March 12, 2013

LETTER: Supporting sustainable development in Collegetown

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To the Editor:

Re: “Major Collegetown Development Stalled After Board Decision,” News, March 6

Last week, we missed out on a chance to replace the decrepit building at 307 College Ave. with housing, a bus stop and a grocery store. Josh Lower’s ’05 Collegetown Crossing project — planned in cooperation with TCAT and GreenStar Food Market, but essentially denied by the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals — would have fixed the snarled bus service at the corner of College and Dryden and provided a place to shop for real groceries in Collegetown. It would have generated significantly more property and sales taxes for the City and County than the current structure. Best of all, it would have brought a key amenity (Yes, groceries!) in close proximity to thousands of residents in the vicinity, making Collegetown even more walkable.

Our 2012 survey of 337 Collegetown residents found that the people most likely to park on the street were those with parking actually available at their building. People who brought a car to Ithaca, knowing full well that their building did not provide on-site parking, made other arrangements to store their vehicle. Unfortunately, the current policy in Collegetown (and other parts of the city) is to insist on mandatory parking, forcing new developments of all shapes and sizes to provide even more space for more private automobiles (wanted or not). Despite the volume of research on parking — and our own supporting study, endorsed by the Planning Board during the environmental review process — the Board of Zoning Appeals found that not having on-site parking was the negative impact.

Providing more and more parking in an effort to attract fewer cars is akin to trying to get toothpaste back in the tube. Demand for driving is directly related to how much parking is available. Rather than take action to limit the number of cars even entering Ithaca, we have chosen to view these potential residents as a threat rather than neighbors living largely unburdened by car ownership. Supporting car-free living in a dense urban area helps the city’s own stated goals of carbon reduction and sustainability. Environmentalism that fails to seize opportunities to legalize a sustainable lifestyle is a collective failure. We can, and must, do better.

C.J. Randall MRP ’11 and David West MRP ’11