The Chapter House’s architects presented a preliminary design plan to rebuild the iconic pub to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission at their Sept. 22 meeting, taking the first step towards redevelopment of the fire-damaged property.
The plans include a complete replacement of the 400-404 Stewart Ave. building that once housed the Chapter House on its first floor and apartments on its second and third floors.
Bryan McCracken, historic preservation planner for the City of Ithaca, explained that initial plans to preserve parts of the original building were deemed unfeasible after a second inspection of the property.
“The building was exposed to the elements for three or four months,” he said. “The engineer who evaluated the building determined that significant additional damage had happened after the fire due to its exposure to the elements. A lot of the walls were saturated with water, floors were buckling and there were a lot of structural issues.”
The design was presented to gauge the commission’s initial, informal opinions on the proposed redevelopment. McCracken stressed the preliminary nature of the designs, noting that the architects, Jason K. Demarest of Ithaca and Andy Sprague of Studio Mosaic Architecture in Corning, are still making changes to the plans in preparation for formal applications to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commision.
“Usually a project for new construction will go through several iterations before the whole Commission is comfortable with [the project].” McCracken said. “At this point it’s hard to tell [Commission members’] reactions because it was a preliminary discussion about the direction that the architect would take with the redesign.”
Because the property lies within the city’s East Hill Historic District, development plans must receive a Certificate of Appropriateness from the commission before the developers can make modifications to the site, according to McCracken.
“Any new construction in a historic district requires an early design review, which is an opportunity for the design consultant or the property owner to go before the commission and describe what the potential outcome could be,” McCracken said.
The developers’ plan to officially start the application process when they present a more final version of their design for the commission’s review at the November ILPC meeting, which means that the earliest that they could apply for a Certificate of Appropriateness would be December, according to McCracken.
The design plans also encompasses two other apartment buildings at 406 Stewart Ave. and 408 Stewart Ave. The 406 property was completely destroyed by the April 14 fire and the 408 property was damaged, but has since been repaired, according to filings made to the Landmarks Commission.
The early designs presented to the Commission show a rebuilt 406 Stewart Ave. They also propose a completely new structure 408 Stewart Ave., even though the original structure survived the fire. 408’s owners argue that the building should not be protected by East Hill’s preservation ordinances because it is not historically significant due to alterations made before they purchased the property, according to documents filed with the Commission.
CSP Property Management, the company that manages the Chapter House property, has stated that they are hoping to reopen the pub by August 2016, and plan to preserve the building’s historic aesthetic while adding modern improvements.