ITHACA—City of Ithaca planning & development board, at its Tuesday, July 22 public meeting, tabled a vote to approve amendments to Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Service’s (IHNS) Stone Quarry Apartments project after resident Walter Hang shed light on the fact that, according to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), “two hazardous material spills” were reported on the site in Nov. 2012. The planning board intended to vote on “minor amendments” to the project—which received final site plan approval in Nov. 2012. However, in light of the environmental findings surfacing, the board unanimously decided to table further action until its next public meeting in August.
The project, a 35-unit apartment complex comprised of one three-story building and two rows of two-story townhomes at 400 Spencer Rd, has a storied past of controversy. Its location is in a community with a population of nearly 50 people. Upon its completion, the apartment complex is expected to add more than 100 residents, essentially tripling the area’s current population. This dynamic has caused consistent opposition from the existing residents of Spencer Road throughout the review process. Tuesday night was no different, as more than a dozen residents filled Common Council Chambers—all of them insisting the planning board take action to withhold final construction approval.
“When INHS initially applied for city approval,” Spencer Rd. resident Benjamin Kirk said, “they were also applying for the necessary funding for the project, coming primarily from state and federal low income housing credits. The city rushed through the approval process to help INHS able to make its application deadline in 2012. Everything about this project has been done to meet the developers’ timeline and not requirements of public process. As a result, the city made mistakes. When mistakes like these are discovered, they need to be resolved.”
Conflicting statements about the significance of Hang’s findings were voiced Tuesday night. Hang, president of a environmental company Toxics Targeting, sent a letter with the environmental details to Mayor Svante Myrick on Monday. Hang, in Tuesday’s meeting, refuted the Myrick’s description of the report as an “11th hour attempt” to derail a low-income housing project. Myrick has previously said getting this project off the ground is a priority, and would help contribute to Ithaca’s well-documented housing needs.
INHS senior real estate developer Joe Bowes and the project’s engineer Tim Seeler said the DEC concluded the toxic pollutants in question did not rise to the level of concern. However, Alderperson Cynthia Brock (D-1st), speaking in the capacity as a resident, told the planning board the DEC is still investigating the matter. Following her comments, board members agreed more time was needed, and requested the applicant to provide a written statement from the DEC on where the aforementioned environmental concerns stand.
Local developer Jason Fane concluded the planning board’s Tuesday, July 22 public meeting with his first sketch plan pitch of a 12-story building at 330 College Ave. (the former home of Green Café). Fane presented the building—which is two times the height of the legal limit—alongside architect Jagat Sharma, and Scott Whitham.
Board members were entertained by Fane’s ambition to propose such a site, and noted the cosmetic appeal of Sharma’s design. However, the general sentiment among the board was that it would never make it through the approval process at its current size.