Note: This article was update at 4:30 p.m. to include a statement from a local developer.

ITHACA, NY – On May 9, the Ithaca Town Board unanimously passed a moratorium aimed at curbing the effect of the student housing market on the character of the town.

Local Law Number 5 of 2016 enacts a 270-day moratorium on the construction of new two-family dwellings or the addition of a second dwelling unit to an existing one-family home, except in high-density residential zones.

The town’s 2014 Comprehensive Plan notes in particular the effect of Ithaca College students occupying the South Hill neighborhood near the college.

With few options for high-end or high-density off-campus student housing options, many low-end, utilitarian buildings have been built in the neighborhood, and many single-family units have also been converted into student housing.

“Permanent residents have reported issues with poor property maintenance, loud parties and other disruptive or destructive activities,” the town notes in the Comprehensive Plan.

The document also notes concerns of residents of the South Hill and East Hill areas collected during focus groups: “trash, noise, lack of landscaping, large parking areas, and speeding have become significant problems… Residents pointed out that a transient, student rental population has altered the area’s character and created difficulties for elderly residents.”

Coddington Road, Hudson Place, Pennsylvania Avenue and Kendall Avenue were pointed out as specific trouble spots.

The Town Board passed the moratorium with the intent to explore further legislation, which may include things like architectural or landscaping requirements. They were concerned that any new legislation being discussed would be undermined by new developments during the discussion period.

The moratorium goes into effect immediately. Applications already approved by the town are exempt, but any applications submitted but not yet approved are blocked by the moratorium.

The Planning Board is reserving the right to continue to review applications, but no approvals will be granted until the new legislation is determined, and any new developments will be subject to those new laws.

Additionally, property owners may appeal to the Ithaca Town Board for a waiver of the moratorium’s prohibitions. In considering granting a waiver, the board will consider issues such as unnecessary hardship caused by the law, a project’s harmony with the existing neighborhood and how well the project fits with any proposed new legislation. The waiver process is also subject to a public hearing.

One local landlords’s take

A local landlord, Travis Cleveland of Birds Eye Properties, had the following to say about the moratorium in an email to The Voice:
This moratorium is a waste of time. The problem with the Town and City of Ithaca’s affordable and student housing issues isn’t with the new buildings or builders. The issue lies within the Building Code. Occupancy code allows a single family home to be rented to two or three unrelated occupants legally. If a family rents a home, they can house any number of occupants without question.
This may sound irrelevant to some, however supply and demand run the rental markets. This is a college town, when a four bedroom house can only house two people legally, it leaves two bedrooms open, lessening supply. The Building code should rely on Certificate of Occupancy only! To discriminate against students, unrelated same-sex couples, friends, etc. is ridiculous! Firemen don’t care and would have no issue whether the occupants are related or not!
So the bottom line is, the Maplewood 500 bed building was on the agenda the same night as one of the meetings pass a moratorium on two-family dwellings. That should say it all! They will learn nothing from this moratorium, land is scarce to even build in the proper zoning. Thankfully they let the High Density Residential Zones, including Cleveland Estates, be exempt. I would be very surprised if anyone applies for a waiver on their own property.

Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.