March 13, 2009

Council Argues Over C-Town Plans

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The Collegetown Neighborhood Council met in the basement of St. Luke’s Church yesterday to discuss future designs for Collegetown in light of the impending expiration of the moratorium on new Collegetown construction that lasted over a year. The moratorium is set to expire on April 12, and there is pressure on the Ithaca Common Council to adopt the urban plan before this date.
The meeting was led by Mary Tomlan ’71 (D-3rd ward), co-chair of the CNC, with major input from city planner Megan Gilbert ’07, Jennifer Dotson (G-1st ward) and Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th ward).
Gilbert began by outlining the latest changes to the Collegetown urban plan, the proposed amendment to the comprehensive plan for the city of Ithaca.
Major facets of the plan include setting the maximum limit for building heights (60 feet in central Collegetown, 35 feet in residential zones and 40 to 50 feet for the areas in between), widening sidewalks on both sides of the 400 block of College Ave., establishing pitched roofs, detailing porch requirements and enforcing the maintenance of building exteriors.
The plan is set to be reviewed by the Planning and Economic Development Committee before its ultimate review by the Ithaca Common Council on April 1. However, the required zoning measures that translate the plan into legislation cannot be passed by the time the moratorium expires. Thus, the current zoning will still apply as construction resumes after an 18-month hiatus.
Gilbert, a city planner on the CNC, said the committee hopes to have the new zoning measures passed within the next couple of months.
Objections to the plan were made by both permanent residents as well as elected student representatives.
Betsy Darlington, a 46-year resident of Collegetown, argued that the plan is rushing forward without taking into account the objections of long-term residents.
“I have yet to meet a single permanent resident of our neighborhood who’s in favor of this plan,” Darlington said.
Myrick, the only student on the Ithaca Common Council, argued that the new plans are not going to have any major impact on the structure of Collegetown. He said that after two years and $200,000, the new plan will largely keep Collegetown the same.
“This is overall a more restrictive zoning than we’ve had,” Myrick said. “We’re going to codify the status quo. Why would we want Collegetown to stay exactly the same?
What I’m seeing at the end of this legislative process is not what I envisioned [from the outset].”
In response, Tessa Rudan ’89, a member of both the Planning and Development Board and the subcommittee on Collegetown transportation, stated that the latest version of the urban plan has, in fact, incorporated a wide range of residential concerns and input.
“I am fiercely protective of the residential neighborhood. … We are really going over this with a fine-toothed comb,” Rudan said. “The focus is on the restoration, the beautification of Collegetown.”
Next on the agenda, Dotson, a member of the Ithaca Common Council, outlined the transportation aspects of the urban plan, which she claimed have undergone intense revision in the past weeks, owing largely to public input. The most recent draft states its major goals as improving pedestrian facilities, increasing support for car-free living, managing existing parking facilities and facilitating the flow of traffic into and out of Collegetown.
There are plans to improve bus stops, overall streetscapes and bicycle facilities; replace the traffic signal at College and Dryden; to provide remote parking for long term vehicle storage; install more meters; provide universal transit passes and to increase the impact of car sharing in Collegetown.
Tom Parsons ’82, deputy fire chief and fire marshal for the city of Ithaca, argued that none of these plans for improving the layout of Collegetown will succeed unless the issue of parking is properly addressed first.
“The linchpin in the whole thing is the parking. … Nobody’s going to be able to do anything until [that’s fixed],” Parsons said.
Josh Lower ’05 expressed frustration at the slow pace of the entire process.
“I almost feel like I’ve wasted a lot of time and energy. … I mean, where are we going? What’s the timeframe here?”
The meeting ended on an unresolved note, with lots of objections raised and not many answers provided. Tomlin proposed adding another Neighborhood Council meeting in the coming weeks to address some of the concerns raised at the current meeting.
“We’ve used this as a way of presenting material. … There needs to be another time for discussion.”
Both the plan and the zoning measures are available on the city of Ithaca’s website.