July 19, 2009

Students, Ithacans Spar Over C-Town Planning

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The Ithaca Common Council, the city’s top legislative body, will likely hold an important vote in August on a contentious issue that has dominated town-gown relations in Ithaca for the past several years –– the future of development in Collegetown.
As various city bodies, hired consultants and neighborhood planning organizations have worked to formulate a comprehensive urban plan for Collegetown, the process has sparked an often heated yet complex debate among permanent Ithaca residents and students.
Earlier this year, consultants from Boston-based Goody, Clancy & Associates, Inc. firm, who were paid by both the City of Ithaca and the University, produced a series of recommendations that called for expanding density requirements in many areas of Collegetown to encourage development, among other suggestions about transportation and parking.
Several vocal student advocates, like Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward) and former Student Assembly President Ryan Lavin ’09, have advocated for such a need to increase the building density in Collegetown by raising the maximum height for buildings.
“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,” Myrick said.
This past semester, the S.A. passed a resolution endorsing the Goody Clancy Collegetown Urban Plan and formed an ad-hoc committee to advocate for student interests relating to Collegetown Develop­ment.
According to the resolution, the S.A. sought to enable students to “organize and advocate for student interests in the ongoing work of [local governing bodies concerning Collegetown]” since 97 percent of residents living in the Collegetown area are Cornell students.
While the Goody Clancy plan was met with the support of many Cornell student leaders, some permanent Ithaca residents objected to the broad expansion of building density in Collegetown.
The City of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board has since worked on attempting to find a compromise and has issued a recommended revised version of the Goody Clancy plan.
“The idea is to protect neighborhoods on the periphery of Collegetown by lowering potential density in those areas while targeting increased density on certain blocks in the central core of Collegetown which are most in need of redevelopment,” said John Schroeder ’74, chair of the Planning Board who is also The Sun’s production manager. “Those targeted blocks tend to have less attractive architecture and inconsistency in building height and urban quality.”
Still, the Planning Board’s proposal does not satisfy some residents and students who argue that the targeted density does not go far enough in encouraging development that would yield many financial benefits for the local economy.
“New development would also generate a large increase in tax revenue. … This money could be put to good use by the city and could help alleviate the tax burden for everyone,” said Ithaca resident Michael Fraker, owner of two properties on Dryden Road.
On the other side, some residents continue to voice opposition to expanding development in Collegetown.
“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 Collegetown.
The Common Council is set to vote on the Planning Board’s recommended revised version of the Goody Clancy plan at its August meeting, after originally postponing the vote in June because some Common Council members said they needed more time to examine the issues.