April 24, 2012

After Blaze Destroyed House, New Buildings Will Rise at 107 Cook Street

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Nearly a year after Brian Lo ’11 died in a fire at 107 Cook Street, Planning and Development Board members unanimously approved plans to build two two-story townhouses at the site Tuesday.

While the property’s owner, Dan Liguori, originally proposed to construct a single large three-story residential structure that would have housed 14 individuals, his proposal did not meet the city’s zoning law for this area, which prohibits the construction of more than two dwelling units in a single house. Because the large building did not meet city regulations, Liguori would have had to obtain a variance — an exemption from current city zoning law — for the project to progress, said John Schroeder ’74, a member of the board and The Sun’s production manager.

To meet city regulations, Liguori now plans to build two two-story townhouses with partially finished basement levels, according to Jason Demarest, the property’s architect. According to Demarest, the new plan proposes constructing two buildings, each occupying 2,304 square feet with 6,128 square feet of finished floor area. The buildings will be split into two new units each, providing a total of 12 bedrooms.

The apartments will be leased out on a 10-month basis, Demarest said.

The board requested that should the owner later decide that the buildings require air conditioning, he use central air conditioning throughout both buildings instead of installing external air conditioning units in each apartment, which would be impractical and detract from the building’s design.

Additionally, Schroeder said, as a result of prior complaints from neighbors of stormwater draining onto their properties, the property will have facilities installed to store stormwater. This would prevent stormwater from flowing onto adjacent properties and improve drainage in the neighborhood.

The planning board’s approval of the new project comes nearly a year after a fire destroyed the site’s former building, which housed 13 Cornell students. The fire appeared to have been accidental and originated from an unattended stove, The Sun reported in May.

Firefighters fought the fire for more than 90 minutes, but were forced to retreat after the flames reached the house’s attic. Six or seven students escaped the building, while Lo appeared to have been attempting to escape from the building before he died.

In the aftermath of the fire, some city officials cited inebriation and improper fire safety precautions as possible contributing factors to Lo’s death.

In May, Tom Parsons ’82, chief of the Ithaca Fire Department, said that he suspected Lo’s death may have been linked to inebriation because the fire had occurred late on a Thursday evening when “people who lived in the house had been partying.”

Other officials pointed to the building’s structure — which was divided to make several smaller apartments — and lack of fire sprinklers as factors behind Lo’s death.

But the proposal for the new building, according to Ithaca Fire Department officials, does not include plans to include fire sprinklers.

“IFD advocates that all new student housing have fire sprinklers installed in them, but [New York State] building codes do not require fire sprinklers to be installed in one and two family homes such as what is being proposed,” an IFD official said.

Still, the official added that the fire department “hopes the owners might consider installing fire sprinklers voluntarily.”

“Fire sprinklers save lives and do what smoke alarms can’t do: suppress the fire,” he said.

City officials also affirmed their commitment to improving the safety of student housing in Collegetown.

“Coming on a year off from the tragedy, I think the only thing you can do in these situations is [to] try to learn from it and take a better look of the housing stock in Collegetown … to identify the situations surrounding Brian [Lo]’s death,” said Alderperson Eddie Rooker ’10 (D-4th Ward). “There are definitely discussions going on looking at both Collegetown zoning as we look to renew the housing stock.”

Rooker said that city officials are working with Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 and Tom Parsons ’82, chief of the Ithaca Fire Department, to improve student safety.

“I think it’s the most effective thing we can do at this point: to make sure they are as safe as possible,” Rooker said.

Kevin Milian contributed reporting to this article.

Original Author: Harrison Okin