Editor’s Note: Below are two guest columns recently submitted to the Ithaca Voice in support of a $14 million affordable housing project proposed for Ithaca’s Northside.
Contact me anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org to submit a guest column.
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Bus To Nature: Route 22
1 — Why I support the 210 Hancock Street building proposal
The following column was written by Patrick Braga, a rising senior at Cornell University studying urban planning and music. He is also a voting member of the City of Ithaca Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Council.
Receiving new development and new neighbors can feel difficult for residents living in established neighborhoods. The concerns which Dick Feldman and 200 Ithaca residents voiced encompass valid questions – whether the end-product will fit in with the neighborhood’s scale, whether it is responding to housing demand adequately, and how it does or does not cater to low-income Ithacans’ transportation and financial needs. While I would propose that the uncertainty he and his neighbors feel may arise from public meeting processes that fail to innovate, I hope to address each of the points he brought up in his opinion column.
Is the project out of scale? In this section, Feldman makes two central points: that rental apartments do not fit into the character of Fall Creek and Northside, and that the project would destroy Ithaca’s character. However, rental properties can be found in and near Fall Creek. Besides, one cannot forget that actual apartments constitute only half of the proposal, and four townhouse buildings made to resemble separate single-family homes will buffer the development on its other side.
As for Ithaca’s character, the design’s massing and window proportions draw directly from local buildings. An April 17 document (http://www.cityofithaca.org/DocumentCenter/View/2812) highlights that the inspirations for the design come directly from some of Ithaca’s most beloved historic structures – the Hickey’s building (in Fall Creek), the Gimme Coffee Building (at the edge of Fall Creek), and the Tremen King Building (on the Commons). While the choices of green and yellow accents are odd, that’s likely due to the architects’ fear, rightly or otherwise, of copying architecture from the past outright, instead choosing to dialogue with more contemporary designs in our city. Where the design does not succeed is how the storefronts are raised above grade rather than meeting the ground, which would have been a better strategy in terms of urban design.
Do we need housing here when housing is being built elsewhere? Yes. The Varna and King Road developments which Feldman references are on the outskirts of Ithaca’s urban core, and thus more likely to contribute to traffic congestion. The Northside proposal, on the other hand, will fill in vacant, unproductive land within walking and bicycling distance of our city’s best amenities. Not to mention, of course, that the vacancy rate in Ithaca’s downhill core last year was unhealthily far below 5%, a typically acceptable rate.
Will the development be bad for parking? We should first ask: will the development be a destination for out-of-town traffic? Unlikely so. Rather, it aims to add retail to serve the surrounding neighborhoods. Plus, urban planners recognize that extensive unpaid parking contributes immensely to people’s likelihood to drive versus going on foot, riding a bike, or riding transit. Even if transit service currently is insufficient, the walk to downtown-served transit is not far.
Will the buildings help renters? Feldman’s point about the inability to build equity is valid, but touches on a larger question that this project probably won’t solve. I do agree, though, that cities need to think about housing finance more creatively to help disadvantaged residents build wealth.
Finally, does the proposed development push a high-density model onto Ithaca? Not at all. If anything, it only reflects trends that have kept our city fiscally healthier than others in upstate New York, and if the Form Ithaca vision comes to fruition, these buildings will connect gracefully with future waterfront development. Let’s also be clear: high density is a relative term. For all intents and purposes, Fall Creek is quite dense, especially in an American context and for a city of Ithaca’s size.
— Patrick Braga
2 — I am in full support of INHS’ Northside development
The following column was written by Andrea C Koschmann, an Ithaca mother and resident who lives near the proposed housing project.
I live on the 300 block of Hancock Street, just a few houses away from the proposed INHS affordable housing development. I am in full support of the project as proposed by INHS. I believe that the majority of Northside residents also support the project. In fact, most of the people I know who live West of the creek (i.e. in Northside) were not even aware of the opposing petition.
Northside is a distinct neighborhood from Fall Creek. We are a vibrant and diverse family-friendly neighborhood with a good mix of owner-occupied houses and subsidized and unsubsidized rental properties. We are close to bus lines, grocery shopping, the Sciencenter and many playgrounds, as well as easy walking distance to GIAC and BJM, our neighborhood school.
Northsiders take great pride in our diversity among class, race, and economic lines, however all of us are well aware of the shortage of affordable housing options, both in Ithaca, and just in our own neighborhood. BJM has over 40 students who have experienced homelessness, and many of us have been personally touched by children who have lost their homes recently due to economic insecurity and skyrocketing rents. Once you see homelessness through the eyes of a child you care about, the concerns voiced by the opposing petition begin to seem insignificant.
There is no reason not to give the proposed building a height variance, given that our neighborhood has several tall buildings, including one on Fourth Street and one a couple blocks away on Dey Street. Even the Sciencenter is tall—and totally out of the architectural “character” of the neighborhood, but so wonderful and loved. Northside is an urban neighborhood, and architectural diversity is a part of that.
In terms of the parking variance, site studies have shown that many families of the target income bracket will not have a car, and will not need parking. I have never had any trouble with street parking when my friends visit, spaces are plentiful and ample. Personally, I only acquired a car recently, and had no trouble shopping and getting to work without one due to the bus lines and central location of my neighborhood.
As the mom of a young child who loves her bike, I am especially looking forward to the further development of the permaculture park and the new creek bike lane that will be part of INHS project. My child loves that we are blocks away from three different playgrounds, as well as walking distance to the Alex Haley pool and BJM. It is a wonderful place for children to grow up, and I would love more children to have the opportunity to enjoy our safe and friendly neighborhood.
Change is always hard, and I honestly loved having a grocery store down the street, but those days have passed, and now my priorities are the kids and families of my neighborhood and of BJM—kids who have as much a right to family-friendly, safe and affordable housing as the kids on the other side of the Creek.
I urge the City and the respective boards to support all aspects of this project, and all Ithaca residents who care about affordable housing and social justice issues to speak in favor of the INHS development on Hancock Street.
— Andrea Koschmann