October 24, 2007

Planning Board Sets Schedule to Continue Milstein Debate

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The City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board met last night at City Hall to discuss issues including Milstein Hall and the Cornell Power Plant.
No resolutions regarding Milstein Hall were passed at the meeting because a lead agency on the project has not yet been declared. Though the Planning Board wishes to declare itself the lead agency, it is still waiting for two state agencies to concede this position.
“We declared our intention to be lead agency last month,” said John Schroeder ’74, chair of the Planning Board, who also serves as the production manager at The Sun. “Because we are waiting to hear from other agencies, we cannot act on any resolutions on Milstein Hall tonight but are willing to plan a meeting to address any resolutions at a later date. We can still act expeditiously on this matter.”
A special meeting to declare lead agency and discuss environmental review and the scope of the project was set for Oct. 30.
The Planning Board meeting featured a presentation by Project Representative Kim Michaels that included several current images of the area where Milstein Hall is to be built, as well as visual simulations of what the completed project will look like.
The planned Central Avenue parking garage was also addressed. The garage will consist of three stories of parking, two of which are underground, and will result in a net-gain of 90 parking spaces in the area.
The presentation addressed the project’s potential impacts on different categories, including aesthetic resources, recreation, transportation and growth and character of the community. An environmental impact statement will investigate these issues.
“One of the most significant things to investigate is the impact of all of the excavation on surrounding areas,” said Michaels. “We have engaged a geotechnical team to evaluate impacts and effects of excavation on the slope, Fall Creek Gorge and surrounding buildings.”
Several board members addressed the potential impact and safety issues affecting the neighboring Fall Creek Gorge. Michaels pointed out that the gorge, at its closest, lies 130 feet from the building.
“If we were talking about 10 feet, I would be a bit more concerned,” said Board member Robert Boothroyd.
The condition of University Avenue was also addressed by board members.
“Is University Ave. still going to be redone, or is it still going to be the pothole-y mess that it is now?” asked Boothroyd.
Michaels responded that the street will be repaved as part of the project. This was a point of contention during the project’s earlier stages because the ownership of the street is a divisive issue between the City of Ithaca and the University.
The Ithaca City Attorney has stated his opinion that Cornell has demonstrated site control for the Milstein Hall project, such that the Planning Board review of the project may proceed.
The sketch plan of the Cornell Combined Heat and Power Plant, another item on the agenda, was discussed later in the meeting. The plant will be added to Cornell’s current central heating system and intends to accommodate Cornell’s increasing energy needs over the next 10 to 20 years.
The environmental review of this new facility is being conducted. The plant intends to reduce the overall energy emissions currently generated by Cornell by combining the University’s generation of steam with its generation of electricity.
Currently, Cornell buys approximately 85 percent of its energy from the New York State Electrical Grid.
This will be reduced to about 15 percent with the new plant.
This reduction is possible given the building’s improved technology that will enable it to be more efficient than the average energy-producing plant in the state.
The site of the plant will be off Route 366 where much of Cornell’s utility production currently occurs.