Ithaca and Tompkins county residents gathered at a town hall Tuesday to discuss the potential impact of Cornell’s proposed Maplewood Park redevelopment project. The development — which would create a closed-off residential community housing 872 graduate students — aims to increase the number of residence facilities near campus.
The Maplewood complex is a graduate housing facility that previously housed 300 residents. The complex is walking distance from campus and is advertised as a family-friendly community. While many students say they have found the apartments convenient, the exclusivity of the community proved a major set back. Maplewood is currently closed, and the University is hoping to renovate to increase the facility’s capacity.
Jeffrey Resetco, vice president of EdR — a collegiate housing development company contracted for the Maplewood project — presented several proposed changes to the University’s original plan. These alterations include restructuring the four-story buildings into traditional townhomes. In addition, the buildings with the highest population density will be moved 120 feet back from Mitchell Street.
“We believe the proposed development which you see today reflects a very positive alternative to the previous proposal and shows that our team has listened to the community,” Resetco said.
Graduate students and Tompkins residents also voiced their thoughts on the project. Currently, Cornell graduate students say they have extremely limited affordable housing options, with many spending over 40 percent of their monthly income on housing in Ithaca.
“Cornell offers housing to less than five percent of the graduate students,” said Manisha Munasinghe grad.
Many international and domestic graduate students lauded the community environment the complex provides.
“Cornell can become increasingly lonely during the winter months and living at Maplewood allowed me to create a community and a home away from home,” said an international graduate student.
Ithaca and Tompkins residents seemed supportive of the Maplewood project as well, despite initial skepticism from many locals.
The main concern community members expressed regarded traffic congestion, as there is currently an elementary school across the street from the Maplewood complex. Many neighborhood families, who say they walk their children to school every day, believe a drastic increase in number of cars in the area could create dangerous conditions for commuting elementary students.
“We aren’t opposed to the project, we are opposed to the size of it,” said Susan Brown, a community member. “Neighborhood members have taken it upon themselves to buy ‘slow down’ signs and put them in front of their houses due to the speeding problem on Mitchell Street — the Maplewood size increase will only make this worse.”
Others raised concerns over the project’s sustainability. The proposed project would not use natural gas, but many community members said they feel that adequate sustainability practices have not been specified and further details are needed.
However, many Ithaca residents in attendance said they were pleased with the development team’s changes.
“The dark colors of the townhouse facade relatively matches the surrounding homes, and makes the project look smaller, creating a nice environment,” said a neighborhood resident.
The new Maplewood complex will be subject to full real estate taxes, creating a profitable model for the town of Ithaca. The project will also create many construction jobs, benefiting the economy in the coming years, proponents say.
Several residents, although accepting of the proposal’s changes, still feel the size of the development should be reduced. One community member said “the 500-bed increase will not change the graduate student housing problem, if Cornell’s future goal is to increase the amount of graduate students overall.”
“The proportion of housing to students will remain the same — it’s a road to nowhere,” he added.
While the Maplewood project will likely continue to be a controversial topic amongst community members, support from the community is increasing as the development team continues to incorporate community suggestions.
“Maplewood was known to be of poor quality, and many anticipated a short life span,” said Tessa Rudan ’89. “Renovating the complex will be a step in the right direction.”
The development team said it plans to keep meeting with the community over the coming weeks and will continue to adjust the proposal to minimize the project’s disruption.