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Onondaga County bought Clay property at premium prices to expand White Pine, attract chip maker

A mail box overflows in front of a house with a grassy green front yard.
Scott Willis
A home purchased by the county at 8531 Burnet Road was one of many that went unattended until remaining residents complained. The county mowed the lawns the day after residents spoke to the media.

Onondaga County's economic development agency has spent more than $25 million over the past two years buying land from private owners to expand the footprint of White Pine Park in Clay. They aimed to acquire enough property to lure a chip maker like Micron.

The county now owns 1,500 acres and has secured a historic 20-year, $100 billion commitment from Micron. But the debate continues over whether the end justifies the means.

Most of the property sought by the county is on Burnet Road, which lies in the middle of what the county wants to claim for White Pine. Real estate transactions show the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency, or OCIDA, has paid several times more than the assessed value for most of the three dozen properties. Chairman Pat Hogan said he can't think of a better investment.

"Granted, some of the prices we paid for some of those homes are more than a little inflated," Hogan said. "But in the end, we're getting a $100 billion project because we acted in an aggressive manner in order to capture a prize that this community has been looking forward to for a long time."

OCIDA has paid the highest prices since Micron's announcement in early October, including a reported$1 million for a small home on less than an acre. Onondaga County legislature Majority Leader Brian May said it's a function of free enterprise.

“Those folks held out for prices that matched the value that home had for them in their hearts," May said. "They didn’t agree until that number was hit. Let’s face it, some of those numbers are very big, but who are we to say what the value of those homes should be in their hearts.”

OCIDA used some of its own money. But on August 3, 2021, lawmakers also granted the agency $20 million in federal pandemic relief funds. Here's what the resolution read, in part:

" is the desire of this Onondaga County Legislature to loan OCIDA sufficient funds, on an as-needed basis pursuant to a revolving loan program and in a total amount not to exceed $20,000,000.00, to expand and improve asset development in Onondaga County in order to enable OCIDA to market these properties to a larger more diverse mix of potential industrial and commercial developers by making various project sites more attractive to a broader scope of industries and bringing high tech and high paying jobs to Onondaga County."

Democrats like Mary Kuhn voted no for a couple of reasons.

“No one talked about a chip factory," Kuhn said. "They just talked in very general terms. The other part of it is…it’s a loan, it’s ARPA [American Rescue Plan Act] money. I don’t think it should have been used for that. That was not anything to do with recovering from a pandemic, nor was it to do with supporting citizens.”

Kuhn said she still hasn’t received answers from the county executive’s team about the terms of the loan or any specifics about how federal pandemic funds have been used.

A house is unoccupied and has a broken porch staircase and a overgrown grassy green lawn.
Scott Willis
A home purchased by the county at 8668 Burnet Road goes unattended earlier this summer.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at