Zoning changes being considered for Ithaca's waterfront to spur development
The inlet provides water access to properties along Taughannock Boulevard that are in an area being considered for rezoning by the City of Ithaca to help spur development along the waterfront. (Photo by Rachel Philipson)

The Planning and Economic Development Committee voted unanimously to circulate a proposal to create a third waterfront zone to replace the current I-1 zoning of portions of land on Route 13 between Cascadilla and Third streets, including Carpenter Business Park. According to committee chair Seph Murtagh (D-2nd), the main purpose of rezoning from I-1 to WF-2 would be to encourage mixed-use development, including residential housing.

The Common Council adopted the current waterfront zoning districts WF-1 and WF-2 in 2011. “Since that time staff has been re-evaluating the adopted boundaries of the district to determine whether they are effectively placed in order to encourage the desired development in this area of the city,” said Jennifer Kusznir, a planner for the city. “In order to encourage waterfront mixed-use residential development it is necessary to also consider the adjacent development potential and make sure that the allowable uses would support waterfront development. The I-1 zoning district allows for heavy industrial uses, which are not appropriate to be located adjacent to mixed-use residential uses. However, lighter manufacturing uses could locate in this district without negatively impacting potential residential uses.”

The committee discussion focused on priorities: industry or housing? Alderperson Cynthia Brock (D-1st) expressed misgivings with rezoning an area initially intended to attract industry and the jobs and taxes that come with it.

Murtagh suggested the original zoning intentions may not be appropriate any more. “I think this is a sign of the times,” said Murtagh. “We no longer live in a manufacturing economy. I think there’s a recognition that the city’s economy might not be able to support the kind of large-scale manufacturing that was initially envisioned when this area was zoned industrial.”

Alderperson Jennifer Dotson (D-1st) spoke to the need for more housing within city limits, where rents have increased an average of 13 percent in the past year. “How many more statistics do we need to tell us that we need more housing?” asked Dotson. “If we zone to allow both light industry and residential development to exist there, then we have the flexibility to allow the market to regulate what goes in there. I don’t think we should allow thirty-year-old zoning to dictate our decisions now.”

“As much as we visualize housing along the waterfront,” said Brock, “the expectations of quality of life of residents are very high. The water treatment plant nearby and the trucking activity make me reluctant with this.”

“Quality of life concerns are important questions to be asked, folks who are living there are going to be impacted by neighboring activity,” said Murtagh, “ but we’ve seen an alarming increase in rents over the last couple of years, there’s a lot of demand for housing and we have to make sure the supply meets the demand.”

“At this point the staff has prepared a concept memo,” said Murtagh, “and it’s basically just at the proposal stage. We voted to circulate the proposal to get feedback. We’ll get the feedback and see if we want to move forward. As always, the community is encouraged to provide feedback as well.” •

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