The push for historical designation of the Nines building continued Wednesday as the Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Committee passed the decision to the Common Council, who will make the final call on June 6.
The Ithaca Landmarks and Preservation Commission’s official proposal, redeveloped after the planning committee sent it backward for further review in April, recommends only designating the front of the property and leaving the back portion open for development.
The ruling passed in a 3-2 vote after heavy debate, with Steven Smith (D-4th Ward) and Cynthia Brock (D-1st Ward) voting against.
The co-owners, Mark Kielmann ’72 and Harold Schultz, planned to sell the lot to developer Todd Fox prior to the ILPC filing for designation last fall and Fox’s subsequent withdrawal. If designated by the Common Council, all future changes to the exterior and structure of the building would mandate approval by the ILPC.
During the Wednesday night meeting, attorneys for Kielmann and Schultz asked the committee for more time to consider solutions proposed at Tuesday night’s ILPC meeting, which recommended only designating a portion of the property. Kielmann objected to this plan during public comment.
“I do appreciate the effort to work with me,” Kielmann said. “[But] leaving me with half a building doesn’t really help that much.”
“Our goal would be to stop what has essentially become a binary choice,” said Brody Smith, an attorney with Bond, Schoeneck & King, asking the board for more time to draw up plans. “We either have this building [plan] that was proposed to the [planning and economic development board] that a lot of people didn’t like, or nothing changes forever.”
Smith proposed a Planned Unit Development plan for the site, which would allow the city to have input toward any development, including requiring the new structure to have a an area set back from the street, similar to the one that made the Nines so popular.
However, the committee struck down this proposal with a vote of 3-2, with Brock and Smith voting in favor.
Brock encouraged the committee to consider the perspective of the owner and the financial burden that designation would place on Kielmann, an “incredibly generous” member of the community.
Alderperson Laura Lewis (D-5th Ward) dissented to this view.
“I do not think it’s the city’s responsibility to provide someone their retirement,” she said, a comment to which Kielmann showed obvious shock.
During the discussion, chair Seph Murtagh M.A. ’04 Ph.D. ’09 (D-2nd Ward) called back to other controversial building designations, including the Chacona Block designation that was struck down by the Common Council last fall.
“These are really, really tough decisions and not enjoyable ones,” he told the board before the votes were cast.
Another focal point of the meeting was the proposed Parks Action Plan, which included considering the alienation, or discontinuation of use as parkland, of several small neighborhood parks.
“I’ve been struck by how many people took the time to reach out,” Murtagh told the committee, regarding public pushback for the language in the proposal.
Community members also spoke up during public comment, urging the board to strike parks like Maple Grove Park from the plan.
“Pocket parks in dense areas like collegetown are psychologically so important and have such an effect,” said Anne Sullivan, an Ithaca resident. “The aggravation that you are going to get from the people who live there is not worth it.”