ITHACA, NY -- It’s official — the Planning Board has approved the apartment building at 401 E State St. after calling a special meeting to vote on it on Sept. 14. The project received preliminary site plan approval at the July 27 meeting, but it stalled at the Aug. 24 meeting. Developer Jeff Githens had been anticipating final site plan approval last month, but the board was operating at a bare quorum of four, which meant the project would need unanimous approval to move forward. However, board member Elisabete Godden was clear that she didn’t think the concerns she had voiced from the beginning of the project a year ago had been properly addressed and that she would not be able to vote in favor of it.
The group decided not to take a formal vote that evening and instead push the approval to the next meeting when there could be more, or different, board members in attendance. However, Githens wasn’t happy as he said losing a month meant having to push the project back an entire year because construction wouldn’t be able to start until November, which would undoubtedly be hindered by the weather.
The project, originally a 340,000 square-foot apartment building with 267 parking spaces and 353 residential units, has had a slow-moving summer. The developers presented that project to the Board of Zoning Appeals seeking a height variance in June, as the building was proposed at 71 feet, nine feet higher than the 62 allowed by zoning laws. However, between vacancies on the Board of Zoning Appeals, the inability to attain a quorum for meetings and staunch disapproval from at least two of the board members, developers decided to forego the height variance.
Without the variance, developers presented a smaller building to the Planning Board at the Aug. 24 meeting. The building will now be 62 feet, which reduces it by a story, and will house 321 units and 235 parking spaces.
Four Planning Board members, the bare minimum required to grant approval, were in attendance at the Sept. 14 meeting — McKenzie Jones, Garrick Blalock, CJ Randall and Mitch Glass.
Glass said he was ready at the last meeting to approve the project and still felt the same way, though he did note that he was disappointed there would be no straight shot from State Street to the creek walk behind the building.
“It’s a real missed opportunity for the creek walk,” he said.
At the August meeting engineer Brian Bouchard explained that there’s an electrical transformer nearby that can’t be moved, so there will be public access to the stairs and elevator in one portion of the building to provide a path.
Glass added he hopes the stairway is designed and lit nicely so that it’s a pleasant experience for people.
The other board members present agreed with Glass.
“I share [Glass’] comment about the access from the street to the water, but every project can’t be perfect in every way,” Blalock said. “I think it’s the best that can be done under the circumstances.”
He added that overall, the project is a positive for the city.
“I see a lot to like about this project,” Blalock said. “It puts housing where we need housing […] It’s replacing a surface lot with housing, it’s drawing attention to a natural area amenity close to the city.”
Ultimately the vote was unanimous to approve the project, about a year after the process started.
“I’d like to think you’d miss us, but I’m sure you’re ready to move on,” Jones joked.