Rendering of the controversial INHS project supported by Northside United members

ITHACA, N.Y. — When Bob Sherman spoke at City Hall against a proposed $14 million housing project for Ithaca’s Northside in May, he was only one of only two people to do so.


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Much has changed since then. Opposition to a major affordable housing complex at 210 Hancock Street has gathered steam, and the result was several dozen residents turning out to try and derail the project at Ithaca’s planning board meeting on Tuesday night.

The contrast from last month’s planning board meeting — when the vast majority of speakers supported the development — was clear.  “It looks like the word has gotten out,” Sherman said as he looked at a packed roomful of his neighbors before taking his turn at the microphone.

A proposed rendering of the project

Sherman and a couple dozen of his neighbors at City Hall Tuesday listed a bevy of concerns with the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services proposal, which calls for 53 1- and 2-bedroom units in 4-story apartment buildings, 12 for-sale townhouses and about 10,000 sq feet of rentable commercial space.

Among the main concerns of the neighbors, echoing those articulated by Sherman: 1) That the large project isn’t consistent with the character of the Northside and Fall Creek neighborhoods because it is too big and dense; 2) That construction will prove a major disruption for life in the area; and 3) That parking will become a serious problem with the influx of new residents.

“This building is larger than anything else INHS has built, and is too big for the neighborhood,” Sherman said. “There isn’t adequate parking … construction of this very large building will require the use of a pile-driver on site for at least six weeks. This will affect everyone living within a mile of the site.”

See related: New and updated renderings for Ithaca affordable housing site

See related: Opinion: Why Ithaca should reject major building plan for Northside

Critics of the project Tuesday night included former Binghamton Mayor Matt Ryan — now an Ithaca resident — who cited what he called a successful student housing project in Binghamton as evidence that the INHS project should be scaled back.

“At the very least, I ask that you knock it down a floor,” Ryan said of the proposal.

The planning board was not slated to vote on the project but to recommend or not whether the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals approve a variance — or exemption from zoning law — for the project.

The plan still must be approved by the Board of Public Works, the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency and Ithaca Common Council.

City staffer’s emotional appeal

A rare voice of support for the project Tuesday night came from Kevin Sutherland, the chief of staff for Mayor Svante Myrick, who stressed he was speaking as a private citizen.

“I am in full support of this,” Sutherland said. “…This isn’t a 10-story building. This is four (stories) for people who may never be able to afford to live in Ithaca.”

Sutherland stressed that INHS had held many community meetings “and incorporated our concerns while still keeping the project viable. Scaling back will only make the project less viable.
“… If this isn’t something the city and its planning board, can’t support I don’t know what is.”
The project has enjoyed broad support from City Hall and members of Ithaca’s Common Council. At last month’s meetings, Common Council member Seph Murtagh — who represents the 2nd Ward, where the project would go — said that he was a “strong supporter” of the project.

“It can be extremely challenging to find affordable housing in Ithaca,” Murtagh said. “This shouldn’t be a community that’s only for the wealthy.”

Brian Crandall, who writes for the Ithaca Voice, has also written an opinion column endorsing the project.
“In sum, we have a project that removes a vacant supermarket, fits well in the urban fabric and provides affordable housing. It might take forever and a day to build, but it’s a welcome resource in the city of Ithaca,” Crandall wrote.

What’s the timeline?

As previously reported by Crandall: If approved, the project is not going to be complete until September 2020, tentatively. This isn’t a huge surprise though, INHS is a non-profit and dependent on grant disbursements.

The buildout will begin in September 2016 and consist of three phases – my guess of the breakdown is the townhouses are one phase, the 2 southern apartment buildings are a second phase, and the northern two apartment buildings are the third phase, though not necessarily in that order.

At some point, INHS anticipates subdividing the parcel into apartment and for-sale portions, which might be useful when applying for affordable housing grants.

How big, and how much?

The apartments call for 53 units (41 1-bedroom units, 12 2-bedroom units), and 12 for-sale townhouses. There would be 65 residential units in total, and about 10,000 sq feet of rentable commercial space in three spaces.

The apartment buildings will be 65,000 sq ft, 4 stories and 46.5′ tall (zoning max 4 stories/40′). The demolition of a one-story office building (built 1975) and a vacant grocery store (built 1957) will be required.

Total construction cost is anticipated to be about $13.8 million.

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Jeff Stein

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