The Planning Board had several projects come before them at their April meeting, with many entering the final stages of their development.
The meeting began with a special presentation from Andrea Aguirre, a senior planner and energy specialist for Tompkins County, about Business Energy Advisors, a new program from Tompkins County that allows local businesses to get professional advice on being environmentally friendly.
Several years ago, the Energy and Economic Development Task Force wanted to find a way to work with the commercial sector of the county to get buildings to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Last year, the program came to fruition, launching in August 2018. In that short time, there have been a number of businesses that have signed on to the program. Even if the business has headquarters in another region of New York, the building would still be eligible for applying for the program. Consultants are matched with businesses so they can get the best possible results from the program. Business can inquire through the county about how to apply and what type of services
Public comment was kept brief, as there were three different public hearings occurring. Alderperson Cynthia Brock voiced her concerns about how the new building could potentially create an echo chamber along South Hill. She also spoke about the new student housing development at 815 S. Aurora St., saying this project could add more noise and traffic to a primarily residential area.
Following public comment was a presentation about CFCU’s new transformation center on The Ithaca Commons. The new building will be a combination of a CFCU branch and a large community space that can be rented for events. Lisa Whittaker, CEO of CFCU, said the new transformation center will have different hours from other CFCU branches. This is due in part to the variety of events held on The Commons over the summer. She presented the new signage package, which proposes to add one sign to the building which faces E. State Street, with the other signs facing Tioga Street.
Members of the board took issue with the size of the signage, including the illumination of the signs along The Commons. Other comments pertained to how some signs could cause the building to lose its welcoming atmosphere. The project will be returning next month with a revised signage plan for the board.
The Chain Works development project was met with some reluctance from the board as elements of the preliminary site plan for phase one. Since a bulk of the phase-one plans hinge on the fate of two buildings, there was some speculation as to what will be occupying them. As of now, applicant Jamie Gensel, for David Lubin of Unchained Development, said the buildings are slated to become residential areas.
However, Gensel said the USDA move into one of the buildings, which could change both the parking structure and landscape plan of the site. The board commented that Gensel’s plan for the development was adequate, the board was not going to approve something temporary. Gensel was asked to come back next month with a more solid plan for the rest of the site and to add the two buildings to another phase of the development.
Cornell’s North Campus Residential Expansion project was up for further site plan review, this time returning with landscape plans and layouts. In the month since the NCRE has gone before the planning board, they have altered the original plans for certain roads in order to allow easier access for fire trucks to get to the development. NCRE has also managed to get final site plan approval from both the Town of Ithaca and the Village of Cayuga Heights. They will be returning to the next planning board to present more of their site plan and possibly get site plan approval.
Arthaus, which has been met with some misgivings, presented updates to the façade of the building as well as several other design elements. Some of the changes made to the building include the new color scheme of the exterior and additional information about the materials which will be used on the project. There were several comments made about the project from
During the project’s public hearing, Alderperson George McGonigal spoke about how the project would lead to the end of Ithaca’s final industrial zone. He said this could lead to a series of similar developments recurring along the block in future. McGonigal also felt the new waterfront zoning was rushed and not serving the area in the best ways.
Laura Miller, of the Cherry Arts Space, spoke positively about the project, citing that it brings low-income housing to the area. She mentioned how the Cherry Arts Space was involved in getting the project connected to the area. Other residents spoke about how the project will benefit the community and bring some vibrance to the community.
The members of the planning board commented on how the building is a good project, although the choice of building materials and color was questioned due to how it would appear across the Cayuga inlet. A resolution concerning a negative declaration of environmental impacts was in front of the board and was subsequently approved. Arthaus is looking to get preliminary site plan approval sometime over the next two months.
Perdita Flats, which is being designed as a zero-energy building, came before the board seeking out final site plan review. The project had several changes made to the project, with the board feeling comfortable with the state of the project. One member did say that the project should ensure that there are some affordable units to allow Southside area residents a chance to move into the building. The board approved the sites final site plan review, allowing Perdita Flats to begin construction, which will occur sometime in September
A new student housing development at 815 S. Aurora St. came before the board to get some approval about preliminary layouts and designs. Applicant Noah Demarest, of STREAM Collaborative, spoke about some of the updates to the building's designs and site layouts. The buildings will have easy stairway access to the roof for Ithaca Fire Department. There are some opportunities for signage in front of the building, though that may or may not be added on in future. One problem the project faced was about a cell phone tower located on the site.
During the projects public comment, many residents wanted to see several concerns regarding the building. One resident had concerns about possible noise coming from residents of the building. Russell Maines, an attorney representing the resident of 809 S. Aurora St., spoke about how the project is not an appropriate mix with the current demographic of the area. Joe Allen, representing a family that owns land near the site. Allen’s client brought up the concerns of traffic, as did the previous two, as the street is consistently jammed with people driving to school.
Many other residents spoke about their adamant disdain for the new buildings. Residents were unhappy with the site being so intrusive and felt it was contingent on the Chain Works development opening further down the road. One person did speak positively about the project, citing that it will create new vacancies in other apartments across Ithaca. He also said that new development would encourage the residents of the new building to take public transportation or even walk to classes at Ithaca College.
The board asked Demarest to come back with some further information about environmental impacts the site could have. JoAnn Cornish asked if the project is going to do a shadow study as well as examine the impacts of water mains going to the project. Finally came a brief presentation of the sketch plan of the new Carpenter Business Park.
With several NYSEG easements throughout the site and poor soil, this project has been a great source of community contention. Since this is one of the most developable parcels of land on the West Side, Whitham Planning and Design is using great care in getting the site acclimated to the rest of the city. For years, this parcel remained undeveloped, with only the Community Gardens occupying the land.
The board has very little comments pertaining to the designs and layouts of the site. They recognized the great lengths developers have gone to get the communities thoughts and comments and encapsulate them in planning the site. Some members of the board criticized the orientation of the affordable housing building being located near the entrance of the project. Chairman of the Board Rob Lewis wanted to see the affordable housing part of the project integrated into the site better.