1. I’m thinking there is a genuine lull in the pipeline at the moment. The city’s projects memo, which is the document that city departments receive and comment on before the actual Planning Board meeting, doesn’t have much for consideration for this upcoming month. The one projects that is being “newly” considered is the 12-unit, 26-bedroom PPM Homes proposal at 215-221 W. Spencer Street. That project is expected to receive declaration of lead agency (in other words, the planning board formally agrees to review it) at the June meeting. Being carried over from the previous months are the two duplexes for 804 E. State Street, the Tompkins Financial HQ, INHS’s 210 Hancock project and the Maguire Fiat/Chrysler expansion. None of those are up for final approval.
Smaller projects and subdivisions will often first show up in the memo ahead of the meeting, but not this month. What will be, will be.
2. On the other end of the scale, this looks to be a busy month for the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council. Most of their agenda focuses on window repairs and other minor details, but they will be reviewing the Tompkins Financial HQ and the new drive-thru across the street. Although neither is within a historic district, I suppose it’s being reviewed for the sake of feedback and the possibility of a visual impact on the skyline as seen from historic districts.
3. In Old Library news, a decision was expected last Tuesday…but, the decision was postponed. After committee members started sharing their differences in opinion. Pardon my cynicism, but that’s a perfect microcosm of those whole process. Frequently delayed and bound to infuriate someone come decision time.
In a perfect world, all three of those would be built in the city, because they all address different housing needs in Ithaca, and they would all likely be successful. But of course, there can only be one. We’ll find out next Tuesday morning.
4. The Ithaca town Planning Committee is verifying two things already noted in previous news round-ups. One, the 68-unit Cayuga Meadows project hopes to begin construction in the very near future, and two, the Troy Road housing project is dead.
The committee also brought up the possibility of a moratorium for certain parts of town – two areas described as having significant student populations. One is almost certainly the area of South Hill next to IC, the other is not stated (but likely has to do with Cornell). This is part of a larger conversation to keep IC students from living off-campus in student rentals. Students aren’t a protected class, so whatever extra bureaucracy or laws the town wants to adopt are technically fair game. I would imagine, however, it would much easier to do that to IC’s undergrads than the professional and doctoral students attending Cornell. Looking at the numbers, one has been increasing much more than the other, and it’s not the undergrads. This, I suspect, is where potential laws become problematic.
Anyway, the moratorium is seen as a last-ditch effort. But the possibility of it should be enough to raise eyebrows.
5. Time for some more unhappy – the city Board of Zoning Appeals isn’t touching the 815 South Aurora Street application. To recapitulate the salient details, local developer Todd Fox would like to build apartments on the land but can’t because the vast majority of the property is within the “fall zone” of a cell tower, which the city defines as twice the height of the tower. At 815 South Aurora, a 170′ tower creates a 340′ radius of no-man’s land (outer circle above), making the parcel virtually undevelopable. Fox had two private engineering companies (TAITEM Engineering and Spec Consulting) analysis the case and they determined that an appropriate fall zone is the height of the tower plus 10 feet for a little wind/bounce – so 180′ total. With this info in hand, Fox is trying to get the city to refine the zoning to allow the decrease in fall zone and therefore permit the land to be open for development.
The BZA said it was acting on the city attorney’s advice that the committee can’t override a council-approved law. Which means that Noah Demarest, the architect appearing on behalf of Todd Fox, will either have to go to the Council to have the law amended, or he and Fox will have to go through a full sketch plan and review process, and apply for an area variance for whatever firm plans they have proposed. Meeting with the BZA was seen as way to avoid having to shell out all that time and money and risk still being rejected because of the cell tower issue. There’s a risk with moving forward at this point, and it’ll depend on just how much risk the developer is willing to take on this potential project.
6. We’ll wrap up with something positive – FormIthaca, the citizen group advocating for form-based zoning, is doing their design charettes this week. I’m writing this on Thursday night since I will be doing 5-year Cornell reunion stuff on Friday, but I do plan on being in attendance Friday afternoon meeting and am looking forward to seeing/hearing what ideas the presenters have to share.
I can assure a certain town of Ithaca board member that I have a personal preference to small street setbacks, and it sure as hell isn’t because they’re “hipper”.