Oct 18, 2008 Dan Cailler Uncategorized
When Jim Spinella purchased Tino Marcoccia’s properties on Westcott Street last year, he became the new landlord to many of the business owners in the neighborhood.
“He owns 90 percent of what’s on this street,” said Lorraine Koury, whose clothing store, Boom Babies, is in one of his buildings.
Now, Spinella is hoping to make some changes to the area.
“I want to do things to generally spruce up the neighborhood,” Spinella said, referring to the newly restored parking lot on Harvard Place.
“It’s the first of many projects,” he said.
Previously, the lot was nothing but broken pavement and potholes, “a general waste of space,” he said.
Few cars actually parked there.
Spinella is a newer member of the Westcott community and has seen the need for improvements in the area. He is taking the first step towards revitalizing the neighborhood.
He estimates the lot will hold about 70 cars.
For business owners like Koury, that’s good news. Her clothing store, while popular with the local community, pulls in a lot of customers from all over the state, especially during the spring months when prom season is in full bloom. The only parking she has directly available is the few spaces along the curb outside her store.
“It’s great to finally have a spot like that. It’ll help our businesses,” Koury said.
The main strip of Westcott Street has more than 20 businesses tightly packed in. The number of legal parking spaces along that stretch of road is about 35. There are already a few parking lots, but they are small and private, reserved for patrons of their adjacent establishments. On most nights, especially the weekends, finding a parking spot can be a hassle.
“It’s terrible,” said Ron DeLuca, who owns a business and a home in the Westcott area. “The whole street gets jammed with cars.”
And when parking on Westcott is unavailable, people start parking along the residential roads, or sometimes in places they shouldn’t.
Franchesca Coons works at Dorian’s Gourmet Pizza & Deli. Though its lot is for customers only, the ease of accessibility seems irresistible to many people.
“It ticks off the owner,” Coon said. “People park here all the time. We tow at least a few cars a week, sometimes as many as one a day.”
The community needed a public lot long enough to have caught the attention of the Syracuse Neighborhood Initiative. The initiative is a collaborative effort between the city, local and national non-profit community development organizations. Its funding comes from money that U.S. Rep. James Walsh, R-Syracuse, secures from Washington for use locally.
The initiative offered Spinella the chance to fix up the lot.
“The condition for their giving the funding to Jim was if he’d agree to make it for the whole community,” said Barbara Humphrey, co-president of the Westcott East Neighborhood Association.
“If he builds it to the city’s plans and requirements, he stands to get a partial refund from them. But if he fails to meet those stipulations and receives no help financially, it’s no fault of the city,” Humphrey said.
The lot, while benefiting current businesses, is important for The Westcott, the reincarnation of the Westcott Cinema, which closed its doors on Oct. 18, 2007. It reopened during the Westcott Street Cultural Fair on Sept 21.
“The Westcott was granted a zoning variance based on the use of that lot,” said Jay Evangeliste who owns property next to the new parking lot. “The variance is based on X amount of available parking, so if plans for the lot fell through for some reason, there’d be big problems for them.”
But things have been unfolding smoothly. On July 28, the Syracuse Common Council voted unanimously for a special permit to allow the proposed use of The Westcott, and for the creation of the new lot across the street.
“It’s a classic example of community organizing neighbors working closely with federal and local government to make much needed changes,” Evangeliste said.
It might seem like a conflict of interests, though, to have both the new parking lot made fully public and also to have The Westcott’s approval based on its clients’ access to it.
Not necessarily, said Robin Paul Malloy, a law professor at SU who specializes in land use and development law.
“A public parking lot is one open to the public,” Malloy wrote in an e-mail. “It need not provide a space for every person seeking to find a place to park. Presumably a number of factors were addressed in this case and a balance was struck that seemed best for the circumstances of the community.”
Humphrey, who also volunteers as one of the executive committee members of the Westcott Street Cultural Fair, made use of it as extra parking for fair performers and for people with disabilities.
The idea for a public lot on Westcott had been tossed around for a long time with no success.
“What’s good for everybody is good for me, is a hard leap to make,” Humphrey said. “The uniqueness and importance of this lot is that it’s going to be a community lot for all the patrons of Westcott Street. We never had that before and we finally made it happen. It’s a real breakthrough.”
Dan Cailler is studying journalism at Syracuse University and has lived in the area for 10 years.