Ithaca residents and Cornell students concerned about Cornell’s West Campus Residential Initiative (WCRI) spoke last night at a public hearing held by the Ithaca Department of Planning and Development during its regular meeting.
A variety of members of the community spoke about their concerns over the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) created for the project. The DEIS outlines the impact that the WCRI will have on the surrounding area and it reviews sites for the construction of a parking lot and possible city water tank.
The WCRI is a work in progress by the University to replace the Class Halls on West Campus with self-contained living units that house dining halls and libraries in addition to student rooms.
According to current plans, a parking lot will be constructed along the rear of several buildings on Stewart and University Aves. including the 660 Stewart and Von Cramm cooperatives. Additionally, a city water tank is being considered for placement near the parking lot. Surrounding the proposed construction site is a historically rich area including Llenroc, home to the Delta Phi fraternity and the former home of Ezra Cornell. The former homes of Elijah Cornell, Ezra Cornell’s brother and the Tremans, a family responsible for the development of area state parks, are also in the area.
Joanna Luks began the commentary from a number of residents in the area that would be affected by the WCRI. Luks and other citizens spoke from a document that will later be reworked and submitted to the planning board for consideration.
“We have concluded that [the DEIS] is not complete,” Luks said.
Area residents spoke about the problems with the DEIS and the additions that should be made in order for the board to correctly make a decision about the WCRI. Comments ranged from reading excerpts from the DEIS to reciting a limerick written by one resident. Many were concerned about environmental impact as well as the impact on the historical nature of the area.
Carolyn Peterson, member of the Ithaca City Council as a representative for the 4th ward, said that the WCRI is a plan lacking in its acknowledgment of members of the community who will be affected by it.
“Cornell has a responsibility to be a good neighbor,” she said, adding that the WCRI is simply a “project designed to suit the needs of the University” that ignores the needs of the University’s neighbors.
Lauren Comly, a resident of Dewitt Place, expressed concern over the lack of options to car travel provided by the University. Comly said that if there could be alternatives to bringing more cars onto Cornell’s campus, the parking lot plans could be reexamined.
“What would be the cost of running more frequent bus service?” she asked in her statement.
Additionally, Comly discussed the noise levels that would be created during the construction of the new West Campus and the lack of acknowledgment of the noise creation in the DEIS.
“There’s not any specific information,” she said.
Many residents did not fully oppose the WCRI, but instead stated that Cornell must consider the needs of the surrounding area if they are to proceed with construction. According to resident Todd Cowen, “both goals [of the University and the neighborhood] could be met.”
According to Kate Lunde, a resident of University Ave., the construction plans to place the parking lot together with the water tank creates “an unacceptable negative impact” on the neighborhood.
Lunde expressed concern over the lack of trees that would shield the neighborhood from the city water tanks once the parking lot is constructed.
“When you add a parking lot, much of the screening effect is lost,” she said.
Kathryn Wolf of Trowbridge and Wolf Architects, the firm working with Cornell on the WCRI, said that she and her colleagues would read all of the comments made by residents.
“We’ll try to take all the comments and come up with categories,” she said. Wolf said that once the concerns are categorized, they will be returned to the planning board. “What [members of the planning board will] do is decide which of those are substantive and need to be responded to.”
Residents will have until 4 p.m. on Oct. 4 to submit written comments to the board.
Scott Whitham, member of the planning board, said that the next meeting, tentatively scheduled for Oct. 8, will create an opportunity for the board to review the main issues of the project.
Archived article by Kate Cooper