Following months of debate over the feasibility of opening a grocery store in Collegetown, GreenStar Cooperative Market’s Board of Directors has signed a 20-year lease to open a branch at 307 College Ave. The market will occupy the ground floor of developer Josh Lower’s ’05 proposed apartment complex at the site, pending the approval of the cooperative’s full membership in November.
In a statement to the City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board on Sept. 11, Brandon Kane, general manager of GreenStar Cooperative Market Inc., reaffirmed the company’s commitment to Lower’s “Collegetown Crossing” project and urged its timely approval.
“The purpose behind the statement is to reinforce our support so that the planning board could make a decision and move it forward to the board of zoning appeals,” Kane said. “We have a time limit to get this built and occupy it within a certain time range that makes it affordable and feasible for us.”
Lower has provided GreenStar with significant financial incentives that will support market’s success at 307 College Ave., according to Kane.
Due to the financial incentives Lower is offering GreenStar the “co-op will be saving approximately $1 [million] to 1.5 million in occupancy expenses over the 20-year term of the agreed-upon lease,” Kane said in his statement to the board.
Pending city approval, Lower plans to demolish the site’s current building and remake the area into a highly trafficked “pedestrian arcade,” filled with storefronts along a pedestrian passageway that would connect College and Linden Avenues. The upper floors would provide additional residential units to the Collegetown community, according to Lower.
Approval of the project has been delayed due to the developer’s request for variances on — or exemptions from — parking requirements under current zoning laws.
“In the current project there are roughly 113 beds and existing zoning law requires 57 parking spaces and four loading spaces. Currently, there is a deficiency of three loading spaces being offered and no parking,” said John Schroeder ’74, a member of the planning board and The Sun’s production manager.
Lower said he has been “trying to come up with a plan that makes as many people happy as possible,” but that a financially feasible building plan must be reached before the project can move forward.
“On a 60-foot wide property, it’s just not possible to provide the parking,” Lower said. “If we had a larger property we could fit it on, we’d already have the project approval.”
At a meeting in April 2012, the planning board requested a study be conducted to determine the percentage of Collegetown residents that have cars in Ithaca. According to Schroeder, the study found that Lower’s proposed appartments would only result in the need to accommodate approximately 19 additional cars — a number that could be reduced to 13 with the potential provision of free bus passes and Ithaca Carshare credits to residents, according to the study.
The city is considering these transportation options so that Lower can proceed with the project as planned, Schroeder said.
“My expectation is that the planning board will approve the full environmental assessment so long as it meets what we discussed at our last meeting,” Schroeder said. From there, he said, the project would go to the Board of Zoning Appeals, which would consider requested variances.
While some residents are attempting to push the project forward quickly, citing the need for a full-service grocer in Collegetown, Common Council member Graham Kerslick (D-4th Ward) said that, considering the weight of the board’s responsibility, there has been no undue delay.
“I do know the board is being pressured, but their job is to make sure they consider all the impacts. This is not an insignificant project,” Kerslick said.
He added that in light of the significant transportation concessions being requested by the developer, it is reasonable for the city to expect something in return.
“To begin with, the building should be very well built, high quality and have the appropriate mechanics,” Kerslick said. “The board raised some good questions about providing more space for pedestrians by proposing the building [be] set back a bit more … They’re looking for anything the developers can do to provide the necessary amenities for pedestrian traffic.”
Despite its complications, the potential benefits of this project for the community are not lost on the planning board, according to Schroeder. He said the addition of residential units and retail space would be a step in the right direction — and particularly, an upgrade from the two-story building that currently stands at 307 College Ave.
“Frankly, it’s just an ugly building, and a clear prime development site in Collegetown,” Schroeder said.
Lower said he hopes that Collegetown Crossing will not only be convenient for students living in Collegetown, but will also foster a sense of community in the area.
“We’re just trying to bring some excitement back to the 300 block of Collegetown,” Lower said.