October Common Council

October's Common Council meeting started off with a bang with the presentation of the 2018 budget by Mayor Svante Myrick, then moved onto business as usual, grappling with two main issues. 

After the dust had settled, the Green Street Garage redevelopment took another step forward and there was another episode of the continuing tug-of-war between Collegetown's development and its history. 

The Green Street Garage project, detailed at length here, is aimed at bringing a massive conference center to downtown, as well as an influx of much-desired affordable housing and mixed-use storefronts along Green Street. 

After a prolonged discussion, the members unanimously approved the transfer of the property to the IURA, which will now field bids and has the power to negotiate parking agreements, sales price, tax status and the project's adherence to local design guidelines and goals, among other details. Those proposals will include, according to the Council's final resolution: 

  • A conference center
  • Approximately 350 housing units, including "a substantial number of units to be affordable to low and/or middle income households"
  • street level active uses along Green Street
  • Retention of the Cinemapolis movie theater as well as a walkway between Green Street and the Commons
  • At least 450 parking spaces open to the public, with at least 90 reserved for short-term parkers

Public comment did include one statement delivered by Vicki Taylor Brous, of Brous Consulting, who has worked most recently with developer David Lubin on his Harold's Square project for the Commons. She posited to the council members that the process they followed regarding the Green Street development was illegal and inappropriate, mostly due to a violation of New York State segmentation laws regarding environmental reviews.

Those laws pertain to basically splitting up large projects and approving them in pieces so as to bypass environmental review processes that would normally be triggered by projects of certain sizes. Brous stated that court precedent mandates a long-term assessment of future development whenever city-owned land is bought, which would require a full environmental examination under New York's State Environmental Quality Review Act. 

The Larkin Building 

The Larkin Building received a historic designation despite the objections of its owner, having been recommended for such a status by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission in July. 

The ILPC argued the building's age and connection to the Larkin family, which owned and operated several grocery stores in Collegetown in the early 1900s. 

Alderperson Graham Kerslick spoke in favor of the designation, arguing that it would be another step in maintaining the tense balance between Collegetown's new development and the area's historic roots

"By preserving these buildings, I think we create the type of mixed environment that will be essential for that area going forward," Kerslick said. 

George Avramis, the property owner, has argued against the historic designation. He said his primary concern is safety, citing other buildings on the block which have wood frames that have either burned down or have caught on fire over the years. The designation would also mean fairly strict regulation on any future re-development of the site.

"This is not the safest building," Aramis said. "To be brought up to spec, the interior probably needs to be torn down. I respect the exterior significance [...] I'd ask that this board or the ILPC would allow me to keep the facade while tearing down the rest of the building."

While that was considered momentarily, Bryan McCracken, the city's Historic Preservation Planner, said facade-saving is frowned upon in the preservation community and doing so would essentially destroy the building's historical significance.

Alderperson Cynthia Brock expressed her sympathy for Aramis' plight, noting the financial burden that comes along with a historic designation. Alderperson Steve Smith joined her in voting against the measure. Both asked to table the issue so as to look into a new ordinance that would allow Aramis' facade-saving proposition, but their attempt was rejected. 

Other news and notes from the first Common Council meeting of fall:

- Michael Decatur was unanimously approved to temporarily take over the vacant Common Council seat representing the Fifth Ward. Though it is subject to change, he is currently slated to serve until December 31, 2017, after which a permanent replacement would take over the seat. That election will be held in November, between Laura Lewis, Aryeal Jackson and Michelle Hall. 

- Mayor Myrick declared October 28, 2017 as Into the Streets Day in Ithaca. 

- On the ongoing issue of the possible relocation of the Ithaca Community Gardens, Mayor Myrick, along with Alderperson Seph Murtagh, both said they would not support any project that included the moving of the gardens prior to the end of its lease, unless the Community Gardens was satisfied with and supported the proposal. The gardens' current lease ends in 2032. Murtagh's and Myrick's statements were prompted by several comments from the public hoping the gardens would remain at its current spot. 

- The Council approved, with one opposing vote, a resolution requesting a full environmental review of the proposed Cargill Mine Shaft expansion under Cayuga Lake. Fifth Ward Alderperson Deb Mohlenoff was the lone vote against, saying she could not support it because she felt as if herself and the council did not know enough about the issue to take that stand. 

Follow Matt Butler on Twitter @AllegedButler

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