ITHACA, N.Y. — Last week, the Voice shared five key takeaways from the 2018 Planning Report. Now it’s time to cast a look ahead and see what the city planners see coming in 2019, as well as a look at what the town of Ithaca planners will be working on as we move through the rest of 2019.

Draft of the Southside Plan Future Land Use Map.

The Best Laid Plans

Starting off in the city, the top priorities stem from the Comprehensive Plan. It’s three and half years old now, and the focus of Part II is on neighborhood specifics; the overall plan was a general guideline, while these neighborhood plans are meant to examine and accommodate the quirks and nuances of each of Ithaca’s neighborhoods. What works best for Collegetown doesn’t necessarily apply to West Hill, and what Southside is worried about may not be what Belle Sherman is concerned with.

First up will be continued work along the Waterfront, and in Ithaca’s Southside neighborhood. The Waterfront had its zoning updated, but that was a rushed process because the city was trying to beat the clock on a temporary rezoning designed to prevent the Maguires from moving forward with car dealerships at the Carpenter Business Park (a legally questionable tactic). This follow-up is for design guidelines, what the buildings in those revised zones should look like. With projects like Cayuga Medical Center’s development, Ithaca Arthaus, and City Harbor, the city is trying to have the design guidelines in place so that they and developers are on the same page, and don’t end up battling it out during public hearings. These design guidelines are expected to be in place by this summer.

Meanwhile, Southside’s plan is also being finished up. You can view the full plan here, or the Voice summary of a draft here. Common Council is expected to vote to accept it in the next month or two, and any zoning revisions to be enacted by next fall.

With Southside completed, the city’s attention will turn toward the Downtown, State Street Corridor and West End areas. The city’s Comprehensive Plan made it clear that to take development pressure off of the city’s more residential and less dense neighborhoods, development was to be encouraged in Downtown and the West End, and so city staff and officials would like to have a plan in place as new proposals come along. That will get under way towards the end of the year, as will plans for a transportation study of the Waterfront. The city wants to make sure all any future plans for the Waterfront can be handled by the current transportation network, and if there are ways to build in mass transit and alternative transit options.

The Seneca Street Garage was a big newsmaker in the planning report, isn’t the only major facilities project to be reviewed. The analysis of whether to sell or renovate Collegetown’s fire station will continue, as will a potential expansion of the Central Fire Station on the 300 Block of West Green Street. Streetscape and street improvement plans are in the works for College Avenue and North Cayuga Street.

Also, to the proponents of the Green Building Policy – the plan is to have that enacted into law by this summer. There’s been some frustration from public commenters at meetings over the amount of time it’s taking, but to be frank, this is a good example of how things move slowly and methodically in city planning, because they have to take so much into account when drafting laws, and if it’s rushed, things get left out and lawsuits may happen (see: waterfront). If it makes those folks feel any better, the city will steadily replace its streetlights with new LED lamps throughout the upcoming year.

Long-tern projects being addressed include the start of Inlet drdeging, dredging of Cascadilla Creek, the phase two feasibility study for a Downtown Conference Center, and a Downtown Tranportation Demand Management Program (basically, how do you build up downtown without building up the number of personal cars and trucks).

Quick final note – look for some more public art murals and a few more historic landmarkings this year. The Planning Department mentions a couple downtown properties to be added to the registry but doesn’t specify which buildings.

(East Hill Village. Illustration provided by David Csont/Urban Design Associates)

Meanwhile, in the Town of Ithaca

The Town of Ithaca had a fairly quiet year in 2018, with 16 projects reviewed (subdivisions, site plans and sketch plans), compared to 28 in 2017 and 26 in 2016. Town planners have been preoccupied by the Chain Works District (which is now been going through various aspects of municipal review for over five years), and Cornell’s North Campus Residential Expansion (NCRE).

Behind the scenes, the town planners are still working with consultants to put together a new form-based zoning code for areas intended for traditional neighborhood development. Most zoning is based on uses like housing or industrial, while form-based approaches focus on appearance and scale of buildings. For comparison, the city’s zoning and design guidelines perform like a hybrid of the two approaches, but unlike the town’s proposal, the form-based design guidelines are non-binding.

In 2019, both the city and town are thinking that the first phase of the Chain Works District (the renovation of four existing buildings) could be up for approval, after the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) is reviewed and potentially accepted. Cornell’s 600+ unit East Hill Village mixed-use plan is also expected to recommence with discussion and project review during 2019.

In addition, town staff will work on a rezoning for the Elmira Road / Inlet Valley Corridor, the acquisition of land development rights from a farm property on Bostwick Road, donating a Culver Road parcel to the state for a potential park, a pair of pedestrian corridor studies on South Hill and West Hill, and plans for a new town park on East King Road.

Brian Crandall

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