The Ithaca Planning and Development Board gave the official go-ahead for next June’s planned demolition, which will level the historic Chacona Block building in favor of six stories of sleek new apartments during its meeting on Tuesday.
The plans, submitted by the student-owned company Student Agencies Inc. last month, provide for the construction of 56 student apartments, along with retail on the ground floor.
Detractors of the proposed plan were able to voice their opinions in a general public hearing.
Christine O’Malley, Historic Ithaca Preservation Services Coordinator, urged input from historians and argued in favor of following the Collegetown Design Guidelines, a document outlining the requirements for the area’s aesthetic.
Overseeing the plans is Kyle Karnes ’91, CEO of SAI and Whitham Planning & Design, the firm responsible for projects like the Day Hall-Stimson Hall Plaza and 409 College Avenue’s eHub.
As part of the site plan review and approval procedures outlined in Ithaca’s zoning codes, the firm was made to conform to a three-part design review meant to ensure the development was up to code and adhering to the project proposal.
This meeting of the Planning Board was the first step of this approval process, which had been met with resistance two years prior in a fight to deem the Chacona block a historical site.
The Ithaca Common Council was caught in a 5-5 deadlock until Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 broke it by voting against the designation in 2017.
Council member Rob Gearhart, as reported by the Ithaca Voice, explained his views during the council session. “This is a really tricky, challenging vote for so many reasons,” he said, “but I think we can trust in an owner of a building that has publicly said they would commit to a good building for that block, and I think we have to give some credit for that.”
Even after that defeat, Historic Ithaca Executive Director Susan Holland ’85 reminded the council of the building’s eligibility.
Holland then talked about her discussions with SAI about “possible mitigation measures and our concerns about the loss of historic fabric.”
After the public hearing, Karnes and representatives of Whitham presented their concept for the development of the site on College Avenue.
Prof. Jack Elliot, design and environmental analysis and a member of the Planning Board, was concerned with the lack of sidewalk space proposed by the plan, an opinion echoed by Planning Director JoAnn Cornish.
However, the Planning Board agreed when Chair Robert Aaron Lewis M.S. ’12 called SAI’s proposal an “incredibly respectful design,” taking into account the history of the building.
The concept was ultimately approved by the board.
The board also conducted a public hearing on a recommendation to the Board of Zoning Appeals for a new eight-apartment student housing development on Dryden Road, plugging a gap between The Lux and 320 Dryden Road.
The site, located on 238 Dryden Road, requires approval by the Appeals Board due to its size — it is 1,660 sq. ft. larger than zoning regulations allow.
Residents, like James R. Orcutt Jr. ’95 MMH ’02, a local realtor, voiced concerns about inconsistencies in the site plan, and the danger of setting a precedent in regards to the proposed variance.
This too, was discussed by the board.
A few members, including Cornish and Lewis, anticipated pushback from the neighborhood if the variance was granted.
Cornish cited a desire to “protect single-family homes,” but finally acknowledged the “growing need for housing in Collegetown.”
The Planning Board decided to support the variance, with the caveat that they would require a fire consultation to ensure the safety of the proposed building’s inhabitants.
Sarah Skinner ’21 contributed reporting.