August 31, 2000

C-Town Faces Development

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If you build it, they will come.

Cornell students can expect to see more changes in the skyline of Collegetown as a number of developers are attempting to obtain zoning variances and site plan approvals allowing them to construct more buildings.

They hope to replace older wood frame houses with higher occupancy and more modern-looking apartment buildings.

Last Tuesday, the Planning and Development Board of Ithaca gave preliminary site plan approval to William Avramis for developing two properties he owns, at 109 Dryden Ave. and 319 College Ave.

However, 319 College Ave. still needs a zoning variance, or an exemption, before construction can begin, since its plans do not include sufficient on-site parking, a part of collegetown zoning code, said city planning board member Jane Marcham.

Code normally calls for one parking space for every two beds, with each space located within 500 feet of the proposed building, said Josh Glasstetter ’01, Common Council member for the 4th Ward, which includes parts of Collegetown.

“We approved the site plan for the project [319 College Ave.] but we didn’t take a position on the zoning variance,” said Marcham. “This is an especially difficult issue.”

The zoning law, recently made more stringent and requiring one space for every two beds instead of one space for every three beds, now also stipulates that offsite parking has to be within 500 feet of the subject building, along a public street, according to H. Matthys Van Cort, director of planning and development.

“The project on College Ave. is not close enough to the 500 feet maximum,” he said. “Jaget Sharma [architect for both proposed Collegetown plans] is arguing for a variance,” he said.

Every property in Ithaca must meet two separate sets of requirements. Area requirements determine how big a building can be, what its minimum size can be and how many parking spots are needed. Use requirements deal with how land is utilized.

When a property does not fulfill these specifications, developers can go to a Board of Zoning Appeals which reviews the current situation and decides if the circumstances exist to override the existing law stipulations.

In order to win a zoning variance, developers must argue that their situation is unique, will have no negative impact on neighbors, and that it is impossible to do the right thing and make any money unless a variance is given, according to Van Cort.

Sharma discussed the positive aspects of construction. “Our goal is to concentrate college students in the heart of Collegetown and to provide them with modern, comfortable, fire-safe buildings as opposed to old, beat-up, wood frame buildings,” he said.

The 109 Dryden Ave. project will be a four-story building with 16 bedrooms, equipped with Ethernet connection and eight parking spots on the east side of the building, in conformance with the current zoning law, according to Sharma.

For that building, he will apply for a building permit in six weeks, and hopes to complete the entire building by June 2001, in time for the next academic year.

The situation is more complicated at the 319 College Ave. location, Sharma said. The parking garage for the projected building is located on Linden Ave., which is more than 880 feet from the site, violating city zoning laws.

“If you live in the building, you will walk through the back of your building onto Linden Ave. for a total distance of 480 ft. which complies with the city’s laws, but the city will not see it as that,” noted Sharma.

“The real question is whether or not 319 College Ave. will get approval,” said Scott Witham, chair of the Planning and Development Board for the City of Ithaca. The role of the committee is to look at site plan issues such as those of architecture and design.

The plans for 319 College Ave. will create a six-floor complex with 48 bedrooms and look comparable to 312 College Ave. “Whatever the latest luxuries are today will be there,” added Sharma.

Glassetter noted that new buildings will pressure landlords to improve their properties.

“The Council should make apartment building construction as easy as possible to increase the choices and supply of housing, since a greater supply will have the affect of ultimately decreasing prices,” he said.

Avramis will appeal to the Zoning Board on Sept. 12th for a variance for 319 College Ave.

Last fall, a 10-month moratorium on construction in central Collegetown was imposed in order to study the worsening parking problem. The moratorium ended on July 5th.

Archived article by Rachel Pessah