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Syracuse Common Councilors want state to give back surplus land from I-81 project

"Return the land," Common Council President Hudson says after a press conference on the steps of Syracuse City Hall.
Ava Pukatch
"Return the land," Common Council President Hudson says after a press conference on the steps of Syracuse City Hall.

Following the groundbreaking of the Interstate 81 project a few weeks ago, the Syracuse Common Council is lobbying state leaders to give back surplus land to the city once the aging infrastructure is taken down.

Former Common Council President Van Robinson has spent years urging for the removal of the I-81 viaduct, saying he's extremely gratified the state Department of Transportation agrees that the infrastructure has reached the end of its lifespan.

"Now the concern is what comes next," Robinson said. "Will it be affordable housing? Retail shops? Walkable sidewalks? Bicycle paths? And restoring the city to some semblance of the gone but not forgotten 15th Ward."

I-81 City Project Director Joe Driscoll said the goal is getting the right balance.

"We want to see new investment, new retail, affordable housing," Driscoll said.

Driscoll said they're looking at about 15 to 20 acres of land when the interstate comes down. As for how the city would acquire the land from the state, he said there are a few options.

"Either gifting it to us or if they're not amendable to that selling it to us at a low price where it's kind of priced and assessed at what it's currently worth rather than what it could potentially be worth," Driscoll said. "I think either of those would be great outcomes for us."

The New York Civil Liberties Union is against the city's proposal. Lanessa Owens-Chaplin, the director of NYCLU’s Racial Justice Center, said while it's good that the current administration wants to make affordable housing a priority for the land, she would like to see an agreement in writing. as priorities could change for the future administration when the land is actually available.

She said the NYCLU wants to see the NYDOT retain ownership of the land and put out their own request for bids for developers with requirements for things like affordable housing and community engagement.

"We're not against the City of Syracuse having the land if they bid appropriately and meet the requirements of affordable housing and protecting the residents," Owens-Chaplin said. "But it shouldn't just be given to them on the promise that they will do so."

Driscoll invited the NYCLU to the table.

"Our doors are open and I think they should be a major stakeholder in the conversation," Driscoll said. "But I think, we've been elected as the city government to be the voice of the people. We think that we should be the ones who lead the development, though we think all the voices are needed in that decision making process."

Ava Pukatch joined the WRVO news team in September 2022. She previously reported for WCHL in Chapel Hill, NC and earned a degree in Journalism and Media from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. At UNC, Ava was a Stembler Scholar and a reporter and producer for the award-winning UNC Hussman broadcast Carolina Connection. In her free time, Ava enjoys theatre, coffee and cheering on Tar Heel sports. Find her on Twitter @apukatch.