South Hill student housing project

Rendering of proposed development at 815 South Aurora St.

A new student housing development on South Hill has become a problem, as residents have openly expressed their disdain for the project. The new development will consist of three buildings with 64 units at 815 S. Aurora St. The buildings will contain two one-bedroom units, 38 two-bedroom units, and 24 three-bedroom units, according to Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative. Other amenities included, according to Demarest, include a gym, a media room, outdoor space in building B, and 65 parking spaces, which are required by the zoning. The project developer is Modern Living Rentals. 

One challenge in figuring out how to develop the new site was working around a cell phone tower which puts the development in an odd predicament. In order to develop on the site, a special plan has to be devised for where to place the buildings so they won’t be damaged should the tower fall. Demarest found this to really be difficult to figure out, as there were a variety of scenarios to consider.

“The cell tower fall zone was originally written without any sort of logic applied to the physics of how cell towers actually fall,” Demarest said. “It used to be two times the height of the tower, but the reality is a tower like this would most likely collapse upon itself or at worst it could fall the distance of the height of the tower plus a few feet for any debris. It is also extremely unlikely for these towers to fall because all the cables would have to fail simultaneously. In any case, a few different engineers looked at this, which helped the city revise the law, and this freed up some of the space of the site.”

Many South Hill residents are opposed to the project for a number of reasons. During the April 23 meeting of the Planning and Development Board, a multitude of South Hill residents spoke against the project, citing a recent glut of housing throughout Ithaca, with this development being one. Jesse Hill, a long time resident of Grandview Place in South Hill and the only person to speak in favor of the proposed development, felt the new development will solve some of the housing problems throughout Ithaca.

“There is a housing crisis in Ithaca,” Hill said. “The project meets a market demand of housing inventory and helps ease the market pressure on the existing stock. This housing project will contribute to a market adjustment by providing new inventory on the upper South Hill area and therefore opening up existing housing in the lower South Hill area. Whereas lifestyle differences with renters have been a conflict for the neighborhood, this developed change can help alleviate those issues.”

Hill also felt that the project will get Ithaca College students to move out of current housing that could be leased to other renters throughout the city. Other residents recognized the problem of this development being across the street from the proposed Chain Works Development, which will have large amounts of housing as well. Cathy Crane, a professor at Ithaca College and a longtime South Hill resident, finds the project to be unnecessary, along with several other problems that have bombarded the development.

“The zoning that they have allows for high-density residential development, so, of course, it’s very hard to defend against that right,” Crane said. “However, it was zoned back in 1977 and it has not been reviewed since then. In speaking with JoAnn Cornish and the mayor in a meeting, at least JoAnn thought the next Comprehensive Plan is going to be in South Hill. So, the idea that has not yet happened, which will undoubtedly involve some re-zoning and probably that parcel at 815 [S. Aurora St.], is the main issue. It should just be deferred until the stakeholders on South Hill have had a chance to talk about this development and the idea for the plan for South Hill.”

Not many residents knew that the project was in the works and were blindsided by the announcement of the project coming before the Planning Board. For now, the project is on track for approval of the site plan review process. However, there doesn’t seem to be a demand needed for the housing by Ithaca College, according to Crane, who found that a decline in admissions could render this project useless.

“I spoke with the director of residential life and judicial affairs,” Crane said. “They knew nothing about this housing project—a housing project that is destined to and trying to attract Ithaca college students. In fact, the developer's plan is to price the apartments so they can compete with the cost of the on-campus Circle Apartments. Given the fact that Ithaca College is predicting a 12-percent reduction in enrollment for next year, it’s highly unlikely that the college is going to want students to go off campus.”

Crane said that most residents aren’t interested in seeing that land developed. Rather, they want to see it remain a green space. Residents did bring up concerns about the proximity of this development to South Hill Elementary School and Ithaca College, and are concerned about the increased traffic that would come from the new residents. However, Demarest found the opposite would occur with this project.

“SRF [Associates, D.P.C.] traffic engineers were retained by the developer to look at the vehicle trips generated based on the type and number of users,” Demarest said. “They concluded that there would be no significant impacts. This is largely due to the fact that most users would be students and they would be heading away from downtown. Also, the number of trips is relatively small compared to the thousands of vehicles that use Aurora Street.”

Demarest also said TCAT has no plans to add any new bus stops along South Aurora Street. However, upon the new Chainworks opening, this could change. With the new development at 815 S. Aurora St., developers are hoping that students will walk, bike, or use public transportation to get to Ithaca College. The project will be back before the Planning Board at their May 28 meeting.

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