ITHACA, N.Y. — After a few revisions based on community input, Cornell’s Maplewood Park re-development is ready to take the next step in the site plan review process.

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The approximately 500-unit, 925-bed project is going up in front of the Ithaca town planning board tonight for multiple decisions. The town of Ithaca planning board is expected to declare itself Lead Agency at its meeting this week, meaning it will be in charge of the review process. The board is also expected to issue a positive declaration of environmental significance, and discuss what’s called a draft scoping document for the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

In non-legal jargon, a positive declaration it means that the project has the potential to create at least one major negative impact that will need to be effectively addressed and mitigated before approval can be given. The EIS is being written to address all environmental and community impacts (examples include water, traffic, zoning and soils), and the draft scoping document is just an outline of what will be written about where.

EIS documents tend to be large, highly detailed, and reserved for very large projects – the Chain Works District planned for South Hill is also undergoing the same process, albeit much more complicated. As the EIS is planned out and written, it will give a much finer scale of the details of Cornell’s new student housing plan.

The gist of the plan has not changed – townhouses, 2-3 story stacked flats (one unit at ground level, one above) and 3-4 story apartment buildings with unit sizes ranging from studios to 4 bedrooms. The apartments make up about 75% of the project, and the townhouses and stacked flats 25%. For the record, the drawings embedded in this article are more conceptual designs rather than anything concrete.

In response to concerns raised at community meetings, the smaller buildings have been pushed closer to the western side of the side to provide a buffer between the larger buildings, and existing housing in the Belle Sherman neighborhood. An apartment building previously planned within the city of Ithaca’s jurisdiction (the northwest corner of the property) will now be green space, with the apartments relocated into the town’s confines.

The project includes a 9,500 square-foot (SF) community center, and a 5,000 SF “neighborhood retail” space. 463 parking spaces are also included, almost one per unit, or about 1 for every two bedrooms.

According to notes from the April 25th community meeting, rents are expected to be about 30% less than the Collegetown Terrace project on East State Street. A quick check shows studio units start around $1,059/month at the Terrace, and two-bedrooms are listed at $2,225/month. 30 percent less would result in rough rental prices of $741/month for a studio and $1,558/month for a two-bedroom, which if using the 30% monthly income rule of affordability, comes out to about $30,000/year. 9-month Cornell graduate student stipends range from $25,152-$28,998, with another $5,300-$8,384 possible during the summer.

Some debate has ensued over the legal and tax structure of the Maplewood project. Cornell will own the land and it will be rented only to Cornell graduate and professional students and visiting faculty, but developer EdR will lease the land from Cornell for 50 years, and EdR will finance, construct and manage the buildings. In other words, the land is owned by a tax-exempt entity, but leased out to a private company. The official comment on whether or not the project will pay taxes, a PILOT, or be fully exempt is “that determination will be made by the taxing authorities.

A website for the Maplewood redevelopment has been launched (link here), with copies of previous meeting presentations and notes. A meeting about the plan has been scheduled at Cornell’s Big Red Barn for 5:30 PM on Tuesday May 10th. Cornell and EdR’s goal is to have approvals in hand for an October construction start and summer 2018 opening.
Edit: The meeting at the Big Red Barn “is aimed at grad and professional students at Cornell, who will be the future residents, not the general community,” according to an email from the project team.

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Brian Crandall

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