ITHACA, N.Y. – Plans for the site of the Green Street Garage are up for discussion again amid concerns over procedure of the first Request for Proposals and public concern for the project.
A handful of people who oppose the current proposal for the development gathered outside Ithaca’s City Hall before the Common Council meeting Wednesday and trickled into the building to express their views on the project. Some residents have raised concerns about potentially raised rents in the complex, gentrification of the area and the environmental consequences of larger development projects.
“To me, the ultimate test of a society is how we treat the more marginalized members of our community,” said Ian Shapiro during public comment. “Let’s see if we can really make this a higher priority – the gentrification pattern that keeps happening is really not OK and we need to do better.”
A petition with 200 supporters online started by Amanda Kirchgessner asks why the city is giving away the heart of downtown to big developers and calls for affordable and inclusive housing and affordable commercial spaces; local, living wage jobs; sustainable development and more public space around the Commons.
The Request for Proposals reopened unexpectedly last month after only one proposal had been submitted. The one proposal, submitted by Rimland-Peak development group, would potentially create two apartment towers with 10% affordable housing (priced at 75% area median income, about $40,000/year), a new garage, and a conference center.
Since that meeting, at least two other plans have come forward – a plan from Visum Development Group, and a plan called “Little Commons” by architect John Driscoll. Both call for a mix of affordable and market-rate housing, as well as park spaces. These plans are informal, and have until the end of the month to submit qualifications demonstrating their project teams would be able to build their projects in a prompt and ethical manner.
If other developers qualify for the project, they will have from June 1 to July 31 to submitted detailed plans, which will be reviewed by the IURA at public hearings.
Alderperson Seph Murtagh said while he agrees with the reopening of the RFP, some development in the location will be required soon.
“We need to build a new parking garage – we are a few years away from having an unsafe garage,” Murtagh said. “That would probably have a pretty dramatic impact on property taxes, and we’re trying to figure out a way to weigh these concerns.”
Murtagh said a conference center is also in high demand in the downtown area and would likely have a positive impact on local small businesses.
“This is a really big, challenging and complex problem,” Murtagh said. “It’s like comparing a swim across a pond and Cayuga Lake – I could probably swim the length of a pond, but I couldn’t swim the length of the lake. This is like the developer version of swimming the length of Cayuga Lake.”
Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick addressed the concerns, and followed with what he called his “least popular political opinion.”
“We can’t stop building if all we care about is things becoming more expensive in the city, we just have to build carefully,” he said. “The thing that has always been most important to me is making this city more affordable. Not making space for more people is something that flies in the face of this city.”