ITHACA, N.Y. — At a meeting this month, the Ithaca Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee voted to circulate a proposal for a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Urban Development” (TM-PUD) over the waterfront. The reason for this temporary zoning is one part proactive, and one part reactive.

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What the TM-PUD does is that for an 18-month period starting the day of Common Council approval, it would give the Common Council the right to oversee, and if necessary vote down projects that it thinks will not be appropriate for the waterfront. The study area is currently a mix of zones: Waterfront (WF-1, WF-2), Southwest Mixed-Use (SW-2), Park (P-1) and Industrial (I-1). When the Comprehensive Plan was passed in 2015, it promoted a more walkable, dense, mixed-use waterfront. Therefore, some of the zones are outdated.

The city’s planning department is still in the process of drawing up specifics for how to implement the Comprehensive Plan’s walkable urban waterfront, but in the meanwhile, some of the zones don’t match up with the direction the city wishes to proceed.

Take, for example, the industrial space on Cherry Street and Carpenter Circle. By zoning, residential uses aren’t allowed, although the city would like to see mixed-uses with condos and apartments in their vicinity. The planning department needs time to figure out the what and where on zoning so that those uses can be proposed without a developer spending extra months in front of the Planning Board and Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), which can drive up costs and make construction financing more uncertain.

So that’s the proactive, benign part – the city needs time to plan out the zoning laws for the denser, more lively waterfront they want to develop. Now comes the reactive, cynical part.

As first reported here on the Ithaca Voice, it’s a not-so-secret secret at this point that the Maguires, who own and operate a number of local auto dealerships, are looking hard at properties on Carpenter Circle.

Since Carpenter Business Park is zoned industrial, and Ithaca city zoning allows commercial uses in industrial space so long as they’re two floors, there’s a good chance they could build dealerships without the need of the BZA, and it would be an uncomfortable position for the planning board to have to debate a project that is completely legal but is something the city and much of the community doesn’t really want.

So as a way to stall for time, the city’s pursuing this TM-PUD and giving the Common Council the authority to shoot down any unwelcome plans should they arise.

For comparison’s sake, there’s a similar scenario that is playing out in Ithaca town. The College Crossings project on South Hillwas welcomed under the zoning and previous iterations and had been approved for construction, but after the town passed its 2014 Comprehensive Plan and attended the Form Ithaca charettes last summer, the planning board realized that a shopping center with a couple apartments above and in the middle of a large parking lot was no longer desirable, and wasn’t comfortable approving changes the developer requested to the project.

While the project has been withdrawn, the process and debate has created some discomfort, confusion and uncertainty, something their colleagues in the city would like to avoid.

The town hopes to have some form-based zoning code ready this year, and will be hosting a public meeting and workshop to hash out a South Hill plan later this month.

So, looking back to the city, the occupants of 108 E. Green Street want things that are still illegal in much of the study area, but they don’t want a full-on moratorium because some areas like the Waterfront zones actually do accommodate what the city and many of its constituents want.

The TM-PUD is an attempt to stave off the legal but undesirable projects until the revised West End zoning can go into effect.

At the meeting, the boundary was changed to midway through the Meadow Street and Fulton Street blocks, rather than along Fulton Street. It may or may not affect Elmira Savings Bank’s parcels as mentioned above, but ESB’s long-term plans for possibly a mixed commercial and residential building are in alignment with the city’s.

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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.