After a lengthy debate and a great deal of public comments, the Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) approved a pilot program for e-scooters and a recommendation to New York State officials asking for rent stabilization protections. Several local residents came out to speak about both items as well as a resolution allowing conditional approval for Carpenter Business Park to go forward in their development process.
Many residents came to speak about how the new e-scooters will not be beneficial for the community. If a pilot program is brought to Ithaca, it should be placed under the same harsh scrutiny that was placed on skateboarding several years ago. A few comments centered on how just because Lime is a for-profit company doesn’t mean they can work for the public good.
Committee members seemed hesitant in going through with the resolution. One question asked by Stephen Smith was how people would be able to keep from riding these scooters down the hills. Jeff Goodmark, the operations manager for Lime in Ithaca, said the only way to do so would be geofencing. This is when a signal is sent to the e-scooter or e-bike to stop or slow down in certain areas of the city.
However, this would not prevent someone from self-powering the e-scooter. To skirt this issue, the pilot program would only be in downtown Ithaca instead of other neighborhoods. Should e-scooters be approved to become a permanent fixture in Ithaca, though, they would be distributed throughout the city.
Alderperson Graham Kerslick commented about his dissatisfaction with some of the responses from Lime and the Mobility, Accessibility & Transportation Commission (MAT Com) about e-scooters. He wanted Lime to come up with a hard copy of the memorandum of understanding (MOU) and to have both organizations meet with IPD to determine the legality of e-scooters being on the road. Kerslick also wanted to see if geofencing could be implemented through the city.
Committee member Cynthia Brock noted Washington, D.C. as a city facing a problem of clutter from dead Lime e-scooters. Goodmark said Lime’s e-scooters’ long-lasting battery is a standard part of their operation. Other suggestions were made to create scooter parking spots in front of businesses. Following the committee’s lengthy deliberation, they voted to approve the pilot program 4 to 1, with committee member Laura Lewis opposed. She felt there were too many unanswered questions regarding the safety of the scooters.
“The proposed 15 mph speed for Lime’s e-scooters is too fast for the safety of riders and pedestrians,” Lewis said. “Riding scooters on sidewalks is a challenge we should expect, according to the MATCom’s report on the experience of other cities with scooters. The question of enforcement of Lime’s requirements for riders is another concern. I would very much appreciate IPD weighing in on such a pilot. At present, there are too many unresolved issues for me to vote in favor of a pilot e-scooter program.”
A resolution, drafted by Cynthia Brock, about bringing rent stabilization protections to Upstate New York was going to be brought before Common Council during their May 1 meeting, but it was removed prior to the meeting to be revised and brought before PEDC first. The resolution, Brock said, identifies a need for many Upstate cities seeking this type of legislation.
A few people spoke about how the resolution didn’t benefit local landlords and that the current law is more New York City-centric. Other comments centered on how the new protections would benefit newer developments because the bill applies to buildings built before 1974 with six or more units.
The resolution is a letter asking New York State officials to share the protections that are under the Emergency Tenant Protection Act (ETPA) with all of New York State and not just the five boroughs. Originally, the resolution looked at including Upstate New York in the The Good Cause Act, which would make renters eligible for lease renewal should they strictly abide by the terms of their lease. If the changes to the ETPA go through, it is still an opt-in situation. Cities would have to go through a process of adapting the legislation to their unique environments.
The Carpenter Business Park project came before the board for conditional approval, with several residents praising the great working relationship that has developed between the project and the nearby Community Gardens. Carl Foyer spoke on behalf of Northside United, who is continuing their support of the project. He said he is glad to see the project bringing new affordable housing to Ithaca and the new Cayuga Medical Center building is necessary for the community. The project was approved 4 to 1, with Cynthia Brock opposing. She found this project had far too many impacts on the surrounding community for it to be approved as it was.
“The Carpenter Business Park parcel is located along one of the primary gateways into the City of Ithaca,” Brock said in a prepared statement. “All visitors and traffic moving north and south through the city on Route 13—approximately 8,000 cars per day will be both visually impacted by this property, as well as affected by any increases in vehicle and pedestrian activities conducted on-site or internal traffic diversions to and from the Farmers Market.”
Brock’s suggested redesign ideas were not having any residential buildings near the Ithaca Area Waste Water Treatment Facility (IAWWTF) or the railroad crossing, reducing the massing for Cayuga Medical Center’s building to the maximum allowed by current zoning, increased green space, and fewer parking spaces or hard surfaces. The plan, along with those for e-scooters and the recommendation for rent stabilization, will be brought before Common Council at their June meeting for further approval.
Other items before the committee were two plans dealing with Housing and Urban Development (HUD) entitlements. The first plan is a five-year consolidated plan and the other is a one-year action plan. These resolutions were passed unanimously. Along with this was a resolution for circulation about changes to the zoning on West State Street.
The resolution was approved 4 to 1, with Stephen Smith opposed. He wanted the zoning to remain the way it was. Closing out the meeting was a discussion about a disclosure agreement for the Ithaca Area Waste Water Treatment Facility dealing with where in the zoning code certain adjustments would go.
Edwin J. Viera