Ithaca, N.Y. — Alderperson Graham Kerslick brought up what seemed like a simple point at a city hall meeting Wednesday night during a broader discussion about building heights in Collegetown.
“I at least heard rumors that we were seeing projects coming forward that had bedrooms without any windows,” Kerslick said at a meeting of the city’s planning and economic development committee. “I really think we have to take every step that we can to discourage those kinds of proposals.”
But Kerslick was quickly informed of the difficulty city officials would face in trying to force developers to make sure every bedroom has a window.
“If we simply mandated something in the housing standards — or something of that nature — we’re going to have to go to the state code council and get their blessing on it, which is going to be difficult,” said Mike Niechwiadowicz, deputy building commissioner.
“We’re going to have to go to the state and show why conditions in Ithaca are so unusual that every bedroom requires a window.”
That statement triggered a response from Alderperson Ellen McCollister.
“I’m shocked that in the 21st Century it’s deemed acceptable by the state that it’s acceptable to have windowless buildings,” McCollister said.
McCollister compared the New York policy to Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, a famous novel written to expose health violations in the American meatpacking industry. She also expressed disbelief “that any developers would come forward and actually propose such a property without natural light.”
Niechwiadowicz responded that, in fact, there were already more than mere proposals for windowless bedrooms in Collegetown.
“We have already built one — I’m not going to name it, but the units rented out right away,” Niechwiadowicz said. “And I thought they’d be very difficult to rent out.”
Niechwiadowicz said he fully understood the concerns of the alderpersons.
“I have huge windows in my house; I love the outdoors; I spend too much time out there,” he said. “It’s amazing to me that in an urban setting there are people that desire that.”
But Niechwiadowicz reiterated the difficulty in having the city’s Common Council do anything about the problem.
Kerslick, while acknowledging Niechwiadowicz’s points as valid, pushed back a little more.
“We really have to look at ways at strongly discouraging this,” Kerslick said, “and I could see that we could make a special case (to the state), that with young people under a lot of psychological stress — to put them in windowless boxes is not that forward thinking…”
“But I realize the limitations.”