September 10, 2008

Milstein Hall Garners City Approval Regarding Environmental Impact

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After nearly two months of review, the City of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board has declared Milstein Hall’s draft of the Environmental Impact Statement (dEIS) adequate for the purpose of commencing public review, signifying another step toward the building’s final construction. In a meeting last night at City Hall, the Board commented on the dEIS, citing a number of necessary clarifications to the document, but eventually voted in favor of opening the two-binder document for public comment.
The building, with nearly six years of history — and two redesigns — behind it, has run into numerous complications, in part because of a feud between Cornell and the City of Ithaca regarding the rights to University Avenue. The costly delays to the project have also left students in the College of Art, Architecture and Planning with a lack of space for their studies.
The approval of the plan’s adequacy — which opens the proposal to public comment — came with a stipulation that a number of clarifications would be made in the next few days. However, the determination of the dEIS’s adequacy was in keeping with the anticipated schedule for Milstein Hall, according to Kim Michaels, senior landscape architect for Trowbridge & Wolf, LLP, the firm that Cornell commissioned to draft the dEIS.
“I would like to walk out of here with adequacy,” Michaels said during the meeting last night. “I’ll write all of these things down and work on them, but the question is: does this address what you asked for, and I believe so.”
With the clarifications, the Planning Board agreed that it did.
Chris Round, director of planning at The Chazen Companies, who was hired to review the dEIS, addressed a number of concerns. One issue regarded the shadow that the building, with its cantilevered design, would cast over the Foundry next to the gorge.
While members of the Planning Board agreed that this is an issue, they elected to discuss it in a different forum later on.
Other issues discussed involved an unclear representation of the number of parking spots that would be affected during and after construction, the depth with which the plan explored similarly constructed buildings at other schools, and adding drawings showing how Milstein would intersect with Rand and Sibley Halls.
The Planning Board will hold a public hearing on Oct. 28 at 7:30 p.m. for all who wish to comment on the current dEIS. Members of the community can also send written comments to the Planning Board until Nov. 7, at which point the final Environment Impact Statement (fEIS) will be prepared. The Board will then move on to the Site Plan Review, and the Ithaca Landmarks­ Preservation Commission must sign off on the plan. Then finally, construction can begin.
John Gutenberger, director of the office of community relations and former mayor of Ithaca, said in August that he hopes construction will begin in the spring if everything goes according to plan. Michaels’ expressed a desire for the building be completed by 2012.