ITHACA, N.Y.—A packed Common Council agenda featured an expansion of tenants rights, a historic building decarbonization program, final development steps and even a budget approval last week.

Since the agenda was so crowded, there has been previous coverage of the Energy Efficiency Retrofitting and Thermal Load Electrification Program and the approval of the City Manager position in the Ithaca Voice last week.

Watch the whole meeting here.

Right to Counsel

This legislation, which is part of a burgeoning tenants rights movement that has picked up momentum recently in Ithaca, calls for the city to “commit resources and work with local partners named in this resolution to ensure tenant protections through a Right to Counsel program that will provide legal representation to tenants facing eviction court.”

The eviction defense portion is rather small compared to the topic that will face more discussion this week: “Right to Renew” legislation will have a public hearing at Wednesday’s Planning and Economic Development meeting. However, it’s still a significant step for tenant advocates who have been fighting more fiercely against eviction laws locally since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

There was little discussion at the meeting, as the city had already decided to allocate $125,000 in funding to the program during budget hearing last week. This resolution was mostly seen as a formal statement of commitment to the program by the city.

“There’s two pieces to this, there’s the funding in the budget that Laura had moved during the budget process,” Murtagh said. “And I think we were seeing this resolution as an expression of our resolve to moving forward with this program, similar to what other cities have done when they’re enacting these programs as well.”

Murtagh also thanked Council member Laura Lewis for her leadership on the issue. Lewis then emphasized that the relationships the city had already forged with assisting organizations like Legal Assistance of Western New York would help make the program that much more effective.

“It’s important to recognize that those local partnerships have been developed and that is really leveraging services that will benefit our most vulnerable residents,” Lewis said. “Those relationships will continue to be built.”

Cliff Street Retreat Planned Unit Development

The Cliff Street Retreat, a renovation project at 407 Cliff Street where Incodema used to be housed, seems to have a little bit of everything, from a small number of one-bedroom units for short- and long-term rental, six suites of office space, nearly 4,000 feet of retail space, two industrial spaces and conference areas, plus two two-bedroom cottage units that were recently added by developer Linc Morse to hold long-term rentals and potentially be available for purchase in the future.

The city introduced the idea of Planned Unit Development areas formally in 2018. It basically entails developers setting their own zoning for their projects, likely because whatever zoning exists at the proposed location wouldn’t normally allow for the type of project they want to build. However, if the developer can sway Common Council that the project’s community benefits outweigh any zoning violations, then the project can proceed.

Mixed-use is not included in the zoning at that spot on Cliff Street, but the development’s PUD was approved unanimously. Council members effusively praised the proposal

“I really like the adaptive re-use of the building now that Incodema has moved,” Lewis said.

Council member Cynthia Brock also gave the developers credit for adjusting their plans, like the addition of the cottage units, in response to neighboring residents’ concerns.

“Really, I think this is going to be a gem in the neighborhood in terms of micro-retail zones, a little cafe, meeting space and maker space for job development and job creation,” Brock said. “Turning this retail site into a more residential and an asset to the community that’s going to be really attractive.”

Myrick commented now that the PUD process is done and approved, the actual work begins.

“We’re looking forward to it, that’s what we’re good at,” Morse said.

Other news and notes from last week’s Council meeting:

  • A rezoning proposal in the 400 block of North Cayuga Street had drawn some ire from the public, including a small petition arguing for its rejection. McGonigal and Murtagh both spoke, among others, about the potential drawbacks of the zoning changes as they may encourage office construction over maintaining the residential units that are already there. The initiative failed.
  • There will be a budget story published this week, and the majority of the public comment period was taken up by citizen remarks on the 2022 budget proposal.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com