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Following months of debate and plenty of resident feedback over several public meetings, the City of Ithaca Common Council voted to table amended legislation regarding accessory dwelling units (ADU). 

Over 30 speakers came before the council asking them to consider adding or eliminating an owner-occupancy requirement, which was one of the amendments under consideration by the council last week. Though a climax to the debate was anticipated last Wednesday at the monthly meeting of Common Council, several councilors realized that tabling the measure to do further research was their preferred move. 

A recurring theme throughout these meetings has been split opinions regarding whether or not to add an owner-occupancy requirement to the proposed legislation, which was designed to encourage density development. Those residents who are opposed to the owner-occupancy requirement feel it could create exclusionary zoning, damaging property values since people couldn’t use the properties as rental spaces. Others said the requirement will make it difficult to sell one’s home. 

However, there were plenty of residents who argued the merits of implementing an owner-occupancy requirement. Ann Sullivan, a resident of East Hill, pointed out how highly expensive rents and predatory landlords are elemental in making Ithaca a target for developers who would purchase homes with accessory dwelling units. The issue has come up in the South Hill neighborhood too, which has spent the last several years trying to ward off more rental properties that are largely, if not exclusively, rented by students. Adding an owner-occupancy requirement would theoretically keep homes reserved for people who want to become homeowners. 

Alderperson Cynthia Brock has been skeptical yet thorough in examining how the new  ADU legislation would impact Ithaca. During the January meeting of the Planning and Economic Development Committee, there were numerous questions regarding newly proposed language in the legislation. During those discussions, Brock found that by allowing certain types of exterior design would effectively eliminate R1 zoning. Alderperson Stephen Smith found the discussion becoming less lucid and marred with repetitive questions. In response to Brock’s statements, during that meeting, he said language like that only serves to create fear. Smith went on to note his interpretation of the affordable housing situation in Tompkins County. 

“The reality is a single-family can already rent to two unrelated people in their house,” Smith said. “Who cares if we put up a wall and give them two-bedrooms or four bedrooms between them. There are people in our county and our community who are being excluded. [...] And all we’re trying to do is create a city where people can afford to live here. And this isn’t going to ruin a neighborhood. Renters don’t bring down the property values, they don’t disrespect property in any great disproportion to homeowners.” 

Other concerns regarding the ADU discussion are about how they could be used for short-term rentals instead of apartments. Some are worried that passing ADU legislation without guidelines for short-term rentals will only complicate matters further when short-term rental legislation, which deals with home-sharing services like AirBnb, becomes a priority for the city.

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