August 11, 2007

Ithaca May Start Temporary Building Moratorium in C-Town

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In the coming months, Cornell and the student-filled neighborhood adjacent to the campus, Collegetown, may undergo a number of changes ranging from the installation of a new traffic light at the corner of Dryden Road and College Avenue to the possible positioning of alarm sirens on the Cornell campus to the mounting of an electric sign board in a central location in Collegetown.
These changes, in addition to the possibility of implementing a moratorium on new construction in Collegetown, were discussed Thursday at a Collegetown Neighborhood Council meeting at St. Luke’s Church on Oak St.
The plans for fulfilling some of the recommendations of the Collegetown Vision Task Force, an 18-page document composed by Alderman David Gelinas ’07 (D-4th Ward), Leslie Chatterton, historic preservation and neighborhood planner, as well as the rest of the Collegetown Vision Task Force, prompted the discussion on the proposed 12-to-18 month moratorium on certain new construction and development in Collegetown.
The Collegetown Vision Statement and its recommendations will be voted on for approval by the City of Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Committee in September and by the Common Council in October.
“Some of the Vision Statement’s recommendations do not have a physical manifestation, such as the Collegetown merchants’ association, but others such as the suggestion for a wider variety of housing options and the improvement of pedestrian facilities, do require physical changes,” said Mary Tomlan ’71 (D-3rd Ward).
Tomlan expressed the concern that, without the enactment of the moratorium, the urban planner selected to work on the recommendations of the plan would “have to work with a moving target.”
Certain retail establishments could be granted exemptions from the moratorium, as “an exemption would help foster an improvement, not exacerbate retail conditions in Collegetown,” Tomlan said. Increased retail health is a recommendation of the Vision statement. Gary Stewart, vice president for government and community relations at Cornell, introduced discussion on the electronic information board.
This idea has been in the works since 2002/2003, according to Alderman Gayraud Townsend ’05 (D-4th Ward) said. Information listed on the board would include weather forecasts as well as police department and gorge safety alerts.
The board would most likely be maintained by the Information and Referral Desk in Day Hall, Joe Lalley, director of operations support for Cornell, said.
Stewart said that an electric board in Collegetown could distract drivers; the issue of who would maintain the information on the board also was raised.
Despite these potential problems, Stewart said, “There is the momentum there for to make the board happen — we’ve gotten positive feedback from the fire chief and Collegetown business folks.”
Lalley said that he sees the board as an important means of emergency mass communication, especially in light of the campus shooting at Virginia Tech.
The e-mail message President David Skorton sent out recently to the Cornell community asking for emergency contact information, also a response to the need for safety precautions after Virginia Tech, received only a 4,000 responses out of 20,000 e-mails, Lalley said.
However, Lalley said that 84 percent of the responses listed a text-enabled cell phone as an emergency contact. Lalley said that the University may plan to take advantage of this statistic and is considering using text messages as emergency alerts.
Lalley reinforced the fact that the phone numbers would be used in emergency only and that changes in University policy and procedure will reflect the privacy of these phone numbers.
Kent Johnson, a speaker at the meeting, described the plans for the new traffic light at the corner of Dryden Rd. and College Ave.
“The traffic signal may either be a mast-arm design or a pole mounted at each corner of the intersection,” Johnson said.
Johnson said that there are considerable benefits for the mast arm model as it costs less and, because it uses microwave vehicledetection, it prevents the destruction of the pavement surrounding the traffic light. The pole-mounted traffic light requires that the vehicle detectors be looped in the road.
The setting up of the traffic light is expected to be completed in the summer of 2008, but dates are still tentative.
Stewart asked how the City would plan to keep business owners and landlords abreast of the proposed changes to Collegetown. Leslie Chatterton, historic preservation and neighborhood planner, said that the urban planner hired to implement the recommendations would most likely solicit extensive public input in his work for the Vision Statement.