ITHACA, N.Y.—The Ithaca Farmers Market received the green light from the City of Ithaca Planning Board Tuesday during a long, busy meeting. Several other projects advanced, while plans for a large waterfront development debuted before the board as well.
Here is a table of contents to help navigate this story. If readers wish to skip to a specific part, click the name of the project you’re interested in.
- Ithaca Farmers Market (545 Third Street)
- The Overlook Apartments (815 South Aurora Street)
- Argos Inn Expansion (408 East State Street)
- McGraw Hall Renovation (Cornell Arts Quad)
- “The Local” Garden / Redbud Distilling (805-813 Taber Street)
- Lake Street Townhouses (261 Lake Street)
- Waters Edge (683 Third Street)
- Special Permits
- Subdivision Review
For those who like to look at the agenda as they read along, that 279-page document can be found here.
Ithaca Farmers Market (545 Third Street)
Now that plans for a spanking new steel and glass building are relegated to the file cabinet primarily due to high costs, the Ithaca Farmers Market (IFM) is proposing to renovate the existing market building.
The market’s physical issues remain and the cheaper renovation plan is intended to address the biggest problems—to allow for year-round commerce and programming, and to reconfigure and pave the existing parking area and drive lanes. The renovation plans also create outdoor amenity space for dining and gathering, install shoreline stabilization features, and make other site improvements.
While the wooden pavilion from 1989 stays largely intact in this proposal, the project requires the demolition of most landscaping features, relocation of the Cayuga Waterfront Trail, removal of numerous trees and installation of enhanced stormwater infrastructure.
The project is on City-owned land and requires approvals from Common Council, the Special Joint Committee of the Ithaca Area Water Treatment Plant, the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation, and the Army Corps of Engineers. The project site is in the Market District and is subject to Design Review.
Generally, the Planning Board has supported the parking and landscaping/shore stabilization, which are phases one and two, respectively. However, board members are more wary about the building plans, which are the third phase.
Members of the board have been reluctant to sign off on plans that may change further, and they have been at odds with IFM’s board and vendors on some aspects of the plan. For instance, the Planning Board has wanted the new bathrooms moved to the center of the building, while market vendors have told the board that they want the bathrooms at the ends of the building.
With that noted, since approval of phase one was the only voting item for the project on last night’s agenda, the debate over the building took a back seat for the time being. Whitham Planning’s Yifei Yan called in via Zoom from China at 7:30 a.m. local time to participate in the meeting, which took some logistical finagling to execute.
Yan walked the board through the parking lot details, including separate one-way circulation lanes for customers and vendors, the width of the drive lanes, the bike racks, and the vendor parking aisle adjacent to the market.
“I think this is great, and I commend you for figuring this puzzle out. […] I think it’s all looking good,” commented board member Mitch Glass. “I love the green infrastructure that’s a part of it and I think it will be hugely successful.”
Preliminary and final site plan approval for the first phase of the Ithaca Farmer’s Market was called to a vote, and passed unanimously 5-0.
“Good luck bringing this home the rest of the way,” quipped Chair Robert Lewis.
The Overlook Apartments (815 South Aurora Street)
It’s not often that part of a monthly city Planning Board recap gets broken out into a full separate article, but such was the case last month with Visum Development and Modern Living Rentals’ apartment complex at 815 South Aurora Street.
Construction recently finished on the project, but the project team’s presentation before the Planning Board last month not only had requested changes the Planning Board wasn’t fully comfortable with, but a field inspection prior to the meeting showed they made physical changes to the project that the board had expressly told them not to do.
Whitham Planning and Design’s Jacob von Mechow, who was not involved with the initial project review years ago, has been tasked with cleaning up the mess.
To review, the big violation in the Planning Board’s eyes was that the development team used Dryvit made to look like brick instead of actual brick on the ground floor. The other issues are:
- An uphill (south side of the property) parking lot that was planned as asphalt but built as gravel.
- The walkways to buildings “B” and “C” in the proposal were not built as approved. As built, the walkways are not compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, a federal law violation.
- The courtyard between Buildings “A” and “B” was supposed to be turfgrass, but getting a lawnmower up the stairs is difficult and designers want to do something “lower maintenance.”
- The retaining wall adjacent to the walkway differs from what was approved.
To rectify those four issues, Mechow proposed installing a second walkway that will be ADA-compliant; installing plant bed buffers to reduce turf coverage on the site, and add planters near the north end retaining wall to screen the wall from view.
Issue one, the gravel driveway, has now been paved. The fake brick will also be removed, though the project team did ask to keep one section that was already completed on an interior wall of the complex. The retaining wall will be removed and replaced with a new staircase and plantings to stabilize the slope. The applicants are still seeking the plant buffer in the courtyard.
Since the project is not in compliance with their approvals, the Planning Board can let their temporary certificate of occupancy expire without replacement, thus forcing all of their current tenants out of their units and into hotels at the developers’ expense.
Chair Lewis went around to gauge the comfort levels of his fellow board members. Generally, with most of their issues being fixed to the board’s satisfaction, members were amenable to Mechow’s remaining requests for the plant buffer and revised stairways.
But the fake brick remained a sore spot. Correa was still opposed to any fake brick on any ground-level wall, though his colleague Glass was fine with it, so long as it was hidden with landscaping. A straw poll of board members rejected it, though, saying it had to be replaced with real brick.
“I heard a general sentiment that we were getting close here. Some differences of opinion on the brick on Building C, some support for the metal staircase strategy, and the other differences I feel like we’ve mostly resolved,” said Chair Lewis.
“We do not want to be in this situation again,” said Planning Director Lisa Nicholas. “Nobody is entitled to a Temporary Certificate of Occupancy.”
Nicholas was reluctant, but a permanent Certificate of Occupancy would be needed since the temporary certificate is running out and cannot be extended again. To provide some leeway while still forcing the needed work to get done, it was decided to add a condition of approval that Building C would not be eligible for a certificate of occupancy without the work being performed, but existing tenants in Building A could stay. (The occupancy status of Building B was not established during the meeting.)
Board members made clear they felt like they had been taken for a ride, and didn’t want to feel like they were being forced to compromise again.
Argos Inn Expansion (408 East State Street)
Planning is steadily moving along for the Argos Inn crew as they plan an expansion of their boutique hotel on the east end of downtown Ithaca. The applicant proposes to demolish a 1,800 square-foot terrace north of the Argos Inn building and construct a 5,135 square-foot, three‐story addition. The addition will contain 11 guest rooms (making 24 rooms total), and a small office space for hotel staff.
Site improvements include reconfiguration of 2,385 square-foot of outdoor terraces for seating, relocation of the existing terrace to the north end of the parking lot, creation of a utility building to screen the outdoor seating from the street, the paving and striping of the parking lot, landscaping and lighting. The Landscape Architecture side of Whitham Planning and Design is handling the terraces.
The project will require a rear yard zoning variance. It also requires Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) approval, as well as the Board of Zoning Appeals and the Planning Board. The ILPC has already given its okay, which removes the Design Review burdens from the Planning Board.
Tuesday was a continuation of Environmental Review, specifically the third and final part of the Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF).
STREAM Collaborative’s Craig Modisher was back to discuss the project, joined by Whitham’s von Mechow. The plans have only seen slight tweaks since last month, some revised outdoor decorative features, and extending an existing solid wood fence at the rear property line to help mitigate sound impacts, as a neighbor had expressed concerns during the Public Hearing last month.
The board’s Correa suggested a fence material that offered better acoustic mitigation, though acknowledged the inn itself wasn’t likely to have too much noise, since it will also have guests who would want to sleep. Glass suggested additional plantings to muffle noise. Some back-and-forth was also had over bike racks and parking needs, and potentially a legal document that regulates noise, though the city has a noise ordinance they are already obligated to comply with.
While the details are still being hashed out, the board was supportive of the plans overall. The project will be back for a potential SEQR determination vote next month.
McGraw Hall Renovation (Cornell Arts Quad)
The Ithaca Voice first shared details about this gut renovation last month. Cornell and its battalion of architects and engineers has proposed a renovation of the existing 4-story building, approximately 52,532 square-foot and located at 141 Central Avenue on the Cornell Arts Quad.
The renovations will address all exterior building deferred maintenance including exterior façade repairs, structural deficiencies, stone entry stairs, accessibility compliance with changes to three existing entrances, and will completely renovate the interior with new instructional spaces supported by new structural, mechanical, electrical, and plumbing systems to comply with building and energy codes.
The project site is located in the U-1 Zoning District and will require no variances. However, the project is located in the Cornell Arts Quad Historic District and will require a Certificate of Appropriateness from the (ILPC). The Public Hearing and commencement of review of Part 3 of the Full Environmental Assessment Form on the agenda were held Tuesday.
Cornell architect David Cutter led the presentation before the board. Speaking from experience, Cornell’s staff come in prepared and try to leave as little uncertainty about the plans as possible — it makes for a smoother, more straightforward Site Plan Review. Cutter noted the project was introduced to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission last week.
Cutter showed the new walkways and said the planting plan was still being worked out, but added that two large red oaks on the west side would be removed. It was an act he called “heartbreaking” but necessary, as the trees weren’t in good shape and they need to be able to access the building with construction equipment.
No one spoke at the Public Hearing and the board was generally supportive of the revised sidewalks and bumpout of pavers onto the Arts Quad. Mitch Glass was not thrilled with the “suburban” landscaping and suggested better buffering from the parking area.
“Big picture, it seems like we need to have confirmation of schedule, confirmation of impervious surfaces, plants, the ILPC Certificate of Appropriateness…it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot,” said Lewis, the board chair.
The project will be back before the board for further review next month.
“The Local” Garden / Redbud Distilling (805-813 Taber Street)
Building owner and Tompkins County Legislator Rich John has proposed to renovate a 3,645 square-foot building which was previously an auto repair shop into a distillery, beer bar, and beer garden with 28 parking spaces. Construction will consist of three stages: Phase I renovated a 500 square-foot distillery, Phase II renovated a 1,505 square-foot beer bar, and Phase III includes creating the beer garden.
The building renovation will include placing an ethanol tank for the distillery, and constructing two vestibules, storage, and new bathrooms. Site improvements include renovating the existing parking lot, landscaping and the hops garden proposed in the southwest section of the parcel.
This project is small enough to get an abbreviated environmental review with the state’s Short Environmental Assessment Form (SEAF). Parts 2 and 3 of that form were scheduled for review, with a vote on the Declaration of Environmental Significance if everything satisfied the board.
Architect John Barradas presented the plans for “The Local,” jokingly noting that he has the “dangerous” job of spokesperson for the project, at least for the night.
“We’re doing something milder than what was there; there was a mechanical repair shop, and there will be a distillery and a bar with storage,” said Barradas.
Barradas noted bollards protect the distilling ethanol tank, “and hopefully no car ever tests it.”
Wood trellis battens will buffer the garden from the parking lot. The concrete masonry exterior walls will be insulated, as will the roof. Some blocked-up window openings will be reopened and fitted with insulated glass.
“This is a great project,” Glass said. “I love the local quality to it, the nature of it, I look forward to the parcel being reused. […] It just strikes me that, pushing the plaza and the garden to the back between that existing structure up against a non-descript warehouse feels like that’s not the right move here. I’d like to have seen that as more of a public space closer to the street.”
Glass mentioned that the nearby Aeroplane Factory expansion also calls for more active uses on the street level. In addition, board member Petrina felt the 18-foot wide drive aisles in the parking lot were too tight, but that there were also too many parking spaces.
Another issue raised by multiple board members was the discomfort with the ethanol tank at the front of the building, which has to be there due to fire code—inside, it would require sprinklers because it’s “practically a bomb” per Barradas, which would make the project cost-prohibitive. Board members were definitely not fans of that.
“The ethanol container, can you celebrate it if it has to be there?” asked Petrina. “Can you show its purpose and how it fits into the space?”
Distiller and former Second Ward Common Council member Seph Murtagh said they were advised to store the ethanol outside, though he acknowledged his adviser was someone in rural Missouri who may not have to undergo this level of review.
“It’s atypical,” said Lewis. “[Barradas] made the bomb comparison. I don’t know if there’s a celebratory version of a 250-gallon structure. We could get more temple-like.”
The board was split on the ethanol tank itself; some wanted a smaller tank inside, others were comfortable with a larger tank outside. There was no strong consensus with that issue.
“It’s not the right place for it, but I also think it’s an important business,” said Petrina.
The board requested a detailed map and an explanation of how things work with external and internal storage options — the constraints geographically and operationally. Otherwise, it sounds like approval is unlikely.
The board also suggested reducing the parking spaces. The board did move the project along, passing the Environmental Review, but the future of the plan is rather uncertain. The project will be back before the board next month.
Lake Street Townhouses (261 Lake Street)
As discussed in the Voice earlier this month, the Lake Street Townhouses are ready to begin the Site Plan Review process after giving an initial concept plan presentation earlier this year.
DMG Investments proposes to build sixteen three‐story townhouses (approximately 23,377 square feet in total) broken into two strings of nine units and seven units on Lake Street. The market‐rate townhouses will each have a back
entrance and a front entrance onto Lake Street and will be a mix of three‐ and four‐bedroom units.
Site improvements include the removal of invasive plant species, native plantings, a new sidewalk on Lake Street, street trees, and stormwater planters to manage runoff from roofs. The project team proposes to improve the city‐owned Lincoln Street Extension to provide access to the site, a fire turn‐around, and 16 public parking spots, while the project site itself will include another 16 surface parking spaces. It should be noted the site has steep topography and the proposed project will require retaining walls, and will also require variances for parking.
One speaker and one written letter were received, both critical of the project with concerns of traffic increases caused by 16 townhomes, stormwater runoff, and worries about exacerbated lead contamination from Ithaca Gun uphill. I should note the environmental report indicates that the only elevated soil contaminant levels were found at the northeast corner of the property, which is not to be disturbed by the project.
Whitham Planning’s Michelle Palmer and Yifei Yan presented the updated project plans. The color palette for the townhouses, primarily blues and browns, was chosen to work with adjacent properties, according to Yan.
“This project has come a long way, we’ve seen a lot of versions of this. At first I wasn’t too happy with the idea of developing this site, but I think you’re in the right ballpark now,” said Glass. In particular, he liked the “warmth” of the color scheme and the scale. He suggested vines to soften the retaining walls.
Correa and Petrina also stressed being as transparent as possible with the sampling and environmental analyses, saying that was key in approving “The Breeze” uphill.
“I love the project, I think it’s great. Aesthetically, it works, I’m sold. For me, it comes down to the height of the retaining walls. It’s really driven by the parking, right? We have a site that wraps around a parking lot. I would love to see some parking sharing or some strategy to mitigate by eliminating a space or two to get the retaining wall height down,” Lewis said.
While there were no voting items last night, it looks like the path to Site Plan Approval is straightforward, if a bit tricky to resolve when it comes to parking and retaining walls. The project will come back next month.
Waters Edge (683 Third Street)
After months of incubation, Arnot Realty and its project team are ready to bring forward their concept plan for Waters Edge, a large mixed-use development proposed for the former NYS DOT waterfront site adjacent to the Ithaca Farmer’s Market.
This development will be covered in greater detail in a follow-up article.
To give a briefer version of the presentation by Arnot’s Ian Hunter, the project would redevelop the DOT’s former maintenance facility with four buildings with retail/commercial on the ground level and residential above.
The buildings would have thermally enhanced wood cladding with a “sculptural” look and retain the waterfront trail on the perimeter. The project seeks to have its commercial space complement the Ithaca’s Farmer’s Market next door. Parking would consist of both surface and covered spaces, with protected views from the trail.
The project would be built in two phases, with about 200 apartments in phase one, and 250-300 units in phase two, along with the retail space and waterfront amenities.
“Wow, this is awesome.,” Petrina said. “What a great first impression.”
She was glad the parking was pulled away from the waterfront, and hoped the docks could be made a reality. She did express a little wariness about the interim treatment of Phase Two land until it was developed, and the monotone color, though she liked the wood in general.
“I think this really does have the ability to be transformational,” said Correa, using the words “magnetic and activating” to describe the concept. He applauded the effort to complement the IFM, and suggested they may wish to explore a boutique hotel component. Correa called the design “daring,” and said it is reminiscent of a design one might see for a project in Copenhagen.
“I’m going to need some education to understand the material, the design is really material-driven. How it’s going to weather 10 years from now will be super important. But the general sentiment in the room is very positive, this has the potential to be excellent,” surmised Chair Lewis.
Special Permits are uncommon, but can be triggered for unusual property uses in certain zones, usually lower-density residential areas. Here, the homeowners at 605 South Albany Street want to demolish their existing garage and build a new one with an accessory apartment. Zoning is a lower-residential R-2b zone, so that apartment requires a special permit.
The project is relatively minor. The homeowners would have 180 square feet for a storage room for their taxidermy equipment on the ground floor, and the rest of the ground floor and mezzanine-style second floor would host a roughly 600 square-foot one-bedroom apartment. It would be built at the corner of their home lot and is designed to comply with zoning regulations. The home has a gravel driveway and the owners will use that for their car, so the project is parking-compliant. Ithaca’s Trade Design Build is handling the project.
These Special Permit projects are small enough that, barring neighborhood opposition, they’re usually bundled for “all-in-one” meeting review, with the project presented, reviewed, and voted upon for site plan approval all in the same session. Michael Barnoski of Trade Design Build walked the board through the project plans. The building will be finished with wood siding and the revised driveway will be squared off so that it comfortably fits two vehicles.
“They’ve done their homework,” as Board Member and Interim Chair Mitch Glass put it to his colleagues.
Overall, the board was pleased with the submission.
“We want to see more ADUs in our community and I think this is a really great example,” quipped his colleague Daniel Correa.
Lead Agency passed with no debate, no one spoke about the project during its Public Hearing, and with only modest debate, the negative Environmental Determination passed unanimously. and the Special Permits was approved unanimously.
Next up on the agenda was lot subdivision review—this is when property lots in the city, technically known as parcels, seek legal reconfiguration, which could be anything from being split up into two or more plots, reshaped or consolidated from multiple lots back into one parcel.
There were two subdivisions to review at this month’s meeting. The first is 210 Grandview Avenue, where the South Hill Church of the Nazarene is proposing the 0.472-acre lot hosting its church and parsonage to be split into two separate lots. The proposed subdivision will maintain the 210 Grandview Avenue address on the larger parcel and a new address will be assigned to the smaller parcel.
The church wants to sell off the parsonage to a young couple, so it needs to be split from the church lot. It also needs approval from the NYS Attorney General’s office because selling off church property is a tricky process.
The board was generally supportive. The Board’s Bassel Khoury had some questions regarding the church’s parking lot, to which Planning Director Nicholas said they’d have to make sure there’s enough space for their parishioners.
No one spoke about the project during its Public Hearing either. Some materials arrived late, so the project couldn’t be voted on last night; and it has to go through the Board of Zoning Appeals anyway. It’ll come back for review next month.
The other subdivision up for review last night was on West Hill, at 225 Cliff Street. The homeowners would like to split their 0.39-acre lot into an L-shaped 0.17-acre lot facing Cliff Street, and a 0.22-acre lot facing Park Road, where a new single-family home would be built by Carina Construction, east of the steep slope on flatter land adjacent to Park Road. SPEC Consulting of Groton is handling the civil engineering work.
Carina’s Matt Haney explained the homeowners want to build a one-story home so that an aging parent can live next door to them. The flag lot is because of a utility easement.
The board generally isn’t a fan of flag lots, and asked if other options were explored, but felt that the explanations provided by the applicant made sense. Building two houses on the same lot here creates zoning issues and an additional $14,000 bill from NYSEG that a second lot avoids triggering.
The board had no issues with the subdivision, but in this case, because the mailing to neighbors lacked the drawing of the subdivision, environmental review and subsequent steps could not be completed. The Board Declared Lead Agency, but that was about as far as they could go. The applicants hope to obtain approval at the October meeting.
Note: There were only four, later five, planning board seats filled at Tuesday’s meeting. Chair Robert Lewis arrived late due to an obligation and members Elisabete Godden and Garrick Blalock were absent, leaving a bare quorum.