Complaints about big residential buildings and bags of trash greeted members of the Common Council's Planning and Economic Development Committee at its meeting Wednesday, April 20.
Several members of the public showed up at the session to speak their mind about the proposed Collegetown Comprehensive Plan. The plan, which offers a blueprint for future development in Collegetown, seeks to increase density in the core of Collegetown by raising the maximum height for new buildings, obligating new construction to conform to certain design standards and installing a payment-in-lieu of parking incentive for new development.
While many were critical of the plan, not all ascribed to that sentiment.
John Novarr, the developer behind the Collegetown Terrace project, made an appearance to speak his mind on the plan, which he supports. Novarr had harsh words for Collegetown landlords who he said were not offering quality student housing.
"The real problem in Collegetown is that much of the built environment is old and worn out and was never intended to be used as it is today," said Novarr. "Some property owners have for decades been profiting enormously, without reinvesting the requisite dollars to maintain and improve their properties and keep them safe. These people do not run good businesses, they are not responsible citizens, and they certainly do not deserve the city's support to maintain profitability of their crummy, poorly-maintained, and unsafe real estate."
Novarr denied that there was any plan to sell Collegetown Terrace to Cornell, which was a concern of some of the residents. He also pointed out that Collegetown was the most economically viable community in Ithaca and that several of the proposals requested by residents who oppose the Collegetown plan wouldn't be supported by the market.
"For those people who blame Cornell for all of life's problems, perhaps they should recognize that Ithaca and Tompkins County have one of the healthiest economies in upstate New York, and that without Cornell we would be like Binghamton or Syracuse," said Novarr. "Collegetown is called Collegetown for a reason. It's where the students live. It's by far the most profitable area in the City of Ithaca, and when you listen to the neighbors talk, they want grocery stores, things that aren't student-oriented. Businesspeople recognize that the biggest market in the area is college students, and all that will happen if opponents push hard with this is that they will make Collegetown less viable."
Those who were critical, however, expressed concern with several components of the plan, including the width of building facades, the impact to views of new construction, traffic problems arising from the implementation of the payment-in-lieu of parking system, and concerns that properties would be purchased by Cornell and taken off the tax rolls. According to longtime Collegetown resident Neil Golder, the plan would encourage development that could decrease the livability and quality of life in the neighborhood.
"The biggest context for me is what's happening on East State Street, where we see so many perfectly good houses that are being torn down to be replaced by larger dorm-type housing," said Golder, referring to the construction on the Collegetown Terrace development. "For people driving up East State Street, how will this look? I'm wondering about the livability of our city, because some of the things that would result from this plan, it seems that's mostly what's left is big buildings, and I think that's a problem."
Collegetown resident Ann Clavel passed out bags of trash to committee members and said that with the new Collegetown plan that "students will be parking in my neighborhood, and what you're doing is passing the trash of Collegetown, which I've just given you metaphorically, into my neighborhood."