ITHACA, N.Y. – Early plans for an affordable artists’ housing project along the Cayuga Inlet were unveiled to the City of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board Tuesday, capping off a nearly five-hour meeting that touched on projects across the city.
The Vecino Group’s Arthaus Ithaca project would bring a five-story, 120-unit apartment building with gallery, studio and office space to 130 Cherry St., along the east side of the Cayuga Inlet. With amenities geared toward artists and all units restricted to renters making 50 to 80 percent area median income (or about $30,000 to $45,000), the project aims to attract creatives looking for an affordable option close to downtown.
Vecino is partnering with Whitham Planning and Design to transform the site into a pedestrian-friendly space accessible to residents and the public. As sketched, setbacks from Cherry Street to the east and the Cayuga Inlet to the west would include greenery, cut-outs and decks to draw people into a first-floor gallery and onto the inlet path.
The project is in its very early stages, and the team emphasized that their design will be shaped by input from local organizations and artists.
Molly Chiang, an architect with Vecino, said she’s been in conversation with The Cherry Arts, Community Arts Partnership and Tompkins Community Action. She said plans include ground-floor office space for a social service organization like TCAction.
Kate Chesebrough, a Whitham designer, told the Planning Board the team would work to integrate the new building into the existing Cherry Street neighborhood.
“It’s really an eclectic neighborhood today, it has a very unique character,” Chesebrough said. “It’s a place that really can very easily grow into a neighborhood with a tremendous quality of life,” she added.
The team mentioned the Cherry Artspace, Weitsman scrapyard and Ports of New York Winery as nearby spaces that give the area a creative, industrial feel.
While the team’s presentation highlighted how the new project would be unique to Ithaca, it is not the first time Vecino has tried out the Arthaus concept. Their 80-unit Hudson Arthaus in Troy, N.Y converted a warehouse into income-controlled apartments alongside shared studio and gallery space.
Members of the Planning Board responded to the Arthaus sketch plan enthusiastically, praising the project’s concept and commitment to affordability.
“This project is so refreshing,” committee member McKenzie Jones said, lauding the project’s mission to support artists and the design’s architectural character.
With encouragement from multiple board members, the project team said they would reach out to additional arts organizations and gather more input from area artists as they refine plans for the site.
Other projects in the pipeline
The Arthaus presentation served as the grand finale at Tuesday’s meeting, but several projects brought to the committee could make a splash across Ithaca.
Architect Jagat Sharma, whose projects are ubiquitous in Collegetown, brought sketch plans for an apartment building in Collegetown and a mixed-use building downtown.
The Collegetown project raised few questions from the committee and will likely move forward quickly. It will add a second building on the 114-118 Catherine Street lot where Sharma completed a building in 2015 with Lambrou Real Estate and will add parking at the rear of the lot. The new three-story building is slated to have a five-bedroom ground floor apartment and two three-bedroom units on the upper levels.
Sketch plans for Sharma’s downtown project got a chillier reception from the board. Sharma long owned and worked out of the existing building at 312 E. Seneca before selling the property to an LLC associated with the Stavropolous family in September. The project he proposed would demolish the existing building and replace it, as well as the adjacent parking lot, with a six-story mixed-use building. Renderings show a ground-floor commercial space and studio apartment with five floors of studio and two-bedroom apartments above.
Sharma’s plan to build with concrete block elicited concern from the board. Board members questioned whether the project was consistent with the character of downtown and asked Sharma to consider using brick instead of concrete.
“Did you look at the downtown design guidelines?” JoAnn Cornish, director of planning and economic development asked. “It doesn’t say concrete block anywhere.”
Sharma agreed to look into the feasibility of using brick before bring the project back to the committee.
Public concerns about conservation and contamination
Cornell’s North Campus Residential Expansion and the Falls Park apartment complex on the Ithaca Gun Factory site were the only projects to garner public comments Tuesday, though the board was not due to take action on either project.
Community members have voiced concerns about the NRCE’s energy use at every turn as the project, which touches three municipalities, has made its way through regulatory hurdles. Tuesday’s meeting was no different, with eight commenters urging the board to prioritize climate change and insist on stricter emissions caps and energy conservation measures for the project. The board, however, resisted public pressure, with multiple members saying they were reluctant to impose harsher standards for this project than they have for others. With a Full Environmental Assessment Form to review, the committee may vote on whether to require an Environmental Impact Statement as soon as next month.
On the Ithaca Gun Factory site at 121-125 Lake Street, IFR Development LLC, a Travis Hyde Properties entity, has proposed a 74-unit senior-living complex. Tuesday’s meeting included a public hearing on the project, and multiple community members raised concerns about contamination at the site. High levels of lead have been found at the site, which is part of New York’s Brownfield Clean-up Program. As controversy continues to swirl around Travis Hyde’s asbestos abatement plans at the Library Place project, commenters questioned whether the company would follow safe remediation procedures before beginning construction on Falls Park. The Planning Board will review environmental assessment forms over the next month before revisiting the project.
Sticking to design standards
On a number of smaller projects, the Planning Board signaled their intent to stick closely to design standards throughout the City of Ithaca.
Before completing a renovation at their South Meadow Street dealership and service center, Maguire Ford-Lincoln will need to increase planned green space to cover at least 12 percent of the lot.
The Stavropolous family will need to adjust the scale and design of a residential project at 815-817 N. Aurora St. to fit the Fall Creek character, the board said.
A Visum apartment building at 327 W. Seneca St., which has appeared before the board before, was the only project up for final site approval Tuesday, and passed by a unanimous vote.
Featured image: A massing diagram of the Vecino Group’s Arthaus Ithaca project. (Courtesy of the Vecino Group)