October 4, 2007

City Blocks New C-Town Construction Projects

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After heated debate last night at City Hall, the Ithaca Common Council passed a motion to impose a 12-month moratorium in Collegetown — putting a halt on development proposals and proceedings in the community.
By a vote of 7-3, the Council resolved to suspend approval of new development proposals in Collegetown. This suspension aims to provide urban planners ample time to create a coherent design plan for the community without disruption from new projects.
Proponents of the moratorium argued that such a move is imperative during the planning process to ensure that any new construction will be in line with the Collegetown Vision Statement endorsed by the Council in June.
John Schroeder ’74, chair of the Planning and Development Board, spoke to the Council in favor of the moratorium emphasizing that new development could impair the goals of the CVS.
“We could have development in the meantime that is out of character with what the city would like to see,” said Schroeder, who is also The Sun’s production manager.
Alderperson Mary Tomlan ’71 (D-3rd Ward) echoed this sentiment. “I think it’s of vital importance to facilitate the planning process to optimize our investment.”
Not everyone on the Council was as enthusiastic about the proposal. Hours of discussion, several proposed amendments and a motion to postpone the vote preceded the final decision to pass the controversial moratorium.
During the debate, many concerns were voiced within the Council regarding possible long-term stagnation of the Collegetown development market due to broad moratorium restrictions, ever-changing economic conditions and undesirable extensions of the measure.
“It’s a no brainer that we shouldn’t have a moratorium,” said Alderperson Joel Zumoff (D-3rd Ward).
Likewise, business interests voiced opposition to the proposal early on in the process, but fell off the radar when it came to the final vote — a move that may have lost them a critical opportunity to convince undecided Council members. In their absence, only pro-moratorium Ithacans showed up to speak before the Council.
Praising the Council’s commitment to the goals of the CVS and an urban design plan for Collegetown, supporters of the moratorium said that the proposed suspension on development is simply the next logical step in this planning process.
On the other side of the issue, Jean McPheeters, president of the Tompkins County Chamber of Commerce, expressed concerns similar to skeptical Council members. She said the real problems would not be seen in the 12-month period, but the two or three years after the moratorium due to the lag-time between project approval and breaking ground.
According to McPheeters, this issue is about a lack of trust between property owners and City officials — owners doubting the CVS urban plan will be done on time and City officials doubting owners will respect the goals of the CVS.
“I certainly think they should go ahead with the Collegetown Vision Statement, but they don’t need to stop development,” McPheeters said.
However, despite the polarizing debates over the issue, the decision has been made and upon public notification in the Ithaca Journal, the 12-month moratorium will begin, stalling any potential development projects in the works.
During this period, urban designers will create a master plan to guide the future development of Collegetown in accordance with the CVS.
The City intends for the plan to address concerns over poor conditions arising in the community as a result of sporadic building over the past 20 years. Addressing issues of parking demand, aesthetic makeovers, pedestrian needs and business interests, the CVS — a collaborative effort by Cornell, City, business, student and citizen representatives — hopes to improve the Collegetown community for future Cornellians and Ithacans alike.
Both Cornell and Ithaca have donated $75,000 for planning Collegetown.

For more background on the moratorium, click here.