ITHACA, NY – The hotly debated apartment project planned for 201 College Avenue won’t be getting built anytime soon, but discussions among city officials in the coming weeks may still determine the fate of “The Soul of Collegetown.”
The debate now moves to the Board of Zoning Appeals, where something seemingly unprecedented is about to happen: Ithaca’s Planning Board is appealing a decision of Ithaca’s Planning Department. The Planning Board is the political body appointed by the mayor, the Planning Department is the professional staff hired by the city.
This zoning issue is what ultimately lead to the 201 College Avenue project being stalled to the point that it couldn’t meet its construction deadlines.
To recap: as the 201 Colllege project was approaching final approval, Planning Board member John Schroeder brought up what he felt was as ambiguity in the zoning code for Collegetown. Schroeder was one of the many people who worked on the multi-yearlong process of revising Collegetown zoning in the late 2000s.
It’s difficult to sum up the argument without diving into the weeds of zoning code. The core of the Planning Board’s 17-page appeal is that the zoning indicates that any building facade must be limited in length. The Planning Department’s original determination was that length limits only apply to the main or front facade. (In this instance, the front facade would be the one facing College Ave., with the side facade being the one facing Bool Street.)
A picture and several thousand words
The simplest way to illustrate the disagreement is, well, with an illustration:
This illustration shows a building similar to the proposed 201 College Avenue structure in size, with a longer facade along one street. In the Planning Department’s determination, it is stated that due to the recessed entries, the 201 College Avenue project would have multiple facades along one side. The above diagram is referenced to show that the facade length only applies to that side.
In the Planning Board’s appeal, it is argued that unlabeled parts of an illustration have no meaning. It points to the same diagram, arguing that since the label D on the diagram isn’t used for both doors on the smaller structure, it means that the diagrams clearly aren’t meant to be complete examples.
The appeal states: “Following the logic of the Determination, we would conclude that a left-side entry must be recessed because it is labeled D, but a right-side entry need not be recessed because it is unlabeled. Clearly this is a silly conclusion because the text clearly states ‘recessed entry required for each functional entry.’”
The determination also argues that ambiguity in legislation favors the property owner, but the appeal argues that there is no ambiguity, and that the document read both in detail and as a whole clearly indicates limitations on street facade lengths.
This is only some of the arguments outlined between the 17-page appeal and the 6-page determination. You can read the whole back-and-forth in the Planning Board’s next agenda, starting on page 13.
The Planning Board voted 6-0 earlier this week to pass on this appeal. However, Planning Board member Robert Lewis voted against and voiced strong opposition against filing the appeal in the first place during a meeting last month, going so far as to call it “bad government.”
This issue will be brought before the Board of Zoning Appeals during it’s Oct. 12 meeting.
Of course, if the BZA strikes down that appeal, 203 College Avenue resident Neil Golder, who has been the most vocal opponent of the 201 project, has filed another lawsuit against the city. (His first one was dismissed on the grounds that a final approval had not been given, now that it has he has refiled).