ITHACA, N.Y. — It pays to be neighborly. A pair of downtown developers embroiled in a lawsuit over neighboring developments have come to terms with each other, with plans to trim back one development plan, and work together on a third site elsewhere in the city.

Harold’s Holding LLC, the developers behind the 12-story Harold’s Square mixed-use project on the Ithaca Commons, had filed the lawsuit against the Vecino Group over its plans to build the mixed-use Asteri project on East Green Street immediately south of the Harold’s Square tower. The lawsuit had included the city of Ithaca as a defendant, since they were the ones who awarded the Vecino Group preferred developer status for the redevelopment of the Green Street parking garage.

Harold’s Holdings has previously complained to the city planning board that a second 12-story building next to their own would block the views and prevent adequate light and air circulation to their upper-floor market-rate apartments. The developers had also expressed concerns with the amount of traffic the Asteri project would generate. The original plans called for 218 apartments for low-to-moderate-income households, conference center space on the lower floors, and a small amount of ground-level commercial space along with 350 garage parking spaces in a rebuilt Green Street garage.

Under the new “creative agreement”, L. Enterprises, owned by David Lubin and one of the partners in Harold’s Holding, has provided Vecino Group with an option to purchase and develop a prime portion of land as part of Lubin’s Chain Works District redevelopment at the former Emerson Power Transmission property on South Hill. While that happens to be a very large 96-acre site, the press release states that the site being offered is along Route 96B, about a half-mile from the Green Street Garage and Downtown Ithaca.

The option allows the Vecino Group to pursue a new project, its third in the city, that would develop an additional 100 low-to-moderate apartments in proximity to both downtown and Ithaca College. L. Enterprises plans to begin redevelopment of the Emerson site into the Chain Works District starting Spring 2021, starting with the renovation of four existing buildings into a mix of industrial, commercial office space and 60 market-rate apartments.

In return for this new South Hill development site, the Vecino Group has agreed to give its Asteri property a trim. The conference center and parking garage on the lowest three floors will retain the same footprint as before if with some aesthetic updates. The fourth and fifth floors will be trimmed back modestly. For the upper seven floors, however, the prongs of its “U” shape are curtailed significantly. What had initially been about 14 feet, and then 24 feet at the Planning Board urging, has become about 44 feet of separation between the upper levels of the two buildings. The changes remove a little over 60,000 square feet of space from the now 199,884 square-foot Asteri building, and a number of affordable apartments, though the press release doesn’t give a specific number.

While it’s not explicitly stated in the press release, it appears safe to presume that the lawsuit has been called off. Developer Eric Ekman of Harold’s Holding co-partner McGuire Development, project lead and Vice-President of Development Bruce Adib-Yazdi of the Vecino Group, and city Planning Director JoAnn Cornish all provided quotes.

“We are excited to be able to present a mutually beneficial plan for development of the Asteri project. We had concerns that residents from both buildings would want additional light and views. We wish the Vecino Group every success as they move forward with the final stages of planning and preparing for construction,” stated Eric Ekman of Harold’s Holdings.

“Vecino is pleased to be able to move forward with this much needed affordable housing development in downtown Ithaca. The inclusion of the large conference center, public parking, and housing, on a small parcel of land, made for an ideal urban infill development. We are grateful to be able to move forward with this important project with the support of our neighbors,” said Adib-Yazdi.

“The City of Ithaca is invested in the downtown and is supportive of this agreement between Vecino and Harold’s Holdings. The (Request for Proposals) for the site created a unique opportunity for a public and private partnership that, after construction, will yield new parking and conference facilities, while maintaining the Cinemapolis movie theater and enriched public spaces. This investment is sure to bring prosperity to the downtown community and much-needed worker housing,” added Cornish.

The Planning Board will review the proposed changes to the Asteri project later this month, and changes are high project approval will be granted this fall for a Spring 2021 construction start. In the meanwhile, Harold’s Square is set to open its doors this November.

Brian Crandall

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