April 20, 2011

Collegetown Plan Raises Concern Among Residents

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Correction appended

Common Council members and Collegetown dwellers discussed four initiatives intended to implement the 2009 Collegetown Urban Plan & Conceptual Design Guidelines, plus an amendment that would have increased the chances of a full-service grocery store opening in Collegetown, at the City of Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting Wednesday night.The discussion followed a public hearing on four proposals set forth by the City of Ithaca earlier this month. The proposals — which seek to increase the density in the core of Collegetown while protecting the character and aesthetic quality of single-family homes in surrounding residential neighborhoods — will likely be voted on by the Common Council May 4.The major point of contention for community members and the committee was the potential addition of grocery stores under the approved year-round community benefits in the proposed “height incentive district” in the core of Collegetown. Under the height-incentive proposal, developers would be allowed to build to a maximum of 84 feet — 24 feet higher than the current maximum —  in exchange for including year-round uses on at least one story. Currently hotels,  Class A office space, and non-tax-exempt research and development space are included under such approved uses.During the public hearing, Collegetown resident Graham Kerslick identified “the need for a full service grocery store as an essential component of any real community,” but one that “seems to have been ignored” in the plan.“There needs to be a more creative and preemptive approach to this aspect of Collegetown’s vision,” Kerslick said.Alderperson Jennifer Dotson (G-1st), who chaired the meeting, proposed the addition of a grocery store under the approved community benefits in the height incentive district proposal, but the amendment was unanimously rejected by the committee with a vote of 0-5.Although she said that she was in support of the the grocery store “in concept,” Alderperson Ellen McCollister ’78 (D-3rd) said that she was skeptical of the feasibility of the amendment because of the decreased population in Collegetown over academic breaks.“A grocery store would require a full-year community [in Collegetown] to ensure that it would not fail,” McCollister said “And then there is the question if a building would not be able to get a new certificate of occupancy if the store were to fail.”Alderperson Dan Cogan M.S. ’95 (D-5th), a committee member, said he shared similar concerns about the ability of a building to renew its certificate of occupancy under the proposal, should the requirement to provide non-student uses fail to be met.“We could say that once your certificate of occupancy ends, you have 90 days to provide us a better benefit over time,” Cogan said. “But with a lack of buildings being able to obtain a building permit, this could take years.”Alderperson Svante Myrick ’09 (D-4th), was skeptical of whether building owners would have an incentive to renew their certificates of occupancy, should the grocery store fail.“I lived in a building in Collegetown that hadn’t renewed its certificate of occupancy in 20 years, and when there was a fire in the basement we all got evicted,” Myrick said. “There are good, responsible developers and families in Collegetown, but I think there are far too many for whom this would be unreasonable.”Cogan also added that before the amendment passes, “more studies need to be done to show that the grocery store will succeed.”During the public hearing, many town residents also voiced concern over the proposed “parking overlay zone,” one of the four proposals stemming from the 2009 Collegetown Urban Plan & Conceptual Design Guidelines. This proposal aims to reduce the number of cars in Collegetown by allowing developers to pay into a fund dedicated to transportation improvements in lieu of providing parking for their tenants.Collegetown resident Anne Clavel J.D. ’77 passed out bags of trash to committee members in an attempt to convince committee members to “delay any action on the proposed transportation aspects of the plan.”According to Clavel, by reducing the demands on landlords to provide parking for their tenants, students would resort to parking outside of single-family homes — passing the “trash of Collegetown” into her neighborhood.“Ithaca, N.Y., is in the middle of nowhere … Most upper class students and graduate students drive by car,” Clavel said. “You can’t just wish cars away.”The committee did not propose any amendments to the parking overlay zone during the action portion of the meeting.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Alderperson Jennifer Dotson as a Democrat. In fact, she is a member of the Green Party.

Original Author: Liz Camuti