ITHACA, N.Y. – Plans to bring a medical facility, retail space and apartments to an Ithaca waterfront site are facing skepticism from neighbors who want to ensure the project welcomes people of all incomes.
The Carpenter Business Park redevelopment project is wedged between Rt. 13, 3rd Street and railroad tracks on a site purchased by Cayuga Medical Center in 2017. In addition to CMC, the project team includes Whitham Planning and Design and Park Grove Realty, of Rochester.
The team presented early plans for the project to community members Monday evening at a meeting organized by Northside United, a neighborhood organization covering the residential blocks closest to the Carpenter Park site. The project is still in the design phase, without a date set for construction to begin.
Since the project was introduced to city officials in November, not much has changed: plans include a CMC facility, mixed-use retail and market-rate residential space, affordable housing units, and land for Ithaca Community Gardens, which would relocate to a new on-site spot.
Project representatives emphasized Monday that plans are preliminary, though, and community members made clear that they would like to see some elements changed as planning moves forward.
Scott Whitham and Yamila Fournier, of Whitham Design, presented ambitious goals for the project.
“We want to create a whole neighborhood, that feels like one neighborhood,” Whitham said.
Community members questioned how the project could achieve that goal while concentrating affordable housing units in a separate building at the north edge of the site, however.
While building footprints and the site layout are subject to change, current drawings show CMC facilities, retail space and market-rate housing clustered at the south end and affordable housing in a separate building at the north end. The southern buildings would abut the new GreenStar store at 770 Cascadilla St. with the northern building close to the B&W warehouse, Aldi supermarket and wastewater treatment plant. The entire site is hemmed in by NYSEG transmission lines, railroad tracks and the Mirabito facility to the west, and Rt. 13 to the east.
As proposed, the project would include about 150 market-rate apartments and about 40 affordable apartments, with the latter in a separate four-story building. Fournier said affordable units would be designated for households making about 50 to 60 percent area median income – about $29-35,000 for a single person, or $42-50,000 for a family of four.
Neighbors questioned why affordable apartments were placed in a separate building and removed from market-rate apartments as well as the planned income threshold for renters. Several people raised concerns that a separate building for affordable units would make the neighborhood segregated by income.
Developers said keeping affordable units in a separate building made it easier to finance the project, given state regulations.
“There are a lot of restrictions when you’re building affordable housing,” Whitham said.
Asked why the separate affordable housing building couldn’t be closer to the CMC facilities and mixed-use buildings, developers pointed to site restrictions.
Land under NYSEG transmission lines on site is unbuildable and needs to be accessible to NYSEG trucks, Fournier said, so options for situating buildings, parking and green space are limited.
“There are a lot of constraints on this site. It’s really a juggling act to get all of these uses together,” she said.
For community members, the project team’s answers weren’t wholly satisfactory.
“It sounds like there’s a lot of excuse making,” said Phoebe Brown, a founder of Northside United. Brown commented on the lack of proposed housing for very low-income households, as well as the isolation of proposed affordable units.
After the project team mentioned multiple conversations with Ithaca Community Gardens to ensure suitable land for growers in project plans, Brown questioned why their conversations with Northside neighbors hadn’t been as extensive. “I wish you’d spent as much time focusing on affordable housing as you did on the gardens,” she said.
Whitham and Fournier welcomed community members’ input and emphasized that the project is still in its early design stages. Decisions from building footprints to apartment floor plans are still in flux, never mind myriad details from building materials to landscaping design.
As the project moves through the city’s planning process there will be several more opportunities for public comment. Whitham expects the project to be on the Planning Board agenda in a matter of weeks.
Featured image: Yamila Fournier gestures to the affordable housing building on a preliminary sketch of the Carpenter Park project. (Devon Magliozzi/The Ithaca Voice)