ITHACA, NY – On Wednesday, Ithaca’s Planning and Economic Development Committee voted 4-1 to circulate a plan that would create special zoning to encourage affordable housing.

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If passed, the law would provide incentives to developers who commit to making 15 percent (minimum of 1) of the units for sale or rent in the development affordable to lower-income families. Alternately, developers can qualify for the incentives by building affordable housing within a half mile of the main development, or by paying a lump sum in lieu of providing affordable housing.

For full details, check our coverage below:

Although it received general support (1st Ward Alderperson Cynthia Brock was the dissenting vote), several members of the committee did express concerns about the plan.

One of those concerns is a simple question of whether or not the incentives are incentive enough and, for that matter, if they were the right incentives.

The three incentives of the plan for developers are as follows:

  • can be exempted from parts of the city’s site plan review
  • can build one additional story over the height limit
  • can forego parking requirements

“I’m a little skeptical that developers are going to take advantage of this,” said 2nd Ward Alderperson Seph Murtagh at Wednesday’s meeting. “I’m not sure the incentives are strong enough.”

Murtagh said that he thought the incentives might appeal to developers who specialize in affordable housing, as the incentives for height and parking requirements would be well-suited to them, but he didn’t think it would draw private developers.

General consensus was that the site plan review incentive would be the most attractive.

4th Ward Alderperson Graham Kerslick said he was unsure about this incentive as site plan reviews often turn up problem points in a project, particularly on larger projects that are in the public eye.

“It’s not that it’s such an onerous process,” 2nd Ward Alderperson Ducson Nguyen later told the Voice, noting that this exemption only applied in areas where there is already design standards that provide guidance for developers on how a building should look. “But it’s still time consuming. The opportunity to save a month or two or three, I think is really valuable to them.”

At the meeting, it was brought up that some developers are already brushing up against the height requirements in Collegetown, and so that might also prove particularly valuable there.

1st Ward Alderperson Cynthia Brock expressed concern on this incentive, suggesting that if such an incentive had applied to, for instance, the now-canceled Trebloc site, it would have caused even more opposition from the public.

Lynn Truame, development planner for the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency indicated that nailing down the correct incentives had been the hardest part of assembling the plan. She said she hoped that putting the plan into circulation where more people would be able to weight in on it might yield more ideas.

Mayor Myrick, who attended the meeting, said, “This proposal is an opportunity for those of us who claim to care about affordable housing but oppose large-scale subsidized housing.” He emphasized that the plan incentivizes affordable housing being built along side of, rather than sectioned off from, market-rate housing in the city.

Ultimately, the committee did vote to circulate the draft, the prevailing sentiment being that it was worth exploring further and potentially experimenting with, working out over time the correct incentives and numbers attached to those incentives that would encourage affordable housing without a negative impact on the community.

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Michael Smith

Michael Smith reports on politics and local news for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached via email at, by cell at (607) 229-0885, or via Google Voice at (518) 650-3639.