January 28, 2009

Ithaca Board Grants Final Approval For Milstein Plan

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The contentious debate over plans for Milstein Hall finally reached an end yesterday evening when the City of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board unanimously approved the final site plan resolution.
The Milstein Hall discussion at yesterday’s meeting was largely procedural. Kim Michaels, senior landscape architect for Trowbridge & Wolf, LLP, and Andrew Magre ’90 presented samples of the project’s building materials to the board. No members of the public addressed the board.
The resolution contains an outline of the plan for the 59,000 square-foot building, which will unite Sibley and Rand Halls in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning. The approved project also includes a parking garage that will provide 199 spaces, with two underground levels accessible from Central Avenue and one surface level accessible from University Avenue.
City review of the project began in October of 2007 and ended with today’s resolution. The project’s environmental issues were summarized in a Draft Statement submitted to the Planning and Development Board on July 25, 2008.
The statement, two binders thick, addressed issues including transportation, geology of the site and the nearby gorge, aesthetics, drainage, land, archeological and historic preservation concerns.
“There were very serious issues to be examined,” said John Schroeder ’74, chair of the Planning and Development board. “This was an unusually complex project in terms of potential impact.”
Schroeder also serves as The Sun’s production manager.
The board then held a public hearing in Oct. 2008, after which concerns were answered in a Final Environmental Impact Statement. The board adopted a findings statement and granted preliminary site plan approval with twelve conditions on Jan. 6. The project received the necessary Certificate of Appropriateness from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission on Jan. 15. Yesterday’s final site plan approval marked the end of the city’s review process.
On the University’s end, debate over the project dates back over a decade, from the initial master plans drafted in 1997 to Rem Koolhaas’s heavily revised and restructured design presented to the public on Sept. 19, 2006.
The initial Koolhaas design was revised to include a cantilever. An earlier version of the building had it supported by columns on both sides of University Avenue.
“To me, architecturally this is so much purer and more attractive,” Schroeder said. “It has much more architectural integrity than the previous design, which in my opinion was aesthetically compromised.”
After over 10 years of controversy, Milstein Hall is finally past the bulk of its hurdles. Delays in the project, initially projected to begin construction in 2004, were due in part to debate between the City of Ithaca and the University over the rights to University Avenue that was finally resolved on Sept. 12, 2007.
With yesterday’s final site plan approval, construction can finally begin. A finalized date has not yet been set for the groundbreaking.