March 5, 2013

Major Collegetown Development Stalled After Board Decision

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A proposal to build a new housing complex on College Avenue may have hit a roadblock. The City of Ithaca’s Board of Zoning Appeals denied developer Josh Lower’s ’05 request for a variance — an exemption from the city’s parking laws — for his Collegetown project in an unanimous decision Tuesday.

Lower’s proposed “Collegetown Crossing” development project would create a six-story building that would contain a GreenStar grocery store, as well as housing for 103 occupants at 307 College Ave.

“As it stands now, the project is dead in the water,” Lower said.

Lower –– who is working with GreenStar as a part of the project’s development team –– added that he is “open to any ideas that can move [the project] forward.”

“We’re just going to explore all options,” he said.

As a result of the city’s minimum parking requirements — which stipulates that one parking space must be created for every two bedrooms built in central Collegetown — Lower’s project would be required to develop a total of 57 parking spaces within 500 feet of the site, which he described as financially infeasible in a previous interview with The Sun.

Since the variance was denied, Lower will not receive an exemption from these parking requirements.

In a resolution, the board said the potential detriments outweighed the potential benefits of the Collegetown project. Some of the areas of concern the resolution addressed involved the spillover of parking into streets and other neighborhoods that could increase demand for parking in Collegetown.

In order to mitigate these possible effects, Lower planned to offer all occupants of the proposed building access to TCAT services and carshare services.

But the board, in its resolution, stated that Lower did not establish how other alternative plans for parking, such as underground parking, would be infeasible.

Hearings on the case were held by the board in November and December, according to Steven Beer, chair of the board. Public hearings concluded on Dec. 20, after which, all five of the members of the board drafted a motion denying Lower his request for variances.

The drafted motion was presented and amended with what board member Moriah Tebor described as “corrections” at Tuesday’s meeting.

“We appreciate very much the case you have brought to us. The board is obviously obligated to decide cases of appeals on existing zoning ordinances,” Beer said.

Beer did stipulate, however, that if the city changes its zoning ordinances, Lower’s case could be revisited.

On Feb. 5, the Board of Public Works made a recommendation to the Common Council that the minimum parking requirements be abolished. If the Common Council were to remove these zoning requirements, Lower’s project would be able to move forward.

“Parking requirements make small scale infill developments impossible,” Lower said.

Original Author: Tyler Alicea