Ithaca, N.Y. — City officials moved Wednesday night to prevent a piece of land near Ithaca Falls from being turned into a development.
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Doing so will help ensure that the wooded area by one of Ithaca’s most vaunted natural resources doesn’t get marred by an ambitious building project out of step with the character of the Ithaca Falls.
But it won’t also come without some costs: Common Council members recognized that by retaining ownership of the properties, local taxpayers will assume expenses runningup to $40,000 — or higher.
“I’m anxious about taking on these unknown costs without some more definite idea about what the costs might be,” said Common Council member Graham Kerslick, who represents Ithaca’s Fourth Ward.
Ellen McCollister, who represents the city’s Third Ward, also noted that the city’s budget was already strained and that other local municipalities — like the town of Ithaca — hadn’t, in her view, picked up their fair portion of the tab for maintaining area parkland.
“I think it’s time for people to start anteing up,” she said. “It sounds like chump change, but it’s not.”
Despite their reservations, both Kerslick and McCollister joined a unanimous vote of the Ithaca Council’s Planning and Development Committee on Wednesday to take the tax-delinquent property off of the auction block and keep it in city hands. They did so for two parcels at 401 Lake Street and an adjacent parcel. (The vote must still be approved by Ithaca’s Common Council instead of just the committee.)
Keeping the parcels means the city will have to figure out what to do with a boarded-up building on the land, explained Nels Bohn, director of the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency.
“It takes a lot of time and management and you need sufficient resources to finish the job you set out to start,” Bohn said. “You might want to think about restoration of the site.”
Council member Josephine Martell has worked over the last few weeks at least on the issue as the liaison to the city’s Natural Areas Commission.
“They don’t want it to fall into inappropriate hands,” she said in a previous interview with the Ithaca Voice of the NAC. “There can be so many consequences of doing that.”
Mayor Svante Myrick, who is not on the committee, appeared at the meeting and voiced his support for preventing the parcel from being sold at auction and facing development.
The committee voted to protect the land after several speakers at City Hall urged Ithaca to prevent a private development from, they said, ruining what is currently a beautiful and important public resource.
“I believe the most effective way to protect the Ithaca Falls Natural Area is for the city to own both parcels and to designate them as parkland,” said Dan Hoffman, the city’s former attorney, in a letter read to the Council members.
“I hope you will vote to keep both properties out of the 2015 tax auction, and give the City and its citizenry the time for thoughtful and transparent consideration of the best way these lands can serve the present community, as well as future generations.”