ITHACA, N.Y. — Several members of Ithaca’s planning board criticized a proposed 11-story building for downtown Ithaca at City Hall on Tuesday night.
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“You’re creating a canyon of darkness inside your own buildings, which I don’t understand,” said Jack Elliot, a member of the city’s planning board, gesturing toward architectural renderings.
Texas-based developer Campus Advantage has proposed a $40 million, 620-unit building project for the Trebloc site at 301 East State Street, a block away from the Ithaca Commons.
The proposal has run into substantial opposition from city residents, who have said an 11-story building is too large for the downtown neighborhood. Others say that the project will add badly needed housing units to the city’s downtown urban core.
But Tuesday night showed that the developers face another apparent obstacle: Passionate opposition from members of the city’s planning board.
“It doesn’t look like Ithaca,” said Mark Darling, another planning board member. “I don’t know how else to explain it.”
Darling said he agrees that there is a critical need for downtown density to give students somewhere to live without crowding out and pricing out families in Ithaca.
“A project could facilitate that. This is maybe too much, too fast. It doesn’t feel right. It feels too big and too much massing,” Darling said.
In a letter to the planning board, Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning and Design said the developers had taken a second look at the proposal in response to the concerns of the community and of city officials.
“The project team has reexamined the building and its site in the context of what we heard, and provided substantial new information for environmental review,” he wrote. “With the help of our architects, engineers, and project team as a whole, we feel that we have a current proposal that will make an important and positive addition to what is arguably the City of Ithaca’s most important corner.”
But several members of the planning board disagreed Tuesday night with the idea that there had been enough done to revise the proposal.
“I don’t see any substantial changes in this at all,” Elliott said. “I see window dressing.”
John Schroeder, another city planning board member, said that he agreed the project would need substantial rethinking if it were to win approval from the board.
He emphasized that meeting the requirements of city zoning — which sets the basic parameters of what can be built — does not mean the project should in turn be approved.
“Just because zoning allows it doesn’t mean you should do (it) or that it’s an acceptable solution,” Schroeder said.
Elliott was strongest in voicing his objections.
He particularly criticized Campus Advantage for not factoring in how light would appear on a heavily-trafficked downtown street.
“I think you need to rethink how sunlight works on buildings,” Elliott said.
He added: “This is basic design. If you can’t do this you shouldn’t be in the business.”
The members of the project team responded that they were understanding the message clearly from the community.
“We hearing it; we’re hearing it; we’re hearing it,” said a Campus Advantage official, “the mass is too big.”
McKenzie Jones Rounds, another planning board member, echoed those concerns and said that the city was open to looking at improvements in the project.
“Every single person is responding to the height and the massing,” she said.
She also said that the city remains open to further exploration.
“We’re looking forward to seeing the next iteration,” she said.
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