ITHACA, N.Y. — The city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee had a busy night Wednesday, as it weighed in on several big-ticket topics on the city’s agenda, including the Planned Unit Development for the Carpenter Park site, and the allocation of federal Housing and Urban Development funds. Both moved forward with PEDC approval.
Debating the Pros and Cons of Carpenter Park
The evening portended a potentially big step for the Carpenter Park mixed-use development between the waterfront and the city’s Northside neighborhood. The project, proposed by Cayuga Medical Center in partnership with Park Grove Realty, would bring over 400,000 square feet of office, retail and residential space to the city. With that would come 150 new jobs in CMC’s new medical office building, 208 apartments (42 low-moderate income) and 607 parking spaces, 414 surface and 193 in parking garages on the second and third levels of the six-story apartment buildings. (You can read more about the development plan itself here).
The project exceeds the site’s zoning in height and lot setbacks, and being in the city’s Planned Unit Development Overlay District, is seeking PUD zoning and project concept approval from the Common Council.
That large amount of parking proved to be something of a sticking point with city councilors. Councilor Laura Lewis (D-5th Ward) stated it “feels like an awful lot of parking” and said she would like to see it decreased. Committee Chair Seph Murtagh (D-2nd) and councilor Graham Kerslick (D-4th) echoed her sentiments.
According to project designer Yamila Fournier of Whitham Planning and Design, each apartment unit will get one space, and there’s a small amount of overflow surface parking, but the bulk of the spaces are needed for staff and visitors to the new medical facility. According to parking estimate guidelines, about four spaces are required for every 1,000 square feet of medical space. Fournier also explained that, after initial meetings with the city Planning Board, that the parking was rearranged and slightly decreased, with more vegetation and green space planned for the site.
“Trees are wonderful. But they aren’t green for very long around here. I hope you get good tree advice about a mix of evergreens and deciduous trees because they only provide shade and blocking for part of the year,” said councilor Donna Fleming (D-3rd).
The strongest concerns came from councilor Cynthia Brock (D-1st), who had previously expressed reservations with the Carpenter Park project.
“I am deeply concerned about the visual impact of these buildings,” Brock said. “I think once they are put into place, it will not only send a message, but a precedent for the entire area that will seek the same accommodation for those heights, a canyon-like corridor like what you experience coming in from East State … I don’t believe this sets a pedestrian scale, it does not feel very inviting.”
Brock said while she applauds the goals of the project, she believes the massing is too large.
“I would like to see it brought down to established zoning parameters … pedestrian scale was something we talked about quite a bit when envisioning this property. I’m not ready to support this PUD as proposed, but I appreciate the intent,” said Brock.
In response, Andrew Bodewes, a Managing Partner of Park Grove Realty, said, “There’s not going to be a perfect outcome on every aspect of this site. But I think what we’re proposing meets what a lot of people are looking for, we’re trying to balance and accommodate that.”
The neighborhood group Northside United was positive about the project. Prefaced on the conditions of including inclusive affordable housing, an urgent care clinic to serve local residents, a commitment to use local labor and preservation of the community garden, the community organization, represented at the meeting by Northside resident Carl Feuer, was willing to lend its support to the mixed-use development. (Read Northside United’s full statement here.)
“Any opportunity to reduce parking will be important to the community. It’s also to have a sense of place. This is going to be a big, flagship project, we want it to be something that the community will feel pride in. We’re approving a concept, green-lighting it to continue [to the planning board], and I’ll be interested in the later conversations,” said Murtagh.
Bearing in mind that the building designs themselves are subject to revision if and when it goes to the planning board, the committee conducted a vote on whether or not to send the PUD zoning proposal to council for a vote next month. The vote was in favor, 4-1, with Brock opposed.
HUD Funds Head to Council for Approval
Also up for discussion during Wednesday’s PEDC Meeting were the Public Hearings and votes to send to Common Council two measures regarding the city’s use of federal Housing and Urban Development funds. The first measure was the city’s five-year “Consolidated Plan,” a strategic plan regarding past performance, identification of current needs, and strategic goals for the use of federal funds. The second measure was for the approval of this year’s “Action Plan,” allocating this year’s funds as the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency and its citizen board recommended. You can see the targeted allocation amounts for different housing, employment and community programs and services here.
Public hearings for both measures were fairly short. No one in attendance spoke with regards to either measure, and only one letter was received. Frequent PEDC visitor and Dryden Planning Board member Joe Wilson, unable to attend Wednesday evening, emailed to advocate the city place a higher priority on sustainability in the five-year consolidated plan.
Discussion by the committee was also fairly brief. Councilor Brock asked how the Consolidated Plan’s high and low priorities were determined. IURA Community Development Planner Anisa Mendizabal explained that items listed a low priority were not done so because they were less important topically, but that funding needs are being met or closer to being met. “It’s primarily a way to lift up what are our most current needs.”
The PEDC voted unanimously (5-0) on both plans, sending them to the full Ithaca Common Council for approval at their meeting next month.