September 11, 2002

Ithaca Planning Board Addresses Development

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In an effort to further examine the possibility of a new major development in downtown Ithaca, the city of Ithaca Planning and Development Board held a public discussion session last night, addressing questions and additions to be made to a draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) prepared for the project.

Additionally, the planning board voted to provisionally approve a final site plan for a development being built on Elmira Rd. The construction will involve adding approximately 430,000 new square feet to the development and two free-standing retail stores, including a Wal-Mart store and a Loews store. The plan also involves improving the existing flood relief channel and constructing new parking lots, walkways, lighting and landscaping in the shopping center.

The possible downtown development is a combined project that will include a 115-room hotel, a 250-seat conference center, 9,000 square feet of office space, 34,500 square feet of retail space, 200 units of housing, an inter-modal transportation center and three parking structures with a combined total of 1,780 parking spaces. All figures are currently approximations.

The combined office building, hotel, and conference center structure is proposed for the corner of E. Seneca and Tioga Sts. The parking facility will replace the current city-owned parking structure on East Green St.

Joseph Rominski, architectural designer at Highland Associates, a Pennsylvania architecture and engineering firm working on the project, said that both the larger conference structure and parking facility are scheduled to begin construction in early 2003 and be completed in 2004.

“The issues [garage and conference center] support each other in their timelines,” Rominski said.

There will be “1,100 [parking spots] above what you would have at surface parking and current Green St. parking,” Rominski said.

He also addressed environmental concerns brought by the board concerning the pollution caused by a large facility. “Currently the [Green St.] garage is in a place that is open air,” Rominski said.

The plans to correct pollution caused by such an open air facility include protecting the surrounding buildings with walls and establishing ventilation requirements for the transportation center.

Corey Stewart, representing Ciminelli Development Company, another firm involved in the project, said that the combined conference center will be roughly nine stories, but will not dramatically alter the skyline of downtown Ithaca.

“The building fits in well with downtown Ithaca,” he said.

Stewart also emphasized the importance of having a large number of people in downtown Ithaca to utilize The Commons and other areas of downtown. According to Stewart, the center will “keep the vitality of The Commons alive.”

The planning board also reviewed and decided to add to a scoping document for the DEIS. The scoping document reviews environmental issues that the planning must address in the DEIS, including impact on land, on water, on quality of life, on the of character of the community and on historic resources, among others.

Scott Whitham, chair of the planning and development board, expressed concern over the lack of information available at the present time. “These are large projects with little information … this is early on, but we thought it important to get the process rolling,” Whitham said.

Several planning board members expressed concerns over the project, which will be addressed in future meetings when the scope issues are revised.

Ellen McCollister, planning board member, said that she was looking forward to seeing more information on the possible developments. “I think it’s going to be very interesting and exciting to work on this,” she said.

The planning board will discuss revisions to the DEIS scope issues at its next meeting on Sept. 24th.

Archived article by Kate Cooper