Boris Tsang/Sun Staff Photographer

Ithaca Planning & Development Board meeting at the Common Council Chambers on February 27th, 2018.

February 28, 2018

College Avenue Development Moves Ahead Despite Fire Safety, Property Line Concerns

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The Ithaca Planning and Development board unanimously approved plans to construct two new housing buildings, located at 119-125 College Avenue, in a Tuesday meeting.

While the board previously approved the plans last year, recent changes to the New York state fire code required architects to make drastic improvements. The new regulations require that, for any building over 30 feet tall, no power lines can obstruct a fire vehicle’s access to upper floors, according to reporting by the Ithaca Voice.

The previous building designs would not have met the fire code, according to Prof. Peter Trowbridge, landscape architecture, the lead architect.

To address this, architects from Trowbridge Wolf Michaels Landscape Architects added a large open space between the two residential buildings to the official plans. This space is wide enough for fire vehicles to enter in case of emergencies and fight the fire from the open space rather than the street, according to Trowbridge.

A key part of the plan is a provision requiring the board to revisit the building if power lines along the street were ever moved belowground.

If this occurs, fire access in the center would no longer be necessary. This is the “second phase” of the project, according to Trowbridge, and developers would convert the fire precaution into usable space by planting trees and constructing a pavilion for tenants’ use.

“What we’re approving is a temporary situation ー and a permanent situation,” said John Schroeder ’74, planning board member and alumni advisor for the Cornell Daily Sun Alumni Association.

As this second phase is contingent on major renovations in Collegetown, board member McKenzie Jones-Rounds emphasized the necessity of future review.

“We want to, but we might never get the utilities underground,” Jones-Rounds said. “It might be 20 years.”

As of now, this provision will be reconsidered every three years when the building is recertified, according to Trowbridge.

A version of this plan was introduced to the Planning and Development Board in January, and the Tuesday vote confirmed changes made after initial concerns, according to the board’s chairperson Prof. Garrick Blalock, applied economics.

During the public hearing section of the meeting, Karla Terry, one of the owners of the property on the northernmost side of 119-125 College Avenue, called the board’s attention to a discrepancy in the official record of the property.

According to Terry, public record lists the property divide with two different lines, neither of which has been officially confirmed. She argued that this would prevent any development, as a future ruling on the property line could affect where the development could legally be built and no property can have two different lines.

“Site plans have to have property lines listed,” Terry said. “These are your rules, not mine — for what you require much earlier in the process.”

Developer Philip Proujansky acknowledged that there was an “ambiguity” regarding the line, but said that it was not relevant to the building proposal as the plans were specifically drawn up to avoid the disputed area. The original source of the contention was a deed change in 1955, according to Terry.

“We have a defined property line with title insurance … and we’re set back from the property line,” Proujansky said.

The board voted to move ahead with construction as the project was compliant either way, according to Schroeder.

In the same meeting, the board voted unanimously to officially recommend the designation of the Old Fire Station #9 building as a historic landmark, which would prevent development on the site. The Ithaca Landmark Preservation Committee voted in February to recommend designation as well, The Sun previously reported. A final decision on the building’s landmark status will be ruled on by Ithaca’s Common Council next month.