South Hill residents once again flocked to a Planning Board meeting to speak out against the student housing development at 815 S. Aurora St. This time, the project team was giving a presentation about some of the additional changes that have been made to the site’s design and layout, but regardless, most of the chatter at the meeting was negative, representing the ongoing hesitance to allow another student housing development.
During the public privilege of the floor, most comments spoke to the general dislike of the project, which will contain two one-bedroom units, 38 two-bedroom units, and 24 three-bedroom units, according to Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative. Other amenities include a gym, a media room, outdoor space in building B, and 65 parking spaces, which are required by the zoning.
Roger Dennis, the first person to speak during the public privilege of the floor, talked about some of the numerous issues residents have had with the project, specifically the issue of parking within the fall zone. He argued that the project's parking lot should not be allowed so close to the cell phone tower that already exists on the site, as it is in the "fall zone."
Other speakers such as Cathy Crane talked about a perceived lack of demand for the project. Crane, a professor at Ithaca College, claimed that the housing won't be as necessary since Ithaca College’s enrollment will be down in the coming academic school year, which could signal that the growing number of student renters has finally flatlined. However, Alderperson Cynthia Brock countered that the project is not just for incoming students but for those living throughout the City of Ithaca. It will help get the city on track for a student housing goal set in 2016.
“As you may recall, in 2016 the County funded a study which identified the need for 411 beds in purpose-built student housing for IC students,” Brock said. “This project brings us one step closer to fulfilling that need and providing relief to surrounding neighborhoods.”
To follow, though, Brock also stated that she was still disappointed that the developer, Modern Living Rentals, hasn't done more to lessen the impact on the immediately-surrounding properties. She also said that given the development’s focus on students, nearby bus routes, and proximity to Ithaca College, she hopes the development won’t generate as much additional car use in that area. Brock doesn’t expect the additional traffic to have much more of an impact on the daily rush hour traffic as non-student housing can create. Alderperson George McGonigal said he liked the idea of the project, but that this particular design doesn’t work for the site.
“I think the concept of building new student housing closer to Ithaca College is a good one,” McGonigal said. “The idea being that it will reduce and hopefully reverse the amount of conversions of single-family houses to student rentals elsewhere on South Hill. That said, I think the three apartment buildings proposed for 815 S. Aurora St. make for development that is too big for the property's size and topography, and way too close to neighboring houses. A single apartment building, or two smaller ones, more centered on the property away from neighboring houses would be far preferable, in my opinion."
During the meeting, Board Member Mckenzie Lauren Jones spoke about adding a condition into the consideration for site plan approval to have the project reviewed by the City of Ithaca Common Council and the Board of Zoning Appeals. This was later revised with a notice drafted by Senior Planner Lisa Nicholas to be distributed to certain parties with vested interests in the project.
“I’ve been on those committees for rezoning neighborhoods and determining building heights and we try to think of all the factors that are important," Jones said. "Sometimes we miss something, so I want to have a conversation with those vested bodies knowing that they have an idea about a cell tower fall zone and what’s acceptable to be underneath it and what’s not.”
Jones wants to ensure that for other projects like this one, there are feedback cycles built into the process. This will ensure that any parties with a vested interest in a certain project will be able to give their thoughts on it for the Planning Board to consider. The project will be back at future meetings for further discussion and approval before the board.