The 2009 Collegetown Urban Plan and Conceptual Design Guidelines, a document containing specific master planning recommendations for the neighborhood bearing its name, has, after a years-long process, earned the endorsement of the Common Council. The plan, originally created by Goody Clancy Consultants, has undergone changes and revisions as residents and student constituencies have butted heads over the future development of Collegetown.
The lingering issues came to a head on August 5 when Common Council members battled it out over the specifics of the plan in a three hour discussion. During the session two council members voted seemingly contrary to their initial opinions, and the plan, which was originally up for “adoption,” ended up being “endorsed” by the Common Council instead.
This spring, students and residents went back and forth on the Goody Clancy recommendations presented earlier in the year, debating an increase in the height of buildings in the Collegetown core. Students advocated the need to increase maximum building heights in order to encourage development in Collegetown as the neighborhood continues to grow. Many neighborhood residents, on the other hand, wary of the traffic and congestion created by increasing amounts of students, opposed a height increase. A compromise was reached by the Ithaca Planning and Development Board whereby density would be decreased on the periphery of Collegetown, while targeted increases in some parts of the Collegetown core would be encouraged.
The compromise plan was scheduled for a vote at the Common Council in July, but was postponed to give council members more time to review the plan.
In August, the Common Council came together to discuss final approval of the plan. Alderperson Mary Tomlan ’71 (D-3rd Ward) submitted a resolution asking that the Common Council “endorse” the plan, rather than adopt it. The difference, she said, was that an endorsement would not include a final commitment to implementing the findings of the study, whereas adoption would. Tomlan said that she did not see there being enough votes in favor of adopting the plan, so she introduced the endorsement resolution to avoid having the entire planning process be rejected by the council. She proposed that the plan be endorsed with the stipulation that further studies be done on the current and proposed density, transportation, design guidelines and other aspects of the neighborhood. Furthermore, with a master planning process for the city currently taking place, she said that the Collegetown plan needed to be put in the context of the entire city’s development.
Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th Ward), in discussing the resolution to endorse the plan, asked that two clauses pertaining to the specifics of what further studies take place be removed. The council split 5-5 on whether to grant Myrick’s request, invoking the need for Mayor Carolyn Peterson to break the tie. Peterson voted in favor of taking out the clauses, meaning that the Collegetown Urban Plan would then go up for endorsement with the resolution produced by Tomlan but modified by Myrick.
Tomlan, concerned that the removal of these clauses would make the resolution more vague, voted against the endorsement, even though she had originally brought the idea to the table.
“I proposed it, but with those other things in it,” she said. “I understand that those were ‘whereas’ clauses, but I thought that the sequence of wording was not as logical and comprehensible with them removed. I thought it didn’t read logically, and I thought the sequence was negatively influenced by removing those.”
Myrick voted in favor of the endorsement, despite expectations that he would vote against it and despite his uneasiness with not adopting the plan outright, he said. This ensured that the endorsement resolution was passed.
“I don’t feel that Collegetown was represented well in this process,” Myrick said. “I felt that our needs were not taken seriously –– all of the students who were involved in the process –– while all of the residents were not clear on what they wanted. Because of that, I was inclined to vote against this.”
But Myrick conceded that, “You can’t let the perfect get in the way of the good. I know it wasn’t going to pass without my vote,” explaining his decision to vote in favor of endorsement, even though he considered it an imperfect solution.
Chris Basil ’10, the incoming vice president for finance on the Student Assembly and a fervent supporter of the height increases this spring, thought that the vote to endorse rather than adopt the plan set it back in terms of overall effectiveness. While he said that he was happy to see the Common Council finally approve the Planning Board’s modification of the Goody Clancy plan, he felt that adoption was a necessary step.
“There’s obviously a huge practical difference between endorsing the plan, which the Common Council has chosen to do and formally adopting the plan,” he said. “The latter would lead to real progress in Collegetown, but instead the Common Council chose to admit that the Goody Clancy Plan offers a great plan for development in Collegetown while simultaneously denying a serious chance that any of the changes that are contained in it will come to pass any time in the near future.”
Myrick agreed, asking, “why agree with the plan and not commit to the plan?” Referring to his nearly two years on the council, he said, “I’m finding that what’s rather innocuous language can go back on you somewhere down the line.”
However, Tomlan doesn’t see the Collegetown plan as it stands now as being ready for full implementation.
“I think we know in general where we want to go, but we aren’t ready yet in any way with design guidelines and design standards,” in addition to other things like parking and loading zones, she said.
Myrick still sees positives with the plan as it stands now. He specifically liked design guidelines and modified parking requirements.
Both alderpersons expressed hope and optimism that Collegetown planning would move forward.
“I think the focus has to be on putting the plan into action. Way too much time and effort has been spent for this to turn into what we’re discussing. We’ve got to take the good, the bad and the ugly, accept that this was endorsed, and enact as many policies as possible,” Myrick said. He said the next focus should be on working groups.
Tomlan saw the next step as being one of further study on the needs on the Collegetown constituency.
“Overall I am pleased because I think it does allow us to move forward,” Tomlan said, noting that the resolution she sponsored requires a compilation of a list of further items needing to be study by the beginning of October. “I was not happy with a lot of the things in the Goody Clancy plan and I think this [review] has been done thoughtfully by and large, and Collegetown needs an overall plan. It needs some direction moving forward.”