Live free or die hard. Develop business on Inlet Island or watch as parking decreases, property taxes sky rocket and developers create sprawl drawing attention away from one of the most popular destinations in Ithaca. This is the worry most business owners, city officials and concerned residents face as the Common Council stays mum during discussions regarding development on the waterfront.
Last week the Community and Organizational Issues Committee met to discuss development on Inlet Island, an ongoing hot button topic among the community. JoAnn Cornish, interim director of planning and development for the City of Ithaca, gave a presentation about the history for the plans for Inlet Island and where the current plan stands today. Common Council member J.R. Clairborne described the meeting as "a review presentation, summarizing the vision for development...getting everyone on the same page with the same focus on what we want to see for Inlet Island."
Cornish said that plans for the waterfront started long ago, as early as the mid '60s, but since then there have been several plans that have gone forward with "one plan building upon the other plan." One of the very first plans for Inlet Island fell under a general plan for the city describing the Inlet as being a unique area slated for development.
"It's always been in the thinking of every committee and group that's formed to talk about this that there would be development on that waterfront property because we have so little waterfront property that can be developed," said Cornish. The most recent and popular proposal on the table for Inlet Island was given by Boatyard Grill developer Steve Flash. Flash is still the preferred developer for Inlet Island regardless of the fact that his hotel project, slated to bring in $539,000 annually in property tax alone, was denied by Common Council. The plan as it stands right now is that any additions to the waterfront would be urban, high density development with buildings between three and five stories.
The real question is: What does Common Council think about the plan? Are members on the same page as the city's planning and development department and Inlet Island business owners?
"Council needs to have a collective vision, something they can agree on," said Cornish. "Steve won't come back until he knows what is acceptable. And we don't know what they're thinking. My question to them is: where do they want to go? We didn't start that conversation yet."
Joe Perry, vice president and regional executive for Chemung Canal Trust Company, worried that the longer the city waits to develop Inlet Island, the worse the parking situation will be for businesses currently on the Inlet as well as any businesses to come.
"I noticed this morning that our entire lot was full, the Island Health lot was full and the city municipal lot they created on Taughannock Boulevard only had about 20 cars in it when it can easily handle over 100 cars," said Perry. "People are still choosing the quickest alternative. Right now I think we're OK because of what the city did with that lot, but that's a temporary solution at best. The east side of Taughannock has virtually no parking. The city promised they were going to do 1-2 hour limit parking, but they haven't done that yet. We have employees parking on the street for the entire day because there are no limits, no enforcement."
Cornish said that the city knew parking would be an issue with the urban design plan. If a developer wants to build a parking garage on the city reserved surface lot, they're welcome to do so.
"Every alternative is on the table," said Cornish. "Whatever we can do to solve the problem then we're certainly open to suggestions and willing to consider all possibilities."
As for Flash or any other developer bringing a new project to the table, time will tell. As for knowing where the Common Council stands on any new development...your guess is as good as ours.