This column was written by Brian Crandall, who runs the blog “Ithacating in Cornell Heights.”

Tompkins’ new comprehensive plan

Tompkins County has just released its new comprehensive plan, the first since 2004.

That might not seem like a big deal, but in that time period, the county has probably added 4,500 residents and a couple thousand housing units, so it’s more important than it might seem at first glance (for the sake of comparison, every county community except Ithaca city has made a plan since 2000; the city’s dates from 1971).

Currently, the plan is in review and up for adoption by the County Legislature at their meeting on the 17th. The 109-page document has been in the works since the fall of 2013.

Editor’s Note: Today, we’re publishing a story looking at some background on the plan and its economic aspirations for the county.

Tomorrow, we’ll be focusing on the plan’s talk of development and affordable housing.

Background on the plan

Generally, the county doesn’t play a big role in what does and doesn’t get built in its constituent villages and towns. Building projects are required to get county input, but the county isn’t about to stop anything, nor does it have much authority to (unless you’re applying for tax breaks, like Jason Fane’s 130 E. Clinton project).

Perhaps the largest point of contention at the moment is the intermunicipal NYSEG natural gas pipeline, which Lansing wants and needs to sustain its growth, but the county has issues with, saying it could upset their green energy goals.

On the opposite end of the scale was the Cayuga Ridge project for the Biggs parcel, which the county planned to sell to an affordable housing developer, but received significant blowback from the West Hill community. Cayuga Ridge was later cancelled when a site check by the developer revealed more wetlands than previously thought.

Anyway, back to the plan. It’s available in small chunks on this page, or for those whose internet connection can handle all 109 pages at once, here it is.

The economics of the county’s future

Economically, the county plans on sustaining its biggest contributors, education and healthcare, while making an effort to diversify with incentives towards manufacturing, high-tech/tech startups, food processing, agriculture and tourism.

Specifically, they’re hoping to leverage the Cornell tech scene into permanent jobs and new economic development, which has met with some success, though nothing on the scale of, say, Silicon Valley or the Research Triangle.

The high taxes, isolated location and lack of access to capital are major hurdles in an area that has plenty of brain power to tap into.

The county is hoping to alleviate some of the burden by utilizing the state’s STARTUP NY program, and supporting resources like the new Rev business incubator in downtown Ithaca.

The county only seems to be expecting 3,000-6,000 new jobs in the next ten years – a number that seems a little conservative, if recent growth is any indicator. The county (aka the Ithaca metro, following the Federal BLS) has added 8,400 jobs since December 2004 (63,700 jobs in December 2004 to 72,100 in December 2014).

On an individual scale, the county is seeking to expand broadband internet infrastructure and maintain the airport, which has seen a sharp decrease in travelers over the past year, putting its long-term feasibility at risk.

There will also be continued funding towards planning studies (a study examining the NYS DOT relocation from the waterfront is the latest example), tourism advertising and tax abatements when appropriate.

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Brian Crandall

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