ITHACA, N.Y. — City of Ithaca Common Council’s marathon monthly meeting Wednesday night drew more than 40 comments from the public and saw preliminary action on a downtown conference center and an Accessory Dwelling Unit ordinance sent back to the Planning and Economic Committee.
The Agenda and supporting materials can be found here.
Awards and Proclamations
The meeting opened with the honoring of Dr. Sean Eversley Bradwell with the annual J. Diann Sams African American History Month Award, presented in honor of the late Alderperson J. Diann Sams. You can find more on that here. Followed by a proclamation making Feb. 5 Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Alumni Day in the City of Ithaca.
Tompkins County Legislator Rich John offered up a report from the legislature, featuring a cameo from Immediate Former Chair of the Legislature Martha Robertson.
“A conference center would do really good things for these residents and fellow community members that have bet on the Commons,” said John, urging the council to lend its support.
John brought news of a $50,000 grant being approved earlier in the day by the Tompkins County Development Corporation for the planning phase of the downtown conference center project.
“We need to know more, we need to do the planning and we need to get it right,” said John.
The legislature had approved a resolution to enter into negotiations with the city at their meeting on Tuesday evening and Robertson joined John in urging the city to come to the negotiating table.
“It’s a generational investment. This is not going to happen for 50 years if it doesn’t happen now,” said Robertson. “We’ve seen this investment by the four hotels downtown…the state is investing $5 million. By everybody taking a piece of this, we are sharing the risk, and it’s really manageable.”
More than 40 people signed up for 3 minutes before council during the public comment portion of the meeting. About a dozen of those spoke in favor of the conference center. The top issue, bringing around two dozen speakers before council, was the long-running debate over Accessory Dwelling Units. Most speakers turning out to request an owner-occupancy requirement.
While there were only two speakers on the subject, the on-going saga of the Ithaca Police Department’s firing of Christine Barksdale brought two opposing viewpoints. The J. Diann Sams Award Committee, which honored Barksdale with the award last year, returned to the front of Council Chambers to request an explanation as to why an internal personnel matter was leaked to the press and demand an independent investigation — citing Ithaca Police Department’s historical treatment of both women and people of color.
The other speaker on the subject, Edith Ryan, took issue with Alderperson Cynthia Brock’s (Ward 1) Letter to the Editor in the Ithaca Voice in which she stated her belief that Barksdale would be proven innocent. City officials have confirmed there is not an on-going investigation into the situation, that would be left to either the District Attorney or Attorney General’s Office. Brock declined to address Ryan’s comments during the privilege of the floor portion of the meeting, opting instead to discuss the topic privately via email.
Non-controversial resolutions included an acceptance of the grant to enclose the Cass Park Rink as well as a $10,000 gift for IPD to finish a room at their training facility aimed at helping officers practice take-down techniques, were approved without debate.
A request, filed by County Legislator Henry Granison, was approved to fly the Pan-African Flag over City Hall for African American History Month. The county adopted a similar resolution on Tuesday.
A lengthy and contentious ADU debate
Accessory Dwelling Units are no stranger to impassioned debate from members of council. The subject has crawled through committee before finally, after a county-induced hiccup in December, being moved to the Common Council’s agenda at January’s PEDC meeting.
Avid fans of Brian Crandall’s PEDC/ADU coverage are in luck — after lingering questions about some of the ordinances finer points, a motion was made to table it and send it back to committee.
Concerns remained with a majority of council as to what unintended consequences the ordinance may have on the South Hill overlay and impacts of not including an owner occupany requirement, a point repeatedly raised diring public comment.
That vote passed 7-3, with the frustrated Alderpersons Seph Murtagh, Ducson Nguyen and Stephen Smith all voting against.
Conference Center set for negotiation
Council also unanimously approved a resolution to enter into negotiations with the county to set up a failsafe fund should the conference center fall short of it’s financial obligations. That fund would be somewhere around third in line, as far as contingency plans go.
The city’s plan to fund the center would rely on a 4.65% city room tax officials believe would yield somewhere in the region of $1.9 million annually.
The IURA approved a resolution stating the project was financially viable at their meeting on Thursday morning. Clearing the way for the interested parties to hammer out a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). Both common council and the county legislature must approve the MOU before the conference center can move ahead.
Tompkins Giant, by any other name
Much to the disappointment of local press, a resolution was defeated last month to erect the first in what is intended to be a series of giant sculptures throughout the county. The Tompkins Giant is a nod to the Taughannock Giant hoax perpetrated in the late 1800’s, alleging a petrified giant had been discovered. The project would see different artists contribute their own visions of the giant.
The proposal has drawn the ire of Alderperson George McGonigal, who does not like the idea of referencing a hoax. McGonigal, after moving to change the name, was satisfied with a request being made to the Community Life Commission for a discussion of the name.
Keeping the Post Office Downtown
The final voting action taken by council late Wednesday was the passage of a resolution urging New York’s federal representatives to help the city pressure the United States Postal Service to retain a downtown location.
The Downtown Ithaca Alliance raised the alarm in January after it came to light that the USPS had only signed a short-term, two-year lease at the current location on Tioga Street.
Mayor Svante Myrick sent a letter to Sen. Schumer in late January outlining the possible issues losing a downtown post office branch may cause.
Council then moved to go into Executive Session, ending the public portion of the meeting, before adjourning around 12:15 a.m. Those of you who would like to get the full experience can watch the full, nearly 6-hour video stream here.