ITHACA, N.Y. – The site of the former Immaculate Conception School, which closed its doors in 2017, is open for redevelopment, and city Common Council members this week made it clear they want a plan for the spot that includes indoor recreation space and affordable housing.
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Rochester owns the 320 Buffalo St. property and put out a call for purchasers in August.
It is uncertain whether Common Council will have a chance to weigh in on plans at the Buffalo Street site, but it seems likely. The property sits within a floating zoning area called a Planned Unit Development Overlay District. Within PUD-ODs, projects that do not fit with existing zoning may be allowed if they offer community benefits. Common Council and Planning Board both need to approve PUD-OD proposals.
Proposals for the Buffalo Street lot could stay within existing zoning, which is R2-b residential. The diocese’s request for proposals, however, cites the PUD-OD designation as a major selling point.
Common Council passed a resolution Wednesday to clue in potential developers about what they would consider beneficial to the community.
Seph Murtagh, chair of the Planning and Economic Development Committee, said, “The intended audience for this (resolution) is the property owner and potential bidders.”
He said by signaling their preferences early in the bidding process, Common Council was doing developers who might seek their approval later a favor.
The Immaculate Conception site includes a 9,000 square foot gym. The Council’s resolution notes that this space would benefit the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, which is on the same block. It also notes that making more indoor recreational space available downtown is consistent with the city’s comprehensive plan.
“Making the existing gymnasium, along with support facilities, at the former Immaculate Conception School property available for use for use by GIAC for youth recreational programming could constitute a long-term significant community benefit,” the resolution reads.
The Council also highlighted the shortage of affordable rental units downtown and encouraged bidders to include affordable units in their proposals. The resolution reads, “inclusion of affordable housing in any PUD proposal could constitute an additional long-term significant community benefit.”
By passing the resolution, Common Council did not impose requirements on developers who might seek approval for a PUD-OD project. Murtagh said that with the statement, they were “trying to open up a conversation, put the signal out there that this is something that is of interest to the community.”
Proposals for the site are due to the diocese, via Steven Lipinski Associates, by Oct. 5. Once the diocese selects a developer, the role of the Council and the Planning Board in the approval process will be clearer.
Featured image: Former Immaculate Conception School at 320 W. Buffalo St., Ithaca. (Kelsey O’Connor/The Ithaca Voice)