ITHACA, NY – The three large spruce trees in front of 201 College Avenue, estimated to be around a century old and 80 feet tall have fallen, signaling the impending development of a five-story, 44-unit, 74-bedroom apartment building slated for the site.
For Neil Golder, who lives next door at 203 College Avenue and has long and vehemently fought the project, the fight isn’t over yet.
Even before Ithaca’s Planning Board voted unanimously in favor of the project on June 28, Golder had filed a lawsuit against the board, as well as Todd Fox’s Visum Development Group.
Golder is suing to have the planning board’s decision annulled, and requiring Visum Development Group prepare and file an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the project. Filing an EIS is a lengthy and work-intensive process for developers that is subject to additional public feedback.
Golder’s case is that the planning board failed to take a “hard look” at the relevant areas of environmental impact and failed to provide a “reasoned elaboration” for its decision to declare no environmental significance.
To put this in context: part of the process of approving a new development is to determine environmental significance — impact on local traffic, noise pollution, water supply and so on.
The planning board filed a Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) identifying 10 areas of potential environmental impact, two of which were identified as “small-to-moderate impacts” and one was a “potential large impact.” No determination was made in regard to the other seven.
The suit argues that, under a city statute, the planning board was required to determine that there would either be no impacts or insignificant impacts in order to bypass the EIS process.
Since the board didn’t make a determination on ten of the potential impacts, the suit argues that their determination that the project would have no significant impacts was therefore “unlawful, arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.”
In a Facebook post to his “Save the Soul of Collegetown” group, Golder said he was confident he could win the case and estimated that if he wins and the developer is forced to do an EIS, it could take up to six months. Construction could be halted, leaving Visum Development Group with a vacant lot until the process could be finished.
“We go to court with Neil on August 8th and we do not see anyway in which Neil can win the case,” Fox wrote in an email to The Ithaca Voice. “We were already anticipating a September 1st start date for construction, so will should have this issue resolved before a shovel goes in the ground.”
Fox also noted that there are four developments in Collegetown that are bigger in scale than his project, and questioned if any of those required an EIS. According to a planning department employee, the only recent Collegetown development that required an EIS was Collegetown Terrace.
“The City essentially paved the way for this project and all other projects in Collegetown when they rezoned everything,” Fox said. “I believe at that time, the City was required to look at all the environmental impacts. We feel strongly that the planning board has acted in accordance with the SEQR negative declaration.”
The 201 College Avenue project will appear before the Planning and Development Board again on the July 26 for final site plan approval.
(Photo of the felled trees at 201 College Street by Michael Smith / The Ithaca Voice)