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The original and revised versions of the Asteri building, adjacent to Harolds Square.

ITHACA, NY -- The Planning Board had a busy night on Oct. 27, making decisions on a few big projects in Ithaca to keep them headed toward development, including a change to the Vecino Group portion of the Green Street garage project, and a new storefront in South Meadow Square.

120 E. Green St. – Asteri Ithaca

The 12-story Green Street garage development received preliminary approval from the board after developers made some adjustments to the plans. One major change is the loss of 36 apartments in the mixed-use building. Vecino Group architect Bruce Adib-Yazdi said after working with the building’s neighbors at Harolds Square, they had decided to reduce the size of a portion of the building to increase the space between the two buildings. Part of the deal with Harolds Square developers include plans to develop a third property together on South Hill.

There will be no changes to the first three floors of the building, which will house a conference center, 350 public parking spots and a small retail space.

Kate Chesebrough of Whitman Planning and Design also outlined some design details, such as constellation-inspired lighting, vine-wrapped cables and hot orange planters to contrast with the blue-green gradient on the west face of the garage.

“I’m very sorry to lose the units but I think this might be a better building,” board chair Rob Lewis said. “I’m not heartbroken.”

Board member agreed, and applauded the developers for the compromise.

“I was worried about that, but good work figuring that out,” he said.

The board granted preliminary approval but is waiting for comments from the county before giving final approval, as the 30-day review period is not yet up.

South Meadow Square

 James Boglioli from Benderson Development was in front of the board to request approval for a 7,000 square-foot retail/restaurant building. The building will be freestanding, and is on the edge of the parking surface, opposite of PetSmart.

This building moved swiftly through the review process, with board members generally happy with the plans, particularly the included patio space.

“I really welcome the patio and landscaping on the east elevation,” board member Garrick Blalock said. “It’s better than what we normally see in lots like this. I’ve noticed the patio at the Chipotle is really use well, and gives it more of a Main Street feel, rather than a strip mall feel.”

Board members did ask for clarification about crosswalks and bike racks, but were quickly satisfied with Boglioli’s answers.

“I totally support this kind of project that uses existing sprawling space to make this part of town more urban,” board member McKenzie Jones said. “You don’t have to add parking, it’s great. We all want this.”

The plan received unanimous final approval, contingent on having the lighting plans reviewed and approved before the building permit is issued.

Northside Apartments

Landscape architect Ed Keppy presented plans for the Northside Apartments, which will replace the current units. According to Keppy, the group looked at renovating, but decided demolishing and rebuilding would make more sense. There will be 82 total units spread between 17 buildings. Each building will have between two and six units inside, ranging from one- to four-bedroom apartments. There will also be a community building and two playgrounds.

Eventually, Keppy said, the project will be seeking rear yard, front yard and parking variances. The units will have patios in the back and porch extensions in the front. Additionally, there will be 82 parking spaces, rather than the technically required 104.

The board expressed general support for the plans, but did have a few suggestions.

“I’m happy to see this part of the neighborhood be remodeled,” Jones said. “But color variation [of the units’ exteriors] might be nice.”

Lewis echoed that wish, but voiced his appreciation for the project.

“Anything you can do to break up the design on these units will really make an impact on the quality of this development,” he said. “But it’s a good project.”

Jones also asked about the current tenants of the building, and where they’ll go during the phased construction. Keppy clarified that each tenant will receive a tenant protection voucher, as well as get a priority preference for returning to the completed project. He said the current plan is to move out half of the families, renovate those units, and then do the other half.

410 E. State St. apartments

The board declared lead agency on the McKinley Development Company’s State Street apartments proposal. The design would have 240,000 square feet of residential space that included 346 units, and 100,000 square feet of parking space, with over 300 parking spots.

“Given its location in proximity to the Commons and its visibility on State Street, it was a prime development opportunity to develop a first class apartment community to serve the Ithaca market,” McKinley president Jeff Githens said.

The project will sit along the Six Mile Creek, and Githens said the plans will give access to and improve the creek walk.

Board members had plenty of comments on the project, but they all seemed to agree on one thing: it’s big.

“This seems to be the largest scale in the city so far in some ways,” Jones said. “It’s a significant project.”

Board member Elisabete Godden agreed.

“It’s astounding,” she said. “It’s really big.”

However, members were generally supportive of the idea and suggested different design materials to give the industrial-inspired building a lighter feel. And Blalock said this was one of the easiest areas in the city to get away with a building of this size.

“It’s a good place to have housing, and the topography makes a large building look smaller,” he said. “It’s great to have density without feeling overwhelmed by mass. There’s lots to like about the project.”

The board did express concerns about traffic and design, but took the first cautious steps forward by declaring itself lead agency.

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