Editor’s Note: Below is an interview the Ithaca Voice’s Brian Crandall recently conducted with Megan Wilson, senior planner for the City of Ithaca’s planning division. 

The occasion for the interview is the city’s ongoing efforts to create its first comprehensive plan since 1971. (Some background about Ithaca’s comprehensive plan can be read here.)

Did we miss your question? If so, email us at briancrandall54@gmail.com or jstein@ithacavoice.com.


[fvplayer src=”https://vimeo.com/115712279″ loop=”fale” mobile=”https://vimeo.com/115712279″]

Why I Shop Downtown

Why now?

Q: The last Comprehensive Plan was written way back in 1971; most local communities have written new plans in the last 10-15 years. Why has the city of Ithaca waited so long?

A: The last Comprehensive Plan was adopted in 1971, but the City updated it with several neighborhood or thematic plans over the years. We decided it was time to prepare an updated plan for the entire that reflect changing local and national trends and conditions. This timing also allowed us to coordinate the City’s plan with other comprehensive planning and master planning efforts in the region.

What is Plan Ithaca?

Q: Could you offer a brief summary of PlanIthaca? What does it cover, what are some of the key things that are stressed in the new plan?

A: Plan Ithaca offers a vision and goals for the entire city. It covers a broad range of topics including land use, housing, transportation, economic vitality, and natural and cultural resources. One of the key ideas of the plan is that we would like to provide more opportunities for people to live and work within the city.

In 1950, approximately 50% of Tompkins County residents lived within the city; today, that number has fallen to 30%. At the same time, the city remains an employment center, and more than 13,000 people commute into the community every day. We want to encourage more people to live within the city, closer to jobs and services. For that to happen, we must provide more housing at variety of price points and of different types. Our transportation system must be enhanced to make walking, biking, and taking transit convenient choices for residents and visitors. We must also continue to provide more jobs to address unemployment and underemployment within the community.

Impact on average Ithacan

Q: Let’s say I’m average citizen John Q. Ithacan. How does this plan impact me, and why should I be paying attention to PlanIthaca?

A: Plan Ithaca will serve as a guide for the City of Ithaca for the next twenty years. It will inform City policies and services that affect every Ithaca resident. The plan is not yet complete, and this is a chance for residents to give their input on what they would like the City to achieve in the next 20 years.

Q: I’m going to play Devil’s advocate. In the plan, we have the last line on page 8: “the land area of the city is currently almost fully developed”. So what is there left to plan?

A: There are not a lot of vacant lots in the city, but there are many underutilized properties and surface parking lots that could be redeveloped. We anticipate that the majority of the new development that we will see in the coming years will be through the redevelopment of these sites.

Why mixed use?

Q: One of the concepts promoted in the document is “compact mixed-use development” in appropriate locations within the city. Why mixed-use, instead of traditional commercial and industrial and residential areas?

A: Compact mixed-use development provides housing units within close proximity to jobs and services, and it is easier for residents to walk or bike to these destinations or nearby transit stops.

People drive significantly less when they live in walkable, urban areas because residents have access to goods and services close to home. This reduces overall traffic congestion and enhances accessibility.

By targeting this type of development in areas identified for growth (Urban Mixed-Use, Waterfront Mixed-Use, and Enterprise areas), we can significantly increase housing and employment opportunities while preserving the character of our established residential neighborhoods and protect environmentally-sensitive areas.

Affordable housing

Q: One of the the big problems right now is a lack of affordable housing – a lot of folks are struggling to make ends meet. How does the plan address this? What does it suggest that could help alleviate the affordable housing problem?

A: The plan identifies areas targeted for increased development (Urban Mixed-Use, Waterfront Mixed-Use, and Enterprise areas) where the housing supply can be significantly increased. The city needs more housing at a variety of price points so more people can afford to live here.

We also need more variety in types of housing – apartments, condos, townhouses, etc. – so that there are units that meet the needs of all residents. The plan also recommends exploring strategies to incentivize lower rents and create more affordable units within market-rate projects.

Q: So with all the growth either taking place or expected to take place, there’s concern that the quality of life may drop as more buildings are constructed and more people move in. How does the plan keep that from happening?

A: Plan Ithaca identifies the features and community characteristics that Ithaca residents value and calls for their protection and enhancement throughout the plan. Throughout the planning process, we have heard from many residents, and we heard that they value our beautiful natural environment, the character of our residential neighborhoods, and our strong sense of community. As the city continues to develop, we must ensure that we preserve these important qualities.

Next steps

Q: So now what’s going to happen with the Comprehensive Plan moving forward? Will John Q’s and Jane Q’s will have a chance to comment and express their opinions and concerns?

A: The Comprehensive Plan Committee is currently hosting a series of open houses to get feedback from the community on the draft plan. The open houses are scheduled throughout the city through the end of April. The schedule is available on the project website (www.cityofithaca.org/165/City-Comprehensive-Plan)

If you cannot attend an open house, we encourage you to submit written comments. Comments can be emailed to mwilson@cityofithaca.org or mailed to/dropped of at the Division of Planning & Development, 108 E. Green Street.

Follow The Ithaca Voice on Facebook | Twitter

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.org.