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NYCLU opposes any plan to turn over surplus I-81 land to city

An elevated highway with  roads on each side and underneath.
I-81looking north at the I-690 interchange.

The New York Civil Liberties Union is expressing strong opposition to placing any surplus land from the I-81 replacement project in the hands of the city of Syracuse. Common councilors yesterday called on the state to give the city control of an estimated 15 to 20 acres of property for future development. But Lanessa Owens Chaplin says the city’s zoning overhaul calls for commercial and mixed use development, and not enough affordable housing. She’s director of the Racial Justice Center for the NYCLU.

“We want mixed-use, we welcome mixed-use," Owens-Chaplin said. "However, there has to be parameters and it cannot be untethered development. And that's what we're seeing here. The current rezone plan literally has no requirements for affordable housing by the new developers, and that is extremely problematic.”

She says this could lead to higher rents and taxes for vulnerable homeowners.

“Without any built-in protections to make sure that this community will not be displaced when the available land comes up," Owens-Chaplin said. "Residents are at risk of being priced out of their own neighborhood once this neighborhood becomes this vibrant community adjacent to the community grid.”

Owens-Chaplin says she’d feel more comfortable with a plan in writing, not promises.

“I don't think it would be enough for a private developer to come in and say, hey, give us 25 acres. We promise we'll do the right thing," Owens Chaplin said. "So, for the city to take that position and say give us these acres, we promise we'll do the right thing to me is absurd. We need to have a plan. We need to have something in writing. We need to have contingencies in place because we don't know where we're going to be in five years. We don't know who's going to be in charge. We don't know what the direction that the city is going to take.”

For now, Owens Chaplin says the state should retain control of any surplus property. She says the NYCLU has repeatedly met with local, state, and federal officials to express their concerns.

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