properties would be required to sign an Easement Covenance Cross-access Restrictions (ECCR) agreement that governs cooperative needs of a mall -- a sort of mall version of neighborhood association functions.
"Although they would own it they would still pay for trash and snow removal, for the parking lot and maintenance and security," he said. "All that is covered under the ECCR and all the store owners sign it and pay it so they all have the same rights to access and utilities. You could still cross the land because they all signed that document. So you won't notice anything will change out there once the subdivision is done."
Dubow suggested passing a resolution of support that would trigger the procedural requirements that we have in our zoning law, which are specific to a PDA. Hartill agreed.
"From my own point of view we're very interested in proceeding with this," Hartill said. "But wee do have a procedure for doing that. First of all the Board of Trustees has to decide that its interesting. So my suggestion would be that you go the PDA route."
The board voted unanimously that the Board is interested in support of pursuing a PDA. Some discussion about procedure followed, but the Trustees were not specific about a time frame.