ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s been eight months since The Chapter House burned down in Collegetown and the heartache from its loss cannot be overstated.

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We’ve known for a while now that The Chapter House will be rebuilt and developers say the new bar will open in August 2016.

But what’s been happening since then? You have questions about the Chapter House rebuild. The Voice has some answers.

Did we miss your question? Email us at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.

1) So what exactly is going on with the Chapter House project? I know it burnt down, and I know a new building’s planned.
2) It’s not really “Landmarks Preservation” if it burnt down, is it?
3) So what did the ILPC decide?
4) Okay, so they issue a certificate, now what about the planning board?
5) So when can I expect it to be complete?
6) Geez, that seems like a lot of red tape. Did Simeon’s have to go through all this?

So what exactly is going on with the Chapter House project? I know it burnt down, and I know a new building’s planned.

Right. So now comes the approvals process. In this case, approval for the Chapter House plan will have to issued by two agencies – the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC), and the Planning and Development Board (PDB), which votes on all major projects in Ithaca.

It’s not really “Landmarks Preservation” if it burnt down, is it?

Well, in this case, it’s about how the new Chapter House fits in with neighboring buildings, which are still active parts of the East Hill Historic District.

So what did the ILPC decide?

Nothing yet. They’ve offered design guidance up to this point. 408 Stewart Avenue (the white-ish apartment house that was damaged but still standing after the fire) was initially explored as part of the reconstruction, but the ILPC made moves to say they thought that even with the destruction of much of its façade in a vinyl siding installation decades ago, it was still historic. That was taken off the table. The Chapter House reconstruction was also decreased from four to three floors – the same size as before.

Seems like an easy sell at this point, right? Not so much.

The big debate at this point seems to be over which design is more historically appropriate – the 1904 construction with its mansard roof, or the 1920s renovation with its flat roof and large cornice. We might call it the Chapter House, but the building was there before Chappie and Jim’s Place. Before there was a bar, it was a candy shop.

The owners propose a reconstruction based heavily on the 1904 design – which is also the design considered more fitting into the Historic District, whose time period of significance is 1870-1920.

The other group is pushing for the 1920s design, which in an advocacy letter from former city alderperson Mary Tomlan, is because the first design is historically incongruous with the bar since the bar didn’t exist at that time (Jim’s Place opened a taproom post-Prohibition around 1934), and therefore she and some others are pushing for the 1920s design even though that design dates from outside of the neighborhood’s period of significance.

The counter-argument to this argument is that it’s considered inappropriate for new buildings in historic district to completely replicate earlier structures because it cheapens the value of still-existing structures.

Anyway, according to city Historic Preservation Planner Bryan McCracken, the ILPC will be voting on a “Certificate of Appropriateness” this month.

Okay, so they issue a certificate, now what about the planning board?

The project has already presented a sketch plan, which is the initial presentation, last week. A lot of the big details have already been sorted by the ILPC, arguably the more restrictive of the two groups. That might make things easier, but the caveat is, any design changes the Planning Board wants will force a re-review by the ILPC and a reconsideration of whether or not to issue a Certificate of Appropriateness.

“We’d like to eliminate most of the back and forth beforehand,” said McCracken.

The drawing above is the latest design for the Chapter House and its neighbor, 406 Stewart Avenue. While it’s a pretty good idea of what to expect design-wise, it’s a concept and still subject to design changes and modifications.

So when can I expect it to be complete?

The building is still aiming for an August 2016 completion. According to property manager Jerry Dietz of C.S.P. Management, the owner is looking to break ground in late January or Early February. The key thing impacting time is really just getting all of the approvals delivered so the construction permit can be granted.

Geez, that seems like a lot of red tape. Did Simeon’s have to go through all this?

Not to the same degree, no. Since only part of Simeon’s was destroyed, the rebuild is considered a partial reconstruction of an existing structure, rather than a brand new building like the Chapter House is.

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Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.