April 29, 2009

Debate Continues Over Collegetown Urban Plan

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The City of Ithaca Planning and Development Board held a public hearing yesterday at City Hall to hear concerns over the proposed plan for Collegetown. The plan, known as Part One of the 2009 Collegetown Urban Plan and Conceptual Design Guidelines, proposes a number of revisions to the current zoning of Collegetown, including raising height limits in central districts, improving access and the price of parking and increasing mixed-use development. In addition, there are a number of proposed changes to the maximum heights in some of Collegetown’s residential districts. These plans have been met with criticism from a number of members of the Ithaca community.
“We’re moving from 25 to 35 percent to 75 to 85 percent lot coverage while still maintaining the same kind of form for the houses with pitched roofs and front porches in a number of these areas,” Anne Clavel, J.D. ’77, said in response to the proposed revisions. “We are planning on tripling the density [to] the area of Bryant and Elmwood, which would drastically impact life for its residents.”
Some are concerned there will be an increase in the amount of building permitted on lots, thereby increasing the maximum occupancy for homes. This is seen by many residents as favoring development trends toward students who tend to occupy less space than family residents.
“To understand what it is like to have students living on a
]road versus single families, just look at the unshoveled and unwalkable sidewalks during the winter. There are broken bottles and plastic cups in the yards from the parties and it is difficult to park because there are so many cars,” said Betsy Darlington, a resident of a neighborhood adjacent to areas where density is being increased. “If the increase in allowable density happens, the few single [family] homes left will become student housing, and with so many more students the place will be destroyed.”
In addition to the impact on the quality of life in the affected neighborhoods, many critics fear the aesthetic impact of the proposed increases in building heights while others are hopeful for the visual impact.
“The new maximum height limits for Linden and higher up on Dryden cannot be supported by the current width of the street,” said Susan
Blumenthal MRP ’78, former member of the Planning Board and the
Common Council. “The proposed heights would allow the canyon seen in the 100 block on Dryden to be replicated elsewhere.”
At the same time, however, many, citing the potential financial benefits of high-density development, saw the plan as not going far enough to increase the density of Collegetown.
“The development of higher density apartments and townhouse units is, in many ways, more cost effective for single families than the large homes which are often difficult for families to move into and typically fall into disarray with student tenants,” Michael Fraker said. “New development would also generate a large increase in tax revenue with a four-unit townhouse on a lot currently occupied by a single house generating an additional $27,000 per year. This money could be put to good use by the city and could help alleviate the tax burden for everyone.”
Others spoke of the environmental benefit of the higher density housing, proposing increases to the current plan’s limitations.
“Cities like Portland, Oregon and Madison, Wisconsin are implementing plans where development around transit lines is subsidized and encouraged by the government in an effort to reduce the use of cars and limit greenhouse gas emissions,” said Josh Lower ’05, a Collegetown landowner. “I am proposing a transit overlay zone for higher density in the 1000 feet surrounding the hub of College and Dryden, a corner where both the TCAT buses and the various other busses that come to Cornell stop, rather than the current provisions which advocate a decrease in density in this area.”
Another key issue highlighted was the benefit to students who could take advantage of the increased availability of housing.
“Graduate students are, in many ways, near-permanent residents of the area, staying here year round for as long as five or six years. Currently, many of us are living outside of the city despite having the desire to live in the Collegetown area,” said Ed Strong grad, a representative for graduate students in the University Assembly.
No final decision has been reached concerning the new plan for
Collegetown with further discussion scheduled for the coming weeks.