ITHACA, N.Y. — An Ithaca board began deciding the fate of a crucial component of a controversial affordable housing complex at a meeting that drew more than 50 people to City Hall Tuesday night.

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City residents packed the Ithaca Board of Zoning Appeals Tuesday to share opinions on a four story apartment building, proposed the Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Service and planned for the city’s Northside. The crowd expressed divided views.

The hearing was held over INHS’ request for a variance — or an exemption from a city zoning law — that would allow it to extend the height of the building to 46.5 feet. However, the meeting also became a platform for many Ithaca residents to provide their opinions on the project as a whole.

A BZA member said the board was not expected to vote on the proposed variance today.

INHS said the additional height was requested in order to account for several additional factors, including the area’s floodplain, which demands an extra several feet, and a commercial space within the building.

The 54-unit apartment building, which is aimed at providing low-income housing, has been the focus of recent controversy among many residents in the Northside and Fall Creek communities.

Pastor supports project

Coming to the defense of the project were many members of the Northside community, including longtime Northside Pastor Ronald Benson, who is a supporter of the project.

“Knowing that there are low income people in the community who need housing is very important. 75% of this community is rental. Vouchers are now being turned down. That means that the landlords are controlling the prices, and more and more, the poor people are moving out,” he said.

Benson also emphasized the importance of keeping low-income housing in the downtown area.

“More and more the poorer people are moving out of the neighborhood, meaning life is now going to be more inconvenient for them out on the outskirts, because many of them don’t have their own transportations,” said Benson.

Click on the Ithaca Voice Story Database to learn more. Stories on this topic are filed under “Hancock Street building proposal.”
Click on the Ithaca Voice Story Database to learn more. Stories on this topic are filed under “Hancock Street building proposal.”

Opposition emerges

Opposition to the project came mostly from those worried that the project would be detrimental to the quality of life in and character of the neighborhood.

“Everyone that I speak to knows that this is not what you want to do to a neighborhood full of houses,” said one speaker.

Others expressed dissatisfaction with what they perceived as little public involvement in the planning of the project.

“I think the city and its board and bodies are aware that there’s a densification plan in place [but] I don’t think that it’s something that the city of Ithaca are aware of and have agreed with,” a speaker said.

Several speakers identified the likely influx of foot and auto traffic that would accompany both the construction and existence of the building as a problem that would make life in the neighborhood more difficult.

“This is going to be 100 or 150 new neighbors. They say there’s going to be parking but I don’t think they’re right,” said another speaker.

Speakers took issue with the construction itself. This included both the problems that workers and equipment may cause street life and the impact that large machinery would have on the structural stability of surrounding homes.

“I really really am concerned about the construction that’s going to happen in there,” one man said, adding, “this is going to be a very bleak time for us.”

Pastor Benson responded to some of the criticism saying, “we have height in all of our community, whether it’s in Collegetown or over on Third street and it really hasn’t been a detriment to the community.”

Benson added, “We are going to have to evolve as a community and a neighborhood. Some of these houses in the area are over 100 years old. Of course we’re going to have to evolve.”

Rubin Danberg Biggs

Rubin Danberg Biggs is an intern with the Ithaca Voice. He can be emailed at rdanbergbiggs@ithacavoice.com.