September 3, 2008

Collegetown Vision Committee Approves Master Plan

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The Collegetown Vision Implementation Committee, in its final meeting before an indefinite hiatus, has begun to conclude a master plan that has been a year in the making. Since the moratorium on Collegetown construction went into effect last year to enable consultants to formulate the Collegetown Master Plan, the CVIC — under the direction of Mary Tomlan ’71 (D-3rd Ward) and Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward) — has been hard at work guiding the planning process.
The result is a master plan that will likely steer the future development of Collegetown. Residents hope that it will improve issues of pedestrian transportation, add mixed-use developments, provide for student parking and open up public spaces.
Boston-based consultants Goody Clancy met with Collegetown residents, students, business owners, landlords and others with vested interests in the neighborhood multiple times during the spring. The consultants solicited input on what should be improved about the neighborhood, and how to begin the revitalization process. Then Goody Clancy created the plan, which the CVIC has been reviewing with the consultants.
Although the CVIC has approved the plan by an 11-2 vote, some members still have concerns regarding parking in the neighborhood. Currently, the master plan calls for a parking limitation in Collegetown, with the implication that students will park their cars in a garage downtown and take a bus up to campus. Some questioned students’ willingness to take the bus every time they want to drive their cars. However, Myrick, who also serves on The Sun’s editorial board, contended that the plan would not be an issue.
“Students are adaptable,” he said. “If we told students to park their cars downtown, they would get used to it.”[img_assist|nid=31389|title=Came to a halt|desc=Last year, the Common Council approved a moratorium on Collegetown construction in an effort to prepare for a new master plan.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
A student who was present at the meeting, however, brought up a similar situation contrary to Myrick’s point. Last year, he lived on West Campus, but parked his car on North Campus, resulting in an unwanted bus ride to his car.
Another, more contentious issue arose a few weeks ago when CVIC members questioned the plan’s allowance of buildings up to 90 ft. tall in the core area of the neighborhood. Much of the meeting was spent arguing over the specifics of height limitations. Some permanent Collegetown residents argued that building heights should remain as they currently are at 60 ft., or be switched to 75 ft.
“I still think 75 ft is too high, and there is plenty more room for 60-foot high developments than there are now,” said Jane Marcham, a member of the CVIC. “There’s an enormous amount of potential, even if 60 ft. is the top.”
Others, however, disagreed. Steven Golding, executive vice president for finance and administration and a member of the CVIC, said that building heights should remain at 90 ft. to prevent the mainly student-inhabited neighborhood from expanding outward towards permanent residents’ homes.
“We talked to Goody Clancy and they said we couldn’t do it with 60 ft.,” Golding said. “[Switching to 90 ft.] would accomplish several policy initiatives, one of which is to stop seepage [into other neighborhoods] by providing more housing within the core.
Dan Kathan, a CVIC member, added that a 60-ft. building limit would be a “deathblow” to Collegetown, in effect stopping all development in the neighborhood.
Two weeks ago, Tomlan created three sets of alternatives to the 90-ft. building height, including a 75-ft. height limit and a possible 90-ft. limit if the building meets green certifications. The solutions were discussed by the CVIC. The consultants also wrote a letter in response, saying that the best scenario would be to keep the 90-ft. limit, but that a 75-ft. limit would be the second best option.
Myrick, who led the meeting, halted the conversation by noting that there was no consensus among members of the team. Thus, the decision on building height will be passed to the Common Council along with the resolution from the CVIC approving the plan.
Looking toward the future, if the plan is ready to be presented, in the near future it will go on the agenda of a Common Council meeting and be discussed by the Planning Board,­ according to Tomlan. Afterwards, Lee Einsweiler, the zoning consultant on the team, will create a first draft of zoning guidelines, using the completed Master Plan. Tomlan speculates that the entire plan could be done in four months.
However, the 12-month moratorium on building in Collegetown will end in October, allowing developers to begin construction once again. In order to prevent development from taking place under the old guidelines, the CVIC hopes to extend the moratorium for another four months. This issue will also be discussed at the Sept. 17 Common Council and could be voted on in October.
Though the work towards a new Collegetown has just begun, members of the CVIC expressed their contentment that the neighborhood — once forgotten by the city — has received some much-needed attention.