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ITHACA, NY -- The full Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) agreed with the Economic Development Committee and decided to move forward with the Finger Lakes Development proposal for Inlet Island at the June 24 meeting.

The Finger Lakes Development proposal includes two separate buildings, one with 50-56 affordable housing units serving a range of 30-120% of area median income, and one with 78-90 units for extended stays, called a “hometel.”

There were some concerns about density from IURA board member Tracy Farrell, a point that has been brought up by different people at each stage of the process so far.

“There have been several comments that this seems too crammed,” Farrell said. “It’s just so much in not really that large of a space.”

IURA Director Nels Bohn said that when that point was brought up previously at the Economic Development Committee meeting, the developers said they’d be open to downscaling a bit, with the understanding that a smaller project would mean fewer financial resources to put toward public benefits.

While the developers did not present, in past meetings all three expressed that the cost of remediating the contaminated soil in the area would add a significant cost to the project, so the proposals were bigger to offset that cost.

Bohn added that the site was about two-and-a-quarter acres, and that the poor soil in the area required either low and lightweight structures or taller, sturdier structures.

“It’s consistent with waterfront zoning in the West End, and the rest of the island is lower density as far as height,” he said.

Board member Karl Graham echoed the concerns though, and said that the scale seems out of place for that spot.

“It seems that the city, with zoning, set the expectations for the developers,” he said. “I guess my question is what is the process if we decided to go back and start over? What are we looking at? Is it feasible to say five stories is too much for that small parcel?”

With her concerns about scale, Farrell said she wouldn’t be opposed to that.

“It’s trying to be so many things in such a small space, and five stories is just one of them,” she said. “Once it’s done, it’s done. I would not be adverse to waiting and looking again.”

However, Mayor Svante Myrick said he wouldn’t be in support of starting over.

“Not just because of the economics, but I think we have an opportunity to put people on the island,” he said. “It doesn’t strike me as an overwhelming amount of people or an overwhelming amount of density.”

He added that the size is essentially what would be contained within one city block.

Board member Eric Rosario agreed with Myrick, and said he didn’t find the size to be concerning enough to go back and start over or to change the zoning in the area.

“I was excited by all the proposals,” he said. “They were very well put together on all fronts, and I’m supportive of this one.”

He did mention that his one concern was that the public space could end up feeling private because of the private residences proposed for the parcel.

Board member Chris Proulx said his main worry was access, as there’s essentially only one way in and out of the island.

“My concern about density is not so much about height of the building, it’s about can we get people in and out of there?” Proulx asked. “It’s a mix of people, hometel visitors, residents, short-term visitors to BoatYard Grill.”

Ultimately, board members all agreed that they trusted the process the projects had gone through, and they felt confident in entrusting the design to the Planning Board. The Common Council will have to approve the project at its next meeting.

(1) comment

Elisabeth Hegarty

Since most of us are not urban planners, could you please translate in dollars and cents what the phrase "30-120% of area median income" means? Thanks a lot!

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