Ithaca, N.Y. — A project that will transform the landscape of Ithaca’s College Avenue was unanimously approved by city officials Tuesday night four years after it was first proposed.

Josh Lower’s “Collegetown Crossing” project — which will add a ground-level GreenStar, pedestrian walkway and 46 apartments next to the Collegetown fire station — was given the green light by the planning board.

“Everyone is incredibly excited that we can finally move this forward,” Lower said, adding the project should be done by 2016.

“We are honored to be able to give something back to this wonderful community.”

Lower’s project comes amid a rush of housing development in Collegetown, with developers Jason Fane, John Novarr, Steve Fontana and others hoping to expand housing supply in the area.

Collegetown Crossing was for years stymied by the city’s “minimum parking requirements,” which stipulated that developers had to construct a set number of parking spots for every additional housing unit. Lower maintained that his project was practically impossible with those requirements.

Lower had sought a variance, or exemption, from the parking requirements. Some city officials opposed the project, worrying that parking was already in short supply in Collegetown and that new housing should account for that reality.

But Lower got a big boost when those rules were jettisoned for the part of Collegetown relevant to his project.

Mayor Svante Myrick and other city officials pushed through a reform of the city’s zoning code that encouraged development in the heart of Collegetown.

The mayor also wrote a letter specifically backing the project.

“We know that mandating parking has helped make this city too expensive for working families by subsidizing the cost of vehicular ownership and increasing the cost of housing,” the mayor said in the letter addressed to the members of the city’s Planning and Development Board, according to the Cornell Daily Sun.

“…This project will promote transit and pedestrian activity, and change the economics of land-use in Collegetown so radically that a full-service grocery store will finally be viable.”

Lower worked to rally students and city residents in support of the project. Many of them attended meetings to support him.

He had spoken numerous times about his frustration with how long it took the planning board to approve his project, which will extend between College and Linden Avenue and include a new heated bus shelter for TCAT passengers.

There will also be a new “pocket park” on the city-owned land outside the Nines, Lower said.

Currently, practically nothing but weeds exist in the spot. As a result of the approval Lower won last night, benches, tables and bike racks will fill the space.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.