ITHACA, N.Y. — For an Ithaca town planning board member, it might be a little refreshing to have something else to talk about other than Maplewood. Plans for a Sleep Inn hotel and Ithaca College office space will also be on the planning board agenda next Tuesday evening.

The first item on the agenda comes courtesy of Ithaca College. The school is requesting that a 10,534 square-foot (SF) temporary office building first approved and erected in 2004, and re-approved by the town in 2009 for use until 2018, now be allowed to exist as a permanent building.

The structure, called “Rothschild Place” and formerly known as the Administrative Annex, serves multiple academic departments and provides office support for student support services.

Ithaca College states in their application that the building has been well-maintained to meet the needs of staff and faculty, with new carpet, paint, exterior siding and ADA-accessible entrances.

The building has fire suppression systems and has been routinely inspected, so it doesn’t look like this ll be much of a debate at the meeting.

Something likely to inspire much more thorough discussion will be the revised proposal for a Sleep Inn hotel at 635 Elmira Road, in the southwest part of the town just a little beyond the city line.

The 3-story, 70-room, 37,000 SF hotel was first presented to the town as back in April, when the board declared itself lead agency for environmental review. At the time, the board expressed concerns with traffic, driveway and parking locations and the building’s design, so it falls onto the developer to either mitigate those concerns to the board’s satisfaction, or explain why they can’t be effectively mitigated.

The traffic concerns have been addressed and the development team has met with the town to draw up an erosion control plan, but there remain concerns with the aesthetics of the building, which town planner Christine Balestra describes as “very similar to all the other hotels being constructed along the Elmira Road commercial strip”.

Given the town’s goals to make this area a scenic gateway, Balestra wrote that the board may consider discussing design revisions to make the hotel look more residential and “rustic”, through the use of more wood and stone, a steeper roof pitch, more indents to create visual interest along the exterior, or even a smaller structure. The town planning department also recommended taller landscaping along the sides and rear of the building.

Sleep Inn, a mid-priced, mid-sized hotel brand, has yet to make much of a presence upstate. Although it has 377 locations nationwide, the nearest Sleep Inn locations are in Scranton, suburban Buffalo and near Glens Falls. The hotel’s developer, Pratik Ahir of Ahir Hotels, co-owns the Rodeway Inn further down Elmira Road. Both the Rodeway and Sleep Inn are Choice Hotels brands, so it’s likely a case of going with what one is familiar with.

And last but not least Maplewood. This week’s meeting is the “preliminary presentation regarding the determination of adequacy for public review of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement”. That mouthful of jargon deserves a translation, which Christine Balestra was happy to provide in a phone call.

“Essentially, what the applicants [Cornell/EdR] are going to do is a short presentation to the planning board that explains what is going to be in the EIS.

Their plan is to actually to provide the board with the Draft EIS at the meeting, say ‘here’s the EIS’, and they’re going to say ‘thank you very much’, and that’s about it. The board will then have 45 days to look at the EIS and see if it has everything it’s supposed to contain, and use the accepted scoping document like it’s a syllabus.”

Throwing an analogy out there, it’s like unmooring the boat for a long voyage, one that we will hear all about as the board concludes their review in September.

Brian Crandall

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