After months of discussion and plenty of protest from South Hill residents, the student rental development at 815 South Aurora Street was unanimously approved at the Ithaca Planning Board’s Sept. 24 meeting. The project wasn’t passed without a fight, though, as residents who have been urging the Planning Board to stop the project spoke during the public privilege of the floor portion of the meeting.
Despite the audience's sentiments, though, after some final discussion the Planning Board voted unanimously to approve the project. The vote comes as a lawsuit filed last month to try to stop the development is still in Tompkins County Court. The project would bring three buildings, 66 units and 150 beds to the site.
South Hill resident Roger Dennis has been at several Planning Board meetings to protest the project. He’s objected to the idea of having the building’s parking lot in the fall zone of a nearby cell-phone tower. Dennis drew a parallel between the development and the Ithaca Children’s Garden since both are in the tower’s fall zone.
“The difference here is that during inclement weather, there is a choice that is made to visit the garden,” Dennis said. “On this site [815 S. Aurora St.], one must go into the fall zone because people live there and frequent the parking lot/fall zone on a daily basis - it is the only way out of these apartments buy vehicle or bicycle. One must walk through the fall zone to take out the garbage.”
Other residents spoke to some of the same points that Dennis made, with others arguing against the project’s size. Michael Belmont, who is moving to Ithaca from Rochester, has been tracking the project’s residential backlash and is supportive of Roger Dennis’ position that the building doesn’t work for the site. Having chaired the Board of Zoning Appeals for Irondequoit, NY, for five years, Belmont feels the board should take a step back and look circumspectly:
“To be clear I respectfully encourage this board to deny this site plan as proposed,” Belmont said. “The Visum project has been given special consideration and has been allowed to fly under the code’s radar on many occasions and has inspired changes in the code at times like a reduction in a cell tower fall zone.”
During the board’s deliberations on the project, they spoke about how the new materials being used alter the building’s perspective. Board member Emily Petrina said she supports the building and feels that the nearby road, Route 96B, has grown into a major thoroughfare in and out of the city of Ithaca. Mitch Glass dismissed the fall zone argument. Jack Elliott echoed Petrina’s statement saying that as urban areas begin to change, so does their housing landscape. Rob Lewis, the board’s chair, also praised the project’s adjustments and improvements.
McKenzie Lauren Jones addressed the residents of South Hill directly, pointing out what she felt were contradictory arguments from them. While many residents don’t want the project to be approved, she said, these are often the same residents who don’t want students occupying single family homes as a rental properties. Jones found this would be the solution to that problem. Matthew Johnston said that while the development is going to stand out at first, he feels that given time this building will have become integrated into the neighborhood.