At a public information session earlier this week, the proposed Carpenter Business Park was given a firm shakedown by residents living near the site as well as other members of the Ithaca community.
One of the project's leaders, Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning and Design, showed a presentation detailing the layout of the project. Whitham is working on behalf of Cayuga Medical Center and Park Grove Realty, who are planning on developing the site with four buildings, which would include a medical office, two mixed-use buildings and an affordable housing building. Since there are several easements in place by NYSEG which limit the height of buildings on the site to avoid power line interference, placing the buildings was difficult, along with ensuring that nothing happened to the local Community Gardens.
During the presentation, Whitham talked about how the project is going to need to be rezoned due to the new height of the buildings. With the issue of parking on the site emerging since the originally proposed underground garages were found to be unfeasible, the developer has plans to make the first and second floors of the mixed use buildings into parking. However, there are still plans for first floor retail to be implemented as well. The site would also have one building dedicated strictly to affordable housing which will be priced at 50 to 60 percent of the average median income. Once the presentation was finished, the room had an abundance of questions, with many coming from residents living near the site of the project.
Some questions dealt with whether or not there was any room to negotiate with NYSEG on modifying the easements, but Whitham said this doesn't seem possible. Alderperson George McGonigal wanted to know why the project had to be rezoned, and if there was a plan devised where the zoning wouldn’t have to change.
Whitham spoke about how the soil at the site played a large factor in whether or not the building would be able to have underground parking. Since the site was originally supposed to have subterranean parking, this would have kept the buildings compliant with the current zoning of the site. However, since the soil was an issue, as it has been for several projects in that area including Emmy’s Organics, the newly allotted floors for parking have pushed the height of the building up. Alderperson Cynthia Brock had a great deal to say about the development of the site, particularly surrounding the new zoning.
She pointed out that the new heights for the buildings, previously set to be 63 feet, is now only a few feet shy from being as tall as City Centre. The new height of the buildings will range in height from 74 feet to 76 feet, which also takes them up to being six floors instead of the proposed four. She also noted that residents of the affordable housing building would likely have complaints about being so close to the city's Waste Water Treatment Facility and a railroad crossing.
Yamila Fournier, a designer for Whitham Planning and Design spoke about how the side of the building facing the treatment plant and the railroad crossing would have had special glass put in for the windows. Other members of the development team spoke about how the affordable housing building would have been part of what helps Cayuga Medical Systems (CMS) see a profit from purchasing the land. Brock was also adamant in her feelings that the loss of money by CMS is not the concern or responsibility of the City of Ithaca.
Another big concern from residents was traffic. Since the site has a proposed entrance along State Route 13, and a new entrance along Fifth Street, people are concerned with congesting the streets. Alderperson Laura Lewis inquired about how they plan on limiting congestion with traffic going to the Farmer’s Market. Whitham said they do plan to address the traffic problem and that those options are being studied.
Other questions from residents dealt with whether or not these buildings need retail spaces on the first floor. As they pointed out, many buildings and projects are beings designed with retail shops on the ground floor. While they felt that the market in Ithaca is slowly becoming oversaturated with ground floor retail in developing buildings, Whitham said it adds to the economy of Ithaca and makes the building a more welcome place for people in the area.
The project went before the Planning and Economic Development Committee at their meeting on April 10 to seek out a conditional zoning approval to send along to the Common Council. Once that is approved, Whitham Planning and Design will begin working on site plan approval and an environmental impact study to be brought before the Planning Board.