February 8, 2001

Council Reviews Southwest Natural Area Plan

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The Ithaca Common Council met yesterday for the first of two public hearings to consider the adoption of the Southwest Natural Area Master Plan. The plan, approved internally by the Common Council on Jan. 4, is now undergoing a secondary process of public review.

As part of the broader Southwest Area Land Use Plan, the Natural Areas plan prescribes appropriate uses for undeveloped land — or parkland — adjacent to the Widewaters site, recently approved for large-scale development.

Two city-appointed environmental committees — the Conservation Advisory Council (CAC) and the Natural Areas Commission (NAC) — presented criticism to the plan as well as recommendations for its improvement.

Betsy Darlington, speaking for the CAC, urged for the protection of wildlife habitats and visual treasures of the greenway corridor — a series of connected green spaces and water courses.

Darlington criticized the current Widewaters proposal for ignoring the impact that storm water runoff from the developed site would have on the Cayuga Inlet. During NAC recommendations, she proposed redirecting drainage to the “elbow” of the inlet to minimize possible erosion and contamination of the natural areas.

After calling the Common Council’s plan “simplistic, narrow, and self-defeating,” Daniel Hoffman, chair of the NAC and a CAC member, added that if Ithaca is to allow Widewaters to use surrounding land as a buffer zone for runoff, the City should seek compensation by requiring the developer to designate an equivalent area as additional parkland.

Ithaca resident Fay Gougakis, outraged that development was not being carried out “holistically,” directed several incriminations at the Common Council and told the City representatives that “a lot of you guys don’t know anything about planning.”

A fact not mentioned during the hearing was that Widewaters Group obtained its current site as part of land-swap arrangement with the City. In exchange for the Southwest area, the company gave Ithaca a parcel of decommissioned parkland considered more favorable for environmental preservation. In addition, state law requires the proceeds of the land-swap to be used for maintaining the greener parcel now controlled by the City.

“A significant number of people who oppose this plan do so because they don’t want any development,” said Alderperson Ed Hershey in a recent interview, suggesting that Widewaters’ efforts have been generous in respect to the City’s environmental concerns.

“They [local opponents to development] simply want their concept of Ithaca to exist and don’t want anybody else’s [vision for the City] to exist,” Hershey said.

Archived article by Sana Krasikov