ITHACA, N.Y. — It’s by no means a 100 percent finished plan, but city officials got a sneak peek Wednesday night at the concept design for Cayuga Medical Center’s proposed redevelopment of the Carpenter Business Park.

The presentation was conducted by Scott Whitham and Kate Chesebrough of Whitham Planning and Design. Whitham Planning is one of the design team members for the project, and is representing the applicant in the project review process. Alongside them were Cayuga Medical Center senior executives and Andrew Bodewes, a managing partner of project co-developer Park Grove Realty of Rochester. Whitham also introduced were two elected officials for the Ithaca Community Gardens, President Marty Hiller and Board Member Sheryl Swink.

The gathering was done at the request of Councilman Seph Murtagh (D-2nd Ward), chair of the Planning and Economic Development Committee for the city. It was made clear from the onset that plans are preliminary, but it gave members of the Common Council that were present a chance to see what the project team was thinking, and to incorporate suggestions from city officials before designs are fleshed out.

The basic run-down for the numbers people looks something like this. Cayuga Medical Center (CMC) would build a new building at the east end of the circle next to where GreenStar will be renovating a former Cornell warehouse into its new flagship store. CMC’s new building will be four floors and about 40,000 square feet. The uses of the building were not fully determined, apart from something the complements the needs of CMC and that would make sense to have in the city rather than their West Hill campus.

Moving further west would be three more buildings, 4 to 6 stories tall. Two of these are planned with street-level retail, about 15,000 square feet. The third would be all residential. The thinking is that there would be 150 market-rate apartments in these buildings. Lastly for buildings would be an affordable housing component, about 40-45 units at the intersection of Carpenter Circle and Third Street, aimed at those making 40-60% area median income ($25,000-$35,000/year range). Along with all this goes parking, landscaping, internal connectors, and accessory structures.

As for the community gardens, the plan mostly keeps the existing gardens intact. The project team would like to do a 1:1 land swap (meaning the gardens would still be 2.1 acres) for a slice of the land south of Carpenter Circle, and give ICG a parcel of land north of Carpenter Circle and plots next to the existing southeast gardens. The reason for this is that the power lines that pass the northwest side of the circle prevent any structures from being built there, but the land would be suitable for garden space. To set this plan in stone, the project team and the Ithaca Community Gardens board are drawing up a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) that would let them keep the reconfigured gardens in perpetuity. The Common Council would need to sign off on the MOU because the gardens are on city-owned land.

The Common Council’s reception to the plan was generally positive. Laura Lewis (D-5th Ward) commented that she found the plan attractive, though she indicated interest in an owner-occupied component. Cynthia Brock (D-1st), generally one of the more critical members of development, also found things to like. “Thank you for incorporating the needs of the gardens into your projects, kudos to that.”

However, she also had a pair of concerns with the current proposal. She was less than pleased about the affordable housing being in its own building, a frequent critique, though combining both affordable and market-rate is difficult because it creates legal issues in obtaining the low-income housing tax credits typically used to finance affordable units. Brock was also critical of the affordable apartment building’s location, which she noted was somewhat isolated and in a less-than-desirable spot – the Wastewater Treatment Plant is to the north of the Carpenter property, closest to the affordable housing. “I encourage you to be mindful of that,” Brock succinctly concluded. Councilors Donna Fleming (D-3rd) and Graham Kerslick (D-4th) expressed concerns with the amount of parking (or as Kerslick called it, “the ratio of parking to trees”) and the increase in impervious surfaces.

Councilor George McGonigal (D-1st) asked about incorporation of industrial uses or the use of waste energy to help meet the project’s utility needs. The project team made clear that industrial components weren’t a part of the plan, but that they had not given though to a waste-to-energy conversion, and would explore that idea to see if it was feasible for the project.

As for the project timeline, Park Grove would like to apply to the state for affordable housing credits in December, but there was much to do first – the project would be visiting the Planning Board for a sketch plan presentation at the end of the month, the first step in what will be a long and multifaceted approvals process. “We have a bunch of work ahead of us, you’ll see us again,” said Whitham.

Brian Crandall

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