April 14, 2003

C.U. Sues Ithaca Over Planned Parking Lot on West Campus

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The struggle over the proposed University Ave. parking lot is not yet over. Cornell University has filed a lawsuit seeking a reversal of the City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board’s Feb. decision to reject the proposed parking lot below Stewart Ave.

The lot has been termed a “critical” part of the West Campus Residential Initiative (WCRI) by University officials. The lawsuit is just the latest step in a controversy that has lasted for most of the approval process. Both permanent residents and students living in the area have filled planning board meetings to protest the negative impact of the proposed parking lot on the neighborhood.

The board sided with the residents when making their decision in Feb., rejecting the lot while giving final approval for phase 1 of the WCRI and preliminary approval for the whole plan.

“We felt pretty happy when the board decided against the lot, since we worked with the neighborhood group to change their minds,” said Calvin Croll ’04, a resident of the co-op at 660 Stewart Ave. “It’s out of our hands now. They have more resources and lawyers though.”

Cornell contends that not only is the lot a reasonable use of the property, but that the University has already gone to great lengths to make the lot more acceptable to residents.

In response to the planning board’s decision to reject plans for the lot, Cornell has filed an Article 78 proceeding, which is used to challenge the actions of government officials. Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations, commented on the University’s chances of winning the lawsuit.

“We are optimistic. We believe that the University fully complied with all the relevant provisions of the zoning ordinance,” Dullea said. “The record will demonstrate that the University took major steps to mitigate any untoward impact from having a parking lot in that space.”

Despite the steps Cornell has taken, many neighborhood residents have resisted the proposed lot because of its impact on both property values and quality of life.

“For us [students at 660 Stewart], it’s just a big parking lot right in back of our house. For other neighbors it drops property values. They have to deal with increased light, traffic, and just having a large parking lot across the street,” Croll said.

Dullea said that University had made no further attempts to alter its plans since the board’s rejection. The University contends that the board ignored the many attempts made by Cornell to make the lot as inconspicuous as possible.

“The proposed lot is only 350 feet from the existing lot. The number of spaces is 25 spaces less than the existing lot,” Dullea said. “There is a substantial need for parking both during time of construction and also once construction is completed for student residents of west campus as well as faculty and staff members who will live and work on west.”

“We worked to mitigate the impact for over a year. We made a number of major steps to make the lot attractive. The record will show that members of planning board actually praised the University for the steps taken.”

While the University is confident in its chances of winning the lawsuit, the options if they do not win are very limited. Underground parking has already been ruled out due to extreme costs, and finding parking space on campus has been difficult.

“[If we don’t win] the parking situation will be very difficult, we will have to use other space on a temporary basis. Contractors are looking at all of the possible opportunities, including parking on city streets which will affect residents more than the lot would,” Dullea said.

Archived article by Gautham Nagesh