ITHACA, NY -- The proposed apartment building at 401 E State St. took “a step backwards” at the Dec. 15 Planning Board meeting, developers and board members agreed. However, things were more positive for a proposed Collegetown apartment building.
The six-story building on E State Street would have 240,000 square feet of residential space that includes 347 units, and 100,000 square feet of parking space, with 318 parking spots. The development team from McKinley Development Company was on hand to offer some updates on design, particularly about the creek-side façade, which had received criticism at the last meeting.
Designers added modulation to the height of the brick and added balconies to try to break up the façade and create a more residential look to the building; they also widened the pedestrian entrance to the building on the side that faces State Street.
While this alleviated some of the concerns, overall board members were still hesitant about the scale of the building.
“You look at the main perspective from the creek and the massiveness of it still concerns me,” board member Mitch Glass said. “It seems to me that those are bigger issues we really need to talk more about. This building is too big…maybe we can ask for it to be 90% as big to give the site more breathing room.”
Board member Elisabete Godden agreed.
“I do think that there’s a massing issue here,” she said. “I’d like to see more green space, more trees along the building façade.”
Board member Emily Petrina added that she thinks not providing a connection from State Street to the creek walk through the building was a missed opportunity.
“I know it’s difficult, but if there’s a way to chute people through a tunnel from State Street to a set of stairs down to the creek walk…” she said.
Chair Rob Lewis agreed, and said that there had to be some give in the project to make it work.
“It still seems huge,” he said. “It’s not defensible. There has to be a give […] As it stands now I don’t think I hear a consensus that it works, and I don’t believe it works. That said, I think it’s still an improvement from the last version, and I appreciate that.”
A few board members suggested reducing the size of the fire access road to allow for more green space, but developers didn’t think there was a lot of room to budge on that.
“The fire lane is a fire lane,” developer Jeff Githens said. “It’s a requirement […] if Chief [Tom] Parsons gave some liberty to the sidewalk being used, we’d certainly be open to it. And then connecting State Street to the creek walk […] the sheer elevation difference between the two, the most logical place to make that connection is between the Gateway Center building and our building, and that space is conveyed by Frost Travis for an Alpha Phi Alpha memorial. That is by far the most practical place, and we would be happy to provide an easement, but every other place would be physically impractical.”
Githens went on to add that there’s a certain point where a project becomes financially impractical, and that there’s only so much compromising he can do before they reach that point.
“If we’re at an impasse on what the building is, we’ve got real challenges as a developer,” he said. “I feel this might be a step backwards tonight.”
Lewis agreed, but said there is a path forward.
“I think it probably was,” he said. “I don’t think tonight was real successful for you guys […] We got pushback on things that were possibilities, and there’s a lack of any movement on massing at all, when the most consistent comment you’ve gotten was about massing […] But no, I don’t think we’re at an impasse. I think you can get a majority of this board to support this project. But you’re not there yet.”
The board felt more positively about a proposed apartment building at 121 Oak Ave. The building would be four stories, plus a basement, with 35 units and 40 beds. Most of the units are efficiency apartments, but there are five two-bedrooms.
The building rendering showed a brightly colored building with teal, burgundy and yellow hues.
“It’s a narrow lot, so we tried to create more interesting facades with color and patterning, as opposed to too much articulation in the facades themselves,” Craig Modisher, an architect from STREAM Collaborative, said.
The first floor, which will house a gym, lounge, laundry facility, a few apartments and maintenance/trash/storage rooms, will have large glass panels to liven up the building at the street level.
“I live in Collegetown,” developer Josh Lower said. “I want to make it as pedestrian-friendly as possible and as inviting and active as possible.”
The building is all within code and requires no variances.
The board didn’t have much in the way of criticism, though Godden did suggest exploring the possibility of relief and shading between colors on the façade to provide a bit more visual interest.
There was also some brief discussion about protecting trees on the property as much as possible, as Collegetown is already lacking in greenery. The project otherwise moved forward and will be back in front of the board for a continued environmental review next month.