September 6, 2007

Milstein Plans Plagued by Further Delays

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With plans for the $40 million Milstein Hall, designed by Rem Koolhaas, finally completed, the start of construction has become a matter of the City’s approval. While some may tout town-gown relations, the University clashed with the City of Ithaca yesterday evening in a Board of Public Works meeting over the modifications to University Avenue that could further delay Milstein’s construction.In a debate that has been going on for over 20 years, Cornell officials argued in favor of their proposal to take ownership of the road.
[img_assist|nid=24148|title=Expecting the works|desc=City Superintendent of Public Works William Gray, seated with two members of the Board of Public Works, discusses ownership of University Avenue.|link=node|align=right|width=224|height=160]Cornell owns the property on which University Avenue is placed, but the City owns the actual right of way for transportation, thus creating disputes over who cares for and maintains the road, according to City Attorney Dan Hoffman. In previous years, Cornell argued that the City should pay for maintenance, while the City in turn assigned Cornell the responsibility of upkeep. Because neither party has recently put money into the road, it is currently in a state of disrepair.
With Milstein Hall ready for construction, Cornell has put in a proposal to make alterations to the road, thus once again bringing forth the question of ownership. The Board of Public Works is considering giving ownership of the road to Cornell, allowing for the necessary repairs. Further complicating the decision is the plan for Milstein Hall to be built over University Avenue.
“I think a global solution is necessary,” Ray Schlather, a member of the Board of Public Works, said to his colleagues at the meeting. “We are moving in the right direction, but I will not be satisfied until we have a right of way that will satisfy the residents who live there. … I’m not sure abandoning the road is the right way to go.”
Schlather also proposed a licensing agreement as a means of compromising. Instead of ownership, Cornell would take responsibility for the upkeep of the road.
The current proposal, which was submitted in April, would allow Cornell to push University Avenue two to three feet north of its current position, according to David Cutter, landscape architect at Cornell’s Campus Planning Office. The creation of a five foot wide bike lane and widened plaza-like sidewalks were in the plans as well. Minor modifications would be put into place to accommodate Milstein Hall.
“The city’s motivation [for giving up ownership] is to get out of the business of having to maintain the road,” said Wade Wykstra, a member of the Board of Public Works.
The question of money came into play as well.
“Who pays for what is certainly an unresolved issue,” said Hoffman. “The University was talking about a 50-50 split, but the mayor was talking about [Cornell paying] 100 percent.”
“I would like to see major positions on who owns the street, and I would like to see Cornell pay for what they want very much,” added Jill Tripp, one of the Board members.
Shirley Egan, associate University counsel, indicated that Cornell would be willing to pay for the repairs that it makes to the road, but said that time was the issue at hand.
“We’ve had two applications with the Planning Board since April,” said Egan at the meeting. “These projects don’t get any cheaper with time. Cornell has made a goodwill effort to make the road much better than the way it is now. I would be disappointed if we said we had to wait until next January [to make a decision about the road].”
While previous plans were to vote on the University Avenue issue at the next meeting, it is unclear when the Board of Public Work’s vote will take place.