ITHACA, N.Y. — When one thinks of East Hill Plaza, walkable streets and apartments above retail stores aren’t the first thing that comes to mind.

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But Cornell may be looking to change that in the near future.

According to Planning Committee minutes from the town of Ithaca, Cornell will be taking part in a multi-day design charrette — or an intensive planning and design session — hosted by form-based zoning proponents Form Ithaca in early June. (In brief, form-based zoning is zoning that focuses on design elements rather than use; it was recently used in the rezoning of the Collegetown neighborhood.)

Cornell is interested because university officials hope the meetings will lead to a regulating plan for the “compact mixed-use” development Cornell is mulling for East Hill Plaza.

The meetings would help provide guidelines for a new Planned Development Zone in the town of Ithaca, one that would potentially allow the university to move forward with a housing/retail mix on the site of the shopping center and its neighboring retail properties. The town is already on board with the idea, advocating for dense mixed-use at East Hill Plaza in the new Comprehensive Plan.

Cornell has owned East Hill Plaza since 1984, and the university pays taxes on the property. Any redevelopment with non-institutional tenants, such as the current retailers in the shopping center, would likely pay taxes as well.

The East Hill Village?

The university has sought redevelopment of the property for its long-term needs. In the 2008 Cornell Master Plan, the university envisions a mixed-use walkable community called “East Hill Village”, which would be comprised of multiple properties at or near East Hill Plaza, some of which have yet to be purchased by the university. Earlier redevelopment plans also exist.

In the East Hill Village concept, a traditional street grid is applied and buildings are 2-6 floors. townhouses and homes are suggested for the eastern side of the property off of Ellis Hollow Road, on what is now university-owned farmland. Closer to the intersection of Ellis Hollow and Pine Tree Roads, office space and apartments for graduate and professional students and staff are built over retail stores and restaurants. A park is placed in the center of the village. Most of what exists now at East Hill Plaza would be demolished.

For Cornell, the redevelopment serves several functions – a nearby academic support hub, an imposing entryway to the southeastern edge of the university, and housing for a swelling student population. It also helps that aside from a couple of private apartment complexes, there aren’t many neighbors to worry about upsetting, since Cornell owns most of the adjacent property already, or plans on acquiring it at a later date.

One of the first parcels to be developed may be 380 Pine Tree Road, a vacant piece of land next to Rite Aid that was home to the now-demolished Courtside Racquet & Fitness. Cornell launched a study on how to reuse the site for housing last fall. The master plan recommends a mixed-use, 2-4 story, 60,000-145,000 square-foot building for the site.

There is no clear timeline for the redevelopment. East Hill Village is included as an ongoing initiative in the Southern Tier’s 2015 application for economic development awards from New York State, and it is also mentioned in the town of Ithaca’s Planning Department 2015 Priorities document as a project “anticipated for consideration within the coming year”. In sum, there are no solid numbers for when Cornell’s East Hill Village will start construction, but the first phases are going to be coming out of the ether soon.


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Brian Crandall

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