April 8, 2009

City Officials Try to Move Past Conflicts Over C-Town

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In a joint meeting of the Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Committee and the Planning and Development Board that lasted well over three hours, Ithaca civil servants attempted to hash out the details of Part 1 of the 2009 Collegetown Urban Plan and Conceptual Design Guidelines, as it is now called. This plan will guide the development of Collegetown for the foreseeable future.
As the Planning and Development Board has to recommend a proposed plan to be considered for adoption by the Common Council, this meeting was an effort to further the process by bringing council members of the Planning and Economic Development Committee together to discuss the shortcomings and merits of the newest version of the Collegetown plan with the Planning and Development Board.
In response to the original 2008 Goody Clancy plan, which sought to expand the height throughout Collegetown, the more recent Part 1 of the Collegetown Plan — which would supersede the Goody Clancy plan — would prevent development in the 400 block. Additions to Part 1 that have not been voted on also would increase the maximum building height to 75 feet under incentive zoning program for the 300 block of College Ave.
While the Planning and Development Board planned to possibly recommend a plan to Common Council last night, board members decided that they needed further discussion with residents and among themselves. Thus, the decision to recommend was postponed to April 28.
While most board members see 400 block, which extends from Oak Avenue to Dryden Road, as a well-designed and nicely developed street — and thus not in need of major renovations — the 300 block of College Ave. “would benefit from redevelopment due to its current generally poor urban design,” according to John Schroeder ’74, Planning Board chair and production manager at the The Sun.
The points of discussion for the joint meeting included incentive zoning, building heights and a transportation plan. Under an incentive plan, a developer would be allowed to increase the height of the project if a specified public benefit, such as installing a TCAT transit hub, were provided by part of the project.
In their discussion of the transportation plan, many voiced concern over the fiscal feasibility to fund such an extensive plan. While policy and program measures such as the study and implementation of a parking in-lieu fee or improving transit stops may be beneficial, some board members questioned Ithaca’s ability to carry out such a plan during these hard economic times.
“We all need to know who will fund all of the items in your plan,” Maria Coles (D-Ward 1) said. “Where is the money and staff time going to come from? The City just ended its hiring freeze … I’m not sure how the work will get done.”
Svante Myrick ’09, (D-Ward 4), advocated for such an improvement plan, calling “the transportation and living situation in Collegetown the worst in all of Ithaca.”
Whether debating the zoning or transportation plan, Myrick saw density as the major recurring issue. Myrick argued that construction in the center of Collegetown would enable economic and cultural development.
“We have to place density where density is,” Myrick said. “If we don’t build up, then we have to build out, spreading students farther away from each other, increasing the need for cars and creating even more traffic problems. Also, students wanting to live in the center will continue to have to pay exorbitant rent as well as having to commit well in advance.”
The increase of density in the center of Collegetown is not only aimed at Cornell residents, but also attracting a “more diverse Collegetown.”
“Shops and businesses are finding it hard to get through months when most students are gone,” Schroeder explained. “Some of the development will hopefully become office space or other more diverse uses so that the Collegetown economy can thrive all-year round.”