The Carpenter Business Park development started out on friendly terms, though it has recently turned into a source of contention between developers and residents.
The primary issue with the project has been the allocated space for the Community Gardens. Many residents fear the gardens are going to be the biggest loser in the developments, which are being led by Cayuga Medical Center and Park Grove Realty. During the June 5 Common Council meeting, residents and council members were able to voice their gripes. The Council was voting on approving a Planned Unit Development (PUD) area, which would allow the project to violate zoning in exchange for its community benefits to determine whether the project would begin the site plan review process with the Planning Board.
Marnie Hiller, president of the Ithaca Community Gardens, spoke about how the project and the fate of the gardens are inextricably linked and that what’s good for the gardens is good for all. She went on to ask the Council to ensure a reasonable memorandum of understanding is in place to keep the gardens alive.
Members of the Common Council have had their own disagreements with the project. In previous meetings, Alderperson Cynthia Brock has been less than enthusiastic, saying that while she's in favor of the affordable housing component of the project, she wants to see it moved to a different part of the land. One question she had regarding the PUD was if the project gets approved but the grant funding for the affordable housing portion fails to come through. In point of fact, the majority of the project would continue on, since the affordable housing is deemed a separate portion and isn’t tied to the development. Alderperson Donna Fleming is interested in seeing a decrease in the amount of impermeable space.
Some of the other council members aired concerns as well. Alderperson George McGonigal has felt the relatively new waterfront zoning isn’t able to keep buildings at an appropriate height. He is fearful that without the proper zoning in place, more buildings in the six or seven story range can blossom on the waterfront. McGonigal asked Director of the Planning Department JoAnn Cornish if the building could potentially go higher if they needed, to which she responded yes.
Brock felt that without Common Council in the driver's seat for this project, there is no definitive way to meld the project into certain specifications. She also voiced her disapproval of the affordable housing building on the site since it will be facing railroad tracks, the Ithaca Wastewater Treatment Facility, and the perennially bustling Route 13. Alderperson Donna Fleming wasn’t enthusiastic about voting in favor of the project and felt there were significant changes to be made, though she voted in favor regardless. When it came time to vote, the Common Council approved the project 7 to 1, with Brock opposed and Alderperson Deborah Mohlenhoff absent.
Separately covered in the Common Council meeting was a piece of legislation, proposed by Brock, that has rankled local landlords. It is a resolution stating the City of Ithaca gives support to open up the geographic barriers of the Emergency Tenant Protection Act of 1974, currently being discussed at the state level. The proposed legislation gives rent protection to buildings of six or more units that were built before 1974.
Landlords have attended previous meetings to voice their lack of support for the measure because of its negative financial impact on them. Resident Theresa Alt, an avowed affordable housing advocate, voiced her support during the public comment period. Many councilors recognized the issue of affordable housing has become a great problem throughout not just the City of Ithaca but throughout Tompkins County. Before voting on the resolution, they amended it to add an amendment that they want to open up the geographic barriers of the legislation to bring protections to upstate cities as well. The resolution passed unanimously with Mohlenhoff absent.