Ithaca’s City Planning and Development board fielded proposals from seven different major development projects in its February meeting, a striking display of the currently accelerating rate of development in Ithaca.
With a variety of prospective development projects, the board has taken on the task of preserving the history and natural beauty of Ithaca, while also allowing the area to benefit from modernization and make room for population growth and housing demand.
The Carpenter Circle Project proposal involves the construction of four new buildings near the waterfront that includes a four-story affordable housing residential building, two residential buildings with ground-level retail spaces, a medical office building and a community garden.
The project is planned to be completed in three phases, in three years, according to Jess Sudol vice president and partner in charge of civil engineering at Passero Associates, the engineering consultants on the project.
The positive impacts of the project on the city include smoother transportation and more pedestrian friendly street crossings and paths, according to Sudol.
The traffic impact studies presented by Passero Associates indicated that overall traffic would be improved.
The board sought to critique the current state of the plan, but not pass any motions relating to the development.
Mitch Glass, a member of the board, expressed concern about the appearance of this development within the context of the largely undeveloped Waterfront area: “It’s going to be a big building surrounded by a parking lot for a little while.”
In response, Sudol explained that streetscaping projects would begin as soon as possible, prior to the official start of the remainder of the project.
The board also discussed community impact of the nearby City Harbor project, a mixed-use residential and recreational development which recently broke ground. The project will include 156 residential units, parks, spillover parking for the Ithaca Farmers Market and a renovated marina for boat parking.
David Kruse of SRF Associates Transportation Engineering and Design answered the board’s questions regarding the traffic impact of the new development. He explained the group’s plan for mitigating traffic issues, including adding turn lanes to Dey Street, updating intersection lights and lengthening left turn lanes.
411 College Avenue, The Chacona Building and Collegetown Bagels
The board discussed in depth the replacement for Collegetown Bagels, a building with a largely glass facade that will house retail units on the ground floor and student housing above.
Todd Bittner, director of Natural Areas for Cornell Botanical Gardens, expressed concern about the artificial light that would spill out through the glass facade of the building, which might interfere with natural feeling enjoyed in the Cascadilla Falls area.
But the board was pleased with the efforts made so far to reduce lighting through glass type and treatment.
Vice chair of the board McKenzie Jones said that “there’s a nice interplay between the [nature and architecture].”
An issue previously unknown to the board was also brought to their attention: the use of Exterior Insulation Finishing System on a surface of the building unexposed to the sidewalk. EIFS is not allowed as the primary surface material on Collegetown buildings, according to the board.
The concern about EIFS is both structural and aesthetic, according to Susan Holland, president of Historic Ithaca, a local historic preservation group.
“Compared to the materials used to originally build the Chacona Building, the new materials will not last half as long,” Holland said.
Historic Ithaca tried to landmark 411 College Avenue, called the Chacona Building, according to Holland. But the group was unsuccessful.
Jones worried that approval of the use of EIFS would set a precedent for future use, and reprimanded the board and the developers for not discussing its use sooner.
“I feel like I want to slap each of us on the wrist a little bit,” Jones said.
238 Dryden Road
Visum Development Group is proposing a 45 foot, four-story building on 238 Dryden Road. Last year Visum built “The Lux” apartments, which neighbor this lot, and was named the fastest growing developer in upstate New York in 2018.
A member of the public voiced concerns about potential encroachment into residential parking near the project. The board was assured that this issue would be resolved and voted unanimously to allow the project to go forward.
261 Lake St
Architects and developers backed by DMG Investments proposed preliminary sketches for a six-story student housing project at 261 Lake Street, across from the Auden Apartments.
At six stories and 60 feet tall, the proposed building is two stories and 20 feet taller than the 40 foot maximum in this residential zone, and so exceptions would be required before approval, according to Jones.
The development plans to provide 30 parking spaces and a shuttle to campus for residents to get to Cornell in order to reduce car traffic and carbon emissions, according to the developers.
The board’s reaction to the proposal was lukewarm.
According to Jones, this immediate neighborhood — an area of Fall Creek that Jones described as a “transition into the University” — poses difficulty to new developments because of the hodgepodge of uses it currently supports: a public elementary school, student housing and a natural wooded area.
“I don’t see this tying into those populations,” Jones said, adding that the design seemed too rectangular, and, as proposed, involves too great a loss of trees for her to be satisfied.
Blalock pointed out the pragmatic advantage of this project, as it could mitigate car use and keep space between student housing and non-student residential housing.
Glass said he was “unimpressed” with the design.
“There needs to be a level of sophistication,” Glass said. “I think it needs a lot of work.”
The developers said they planned to return to the board’s April meeting, with these complaints addressed.
215 Green Street
Representatives from PSP Design and CHA, an international engineering consulting firm, presented revisions to the 215 Green Street proposal, which consists of a basement level for retail parking, three levels of residential parking and 11 levels of residential development, 10 percent of which will be affordable housing.
“It feels futuristic. This is where I want to be in the future,” Jones said, of the updated design. Construction is planned to be completed in two years, according to the representatives.
A member of the public requested the project be tabled until there was proper notification and mitigation to all business owners who would be affected by the development, including he and his wife. Businesses in the area could not be reached for comment.
Jones cautioned the leaders of the project that “communication with affected populations is a huge indicator of a project’s success — I want the project team to be aware of that.”
Developer Jeff Rimland said that he had done his part to communicate to local business owners, and was unsure where the information was lost.
Despite the communication issues, the board supported the project, saying the building would fit in nicely with existing infrastructure.
“It’s the right place for densification, the right place for a tall building, next to other tall buildings,” Blalock said.