April 24, 2011

Collegetown Development

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OVER THE PAST FEW WEEKS, the Ithaca Common Council has debated a proposal that would seek to increase population density in the core of Collegetown to better preserve the surrounding areas for local families. The plan calls for raising the maximum height on residential buildings in Collegetown’s center, abolishing the requirement for developers to provide parking for their tenants and obligating new buildings to conform to certain design standards.The plan will certainly encourage development in Collegetown’s center. Presently, developers are unable to make use of much of the area’s space. The city’s current parking requirement forces developers to build outdoor parking lots where there should be buildings. The parking lots next to Jason’s Grocery and Deli and on the side of 312 College Avenue would serve many more students if they were converted into high-rise buildings.Currently, Collegetown housing is notoriously hard for students to find. Dozens of students each year are left living in dorms or on the far outskirts of Collegetown because there simply isn’t enough housing to go around in the center. Encouraging more building would help curtail, to some degree, the mad rush at the beginning of each year to locate housing and provide dozens more with the ability to live where they want.The new design requirements also appear generally positive, albeit more inconvenient for new developers. The new proposal would require all new buildings to conform to a certain “form-based code” and mandate that they receive design review. In an area as small as Collegetown, where each building stands out relatively prominently, it only makes sense that they be held to some standards for appearance and design.Yet the proposal is by no means complete. The Council owes it to students to pay greater attention to the potential consequences of the parking overlay zone changes before this proposal is approved. Though the current plan would allow developers to construct buildings over certain parking lots in Collegetown –– in exchange for a fee to be paid to the city –– no plan has been formulated about what to do with the cars that are displaced. Some have suggested using parking garages in Ithaca downtown, others have proposed constructing space on campus, while most have offered no real solution.Under the plan, the Council would be able to put all such fees collected into a general fund to improve certain aspects of Collegetown. This could range from constructing alternative parking lots for student use to projects like improving Collegetown’s sidewalks. However, these plans, up until now, have been generally vague. Using parking downtown will only prove incredibly inconvenient for students — who, as the primary residents and consumers in Collegetown, would be most affected by the proposal.Moving forward, it is important for Council members to formulate a concrete plan about how they will deal with the loss of parking in Collegetown for students before this proposal is approved, and any such plans should provide for the same cost and convenience that students would stand to lose under the current proposal.