ITHACA, N.Y. — This month’s meeting of the city of Ithaca Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) was a relatively quiet one, but there was one big decision on the minds of the three voting councilors present – what to do about the closing of the bus station.

As previously reported, the bus station at 710 West State Street is closing (albeit delayed), as the owners are retiring and Tompkins Trust has no interest in maintaining a bus station in their property. The resolution before the committee last night would authorize intercity buses to use Green Street alongside TCAT, though it was quickly made clear that this was not a complete and final solution.

“This is a procedural step. It gives permission to use Green Street. We still have some things to work out. This is not inevitable, but interim, so that we have the option,” said PEDC Chair Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward).

However, things get a little more complicated from there. Yes, the city would like to keep passengers coming in and out of the city, where they can patronize shops and restaurants. However, they also don’t want to make Green Street unsafe or make TCAT’s operations excessively difficult. That’s where the crux of this debate lies.

Service Development Manager Matt Yarrow represented TCAT at the meeting.

“I support continuing to have this discussion. I think there needs to be a Plan B or C. I don’t want TCAT shoehorned into a suboptimal solution … (w)e don’t want buses having problems trying to find space. We are actually pretty tight on space.”

Yarrow noted that the pull-off space in front of the county library can accommodate five to six buses. But during peak travel times, as many as  eight or nine buses can be attempting to make stops, so buses will sometimes wait in front of the Sunoco across South Cayuga Street waiting for other buses to pull out. Yarrow added that transfer/relief cars for bus drivers switching shifts also need to be able to move in and out as quickly as possible.

“We’re sensitive to signing up for an agreement that precludes us from being able to grow and offer additional service. We’re already under a space crunch.”

“The logistics of this have been very challenging. Pulling together a meeting with all the different bus operators, we have a tight time frame … everybody, including TCAT, is working to try and figure out a solution for this. We’re looking to generate ideas over the next couple of weeks to accommodate,” said Tom Knipe, the city’s deputy director for economic development.

At the insistence of councilor Laura Lewis (D-5th), an addition was made to the city resolution such that the use of Green Street by intercity buses would essentially be on a six-month trial basis, and that whether or not it works out, the Common Council will have to come back to re-examine the situation. Planner Jennifer Kusznir said that the planning department is in an information gathering stage and will analyze the data as it comes in. It’s not an ideal timeframe, but the urgency of the bus station shutdown forces the city to try and create a short-term accommodation while a long-term solution is figured out. The committee agreed to send the resolution on to full council with a unanimous 3-0 vote.

A sweet deal with Emmy’s Organics

The PEDC also weighed in on a resolution to sell 2.601 acres of undeveloped city-owned land at the southern tip of Cherry Street to homegrown organic cookie maker Emmy’s Organics, whose growing business and interest in staying local led them to seek a new HQ and warehouse site in the city’s Cherry Street Industrial Park.

The $242,000 sale of land to Emmy’s is legally a separate action from an IURA plan to extend Cherry Street 400 feet to provide access to the lot. The road extension will also create two more one-acre lots between Emmy’s Organics and the rest of the park, to be sold to interested businesses that create jobs for low and moderate-income persons, and a further 0.61 acres would be deeded over to the city as a natural buffer between the industrial park and the Black Diamond Trail. The new road needs Board of Public Works approval to move forward.

During the special public hearing, there was only one speaker in opposition, attorney and former alderman Dan Hoffman, who while appreciative of the idea and the business, felt the location was inappropriate because disrupting the woods on-site would also disrupt a carbon sink and failed to protect natural resources.

In noting Hoffman’s concerns, it was pointed out by chair Murtagh that the city retains ownership of 2.5 acres of natural space and wetlands south of the lots.

IURA Director Nels Bohn later added that that the industrial park land to be developed, a soils dump site from when the inlet was created, had only marginal ecological value. Councilors were generally supportive of the proposed sale.

“This is a huge opportunity for the city…this is really excellent,” lauded Murtagh.

The resolution to send the sales deal to the council passed unanimously.

National Night Out

Approved at the meeting was a pair of $300 funding requests to support the Ithaca Housing Authority’s National Night Out event, described as “an annual community-building campaign that promotes police-community partnerships and neighborhood camaraderie to make our neighborhoods safer and more caring places to live.”

The funds pay for food and entertainment, and local businesses donate to the block party event in a show of support. An action item on initiatives to make the city more child-friendly was pulled at the request of the Community Life Commission to refine the language and give time for further community input.

Brian Crandall

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