Alice Song / Sun Staff Photographer

Board members discussed the North Campus expansion project at this week’s Ithaca planning and development meeting on March 26, 2019.

March 28, 2019

Ithaca Planning Board Grants North Campus Expansion Step Forward with Preliminary Site Plan Approval

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On Tuesday, the City of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board approved the preliminary site plan for the North Campus Residential Expansion, with certain restrictions and conditions.

The University plans to build new residences on North Campus, which will give housing to an additional 1,200 freshmen and 800 sophomores, The Sun previously reported. The expansion will take place in three municipalities — the City of Ithaca, the Town of Ithaca and the Village of Cayuga Heights — all of which have to approve the project’s site plan. While the City of Ithaca has approved the preliminary site plan, the Village of Cayuga Heights and the Town of Ithaca have not yet come to a decision.

“Preliminary site plan approval approves the site layout, the grading, the location of the buildings, but not some of the finer details like the facade of the building and the building materials,” said Lisa Nicholas, senior planner for the City of Ithaca.

According to Nicholas, the city’s preliminary plan was outlined in a six-page document. Some of the conditions need to be fulfilled before the final review, while others have to be satisfied before the architects representing the University are granted a building permit, she said.

One of the numerous conditions is to provide documentation showing that TCAT will add two buses to the North Campus routes to address the increase in student population. Another is to confirm with the Village of Cayuga Heights and the City of Ithaca fire chiefs that the proposed fire access plan is adequate for emergency response purposes.

“At this point, it’s up to the applicants when they can fulfill some of the conditions. [For the next step], we expect them to request a building permit for foundations,” Nicholas said.

The two other municipalities where the North Campus expansion will take place — the Village of Cayuga Heights and the Town of Ithaca — are currently conducting a site plan review. During the Village of Cayuga Heights Planning Board’s meeting on Monday, village residents expressed concerns such as how the project might elevate traffic on village roads, according to a draft of meeting minutes.

Parking was another issue brought up at the planning board meeting. According to Cowett, Cornell is planning to have the project’s contractors park on the Robison Disc Golf Course, which is north of A Lot. He said the amount of parking Cornell is requiring is “excessive.” Cowett said that landscape architects at Monday’s meeting said the average number of workers at the construction site will be between 75 and 125, but Cornell is designing a lot for 190 people.

At the meeting, the board “got a commitment” from Cornell to reexamine its parking needs, Cowett said.

The contractor parking site might also infringe on a wetland, according to Cowett. He said the village places limits on activities within 50 feet of a wetland, so the board wants someone to delineate where the wetland is. The parking site will be located on a hill, so the board also wants to know what the slope of the hill is.

Exterior lighting was also discussed at the meeting, as the Village of Cayuga Heights requires lights to be dark sky compliant — all lights must have a temperature of fewer than 3000 CCTs, a measure that is correlated with reducing light pollution. Cornell’s light standard, however, is 3500 CCTs, which causes the lights to emit more blue light, Cowett said. There will be 10 exterior lights in the village part of the construction site.

The Cayuga Heights planning board meets next on April 22. Cowett said he would hope that the process gets “wrapped up” at the April meeting. Cowett believes the board is not going to reject the plan.

“I think we’re going to approve it with conditions,” he said. “It’s just a question of what the conditions are.”

The Town of Ithaca’s Planning Board was slated to discuss the project at its March 19 meeting, but the meeting was canceled, according to Fred Wilcox, the planning board’s chair. Wilcox said that because of this, the board will wait until its April 2 meeting to consider preliminary approval of the North Campus project.

Wilcox said that there will be a public hearing at the meeting, followed by discussion and deliberation by the planning board.

“Will the Board finish deliberation and vote next Tuesday evening to grant Preliminary Site Plan Approval?” Wilcox said in an email to The Sun. “I can’t be sure but I, as Chairperson, will certainly do my best to get to a vote as I will be out of the country at our next scheduled meeting on April 16.”

Wilcox said that after the board grants Cornell preliminary approval, the University will need to address the conditions that the town lays out. A proposed resolution for preliminary site plan approval and special permit lists conditions, including revision of landscaping plans and the same submission of proof from TCAT that the City of Ithaca requires. After the conditions are fulfilled, the Town of Ithaca Planning Board will consider final site plan approval of the North Campus expansion.

“It could take weeks or even a few months of work by Cornell and their project team before final approval can be considered,” Wilcox said.