UPDATE (7 a.m. April 17) — This story was updated with the letter from Bryan McCracken, historic preservation planner, below.
ITHACA, N.Y. — Tompkins County legislators gave the green light to purchase the property on the collection of parcels on North Tioga and Sears streets for $1.8 million.
The site is close to Downtown Ithaca and the Tompkins County Courthouse and contains adjoining tax parcels at 408 and 412-414 N. Tioga St. and 117 and 119 Sears St. With the purchase, the county will develop the property into a new three- or four-story office building between 32,000 and 46,000 square feet. The project will help the county meet future space needs and consolidate county offices and reduce lease payments.
With the vote Tuesday, April 16, legislators only approved the purchase. They have not approved any plans yet for how the site will be developed. On April 2, Tompkins County Administrator Jason Molino presented a feasibility study with 10 scenarios for how to develop the site.
One option the county will explore is whether to add housing to the Sears Street side of the site, something people in the neighborhood have requested of legislators. And as Alderperson Seph Murtagh reminded legislators Tuesday, Common Council passed a resolution urging the county to honor the city’s Comprehensive Plan and respect the character of the neighborhood by “dedicating the entire Sears Street frontage of the county’s proposed office consolidation project site for affordable residential use.”
Murtagh mentioned a few concerns he has heard from constituents, including parking, how the project will impact neighborhood character, and that this will take another property off the tax rolls.
In a letter sent to county legislators — and discussed heatedly on Tuesday — on city letterhead, Historic Preservation Planner Bryan McCracken shared strong opposition to the project, stating the proposed “buildings footprint, size and scale are at odds” with the city’s comprehensive plan and historic district and landmark design guidelines.
Additionally, he said, “The proposed new building will be substantially larger than the buildings around it and will not expressed the residential quality of the street through its architectural features, including sloped roofs, porches, clapboard siding, and ornamentation.”
Read the full letter below:
With three overlapping zones on the site, the zoning will pose a challenge for development and is likely why it has sat on the market, Legislature Chair Martha Robertson said.
“Frankly, nobody else can do anything else with this property,” Robertson said. She said the county would be “solving a big problem” for the city by purchasing and developing the property.
Legislator Rich John, who supported the resolution, said he thinks buying the property is a “worthwhile pursuit” because he said he believes it’s important to have county government offices in the center of the county. He also said he believes if the property is developed in the right way, “it can be a significant improvement to that space and to the neighborhood.”
“I will be vigorous in my advocacy that we should be a responsible government entity going forward to develop this property in collaboration with the neighbors and the city and do this in the right way,” John said.
Legislator Mike Lane said he stand by a previous statement that this is a “once in a generation” opportunity to purchase a property in a good location that suits the county’s needs.
Robertson said the county has looked at many other sites over the years for county offices, but “this by many measures was the best idea yet.”
Legislators voted 12-2 to purchase the property. Legislators Leslyn McBean-Clairborne and Henry Granison voted no.
Legislators only voted to purchase the property, not how the county will develop it. Robertson said she will be appointing a special committee to work on the project.
Featured image: (Devon Magliozzi/The Ithaca Voice)