Litter on South Hill

After the South Hill development debate reached a fever pitch last month, the Planning and Economic Development Committee discussed possible ways to address the fervent concerns of neighborhood residents who want new in-fill construction aimed at attracting more students to the area stopped. 

Planning staff were directed to begin looking for solutions last month, which led to the document presented before the PEDC Wednesday. 

"We have seen as many as five new duplexes on a parcel that already contained two existing homes (that were converted to rentals) for a total of seven rental buildings containing about 36 bedrooms. These units are geared towards students, having the potential to significantly change the character of this neighborhood, in both demographics and behavior," the findings stated. It also recommended that once the city completes its current two area plans, in accordance with phase two of Ithaca's Comprehensive Plan, South Hill be tackled next. 

The committee was given three options from which to choose, cultivated by Economic Development Planner Jennifer Kusznir. The first option presented was a full moratorium, that would ban any and all development until the city formulated and completed a neighborhood plan for South Hill, while the second proposed an immediate rezoning to limit in-fill development, with the caveat that the new regulations might make some properties illegal that already exist. The third option struck a sort of compromise: the area would come under an overlay zoning district that would "restrict properties to only having one primary structure." The Committee eventually chose to publicly circulate the third option. 

Regarding the first option, there seemed to be some trepidation from Planning Department members present, who cautioned that starting another neighborhood plan process might delay other neighborhood plans that are already being studied. Significantly, the long-discussed Chainworks project would have also been stopped as a result, as it fell in the impacted zoning district.

"I don't know that we want to restrict everything, we want to be able to study the lots that are accepting more than one primary dwelling, basically student housing," Cornish said. 

Alderperson Cynthia Brock spoke in favor of the third option, saying she felt it was the idea that allowed the city the ability to slow development, while allowing flexibility for homeowners and not punishing houses that would fall out of code under the second option. Alderperson George McGonigal also made the point that with the rezoning option, in reality, almost none of the properties in the effected region would be conforming to code (the district would be rezoned to low density R-1, which means 10,000 square feet of property is required for a dwelling to even exist on the property.)

Overlay zoning could be implemented as soon as November 1, while a full neighborhood plan is expected to take somewhere in the range of two years to draft and approve.

Regardless, the plan will now be circulated and an ordinance will soon be prepared for review by the PEDC. If the new ordinance is approved at that time, a recommendation will be made to Common Council. 

Other news and notes from the September Planning and Economic Development meeting:

- The public comment period was a healthy mix of citizens speaking out about South Hill development, against the Green Street Garage redevelopment proposal and to urge the PEDC to pass an anti-Cargill Cayuga Lake Salt Mine Shaft project resolution that would state the city's intention to join with an impending lawsuit to require a full environmental review by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. (More on the Salt Mine situation here, from a previous Cayuga Lake Environmental Activists Network). The committee approved the recommendation, and it will be further discussed by Common Council next month. 

- Elmira-based developer David Lubin, he of Harold's Square fame, stated his concerns over the Green Street Garage redevelopment. He said the proposal would negatively affect his project and potentially the general infrastructure of downtown. An associate of Lubin's Jim Lehrbach, the CFO of Harold's Holdings, requested that the same team behind the Harold's Square project be named the "preferred developer" for the redevelopment in order to prevent any negative impact on the already-initiated Harold's Square construction. 

- Visum developer Todd Fox also spoke out against the Green Street Garage project, urging caution from moving too quickly to advance the idea. He said a local developer should be considered if the redevelopment is to be approved.

- The Collegetown and Downtown planning guidelines have been completed, JoAnn Cornish announced, and will be possibly be circulated in the next few weeks.  

- A proposal to declare the Larkin Building on College Avenue as a historic building was not approved or denied, and will be further considered by Common Council. 

Follow Matt Butler on Twitter @AllegedButler

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