Ithaca Builds

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Revised Purity Project- Correction: Fails Supermajority Straw Vote, But Special Meeting Wednesday

November 27, 2013 // by Jason Henderson

This one came as a surprise- the revised Purity project has been voted down. Correction: There was a straw vote 4-1, but the project requires a supermajority of 5 due to the County’s concerns on the parking lot, referencing the West End Urban Design Plan (the County can issue a letter to force a supermajority vote under GML 238-m, Number 5). There will be a special meeting next Wednesday to vote. My thanks to Govind for the correction.

I think in these situations, it’s important to seek to understand where people are coming from on both sides. In a model world, planning is a craft that endeavors to determine what best to do with land for the benefit of the local residents, and developers take financial risks in order to seek the reward for building improvements on private property. These goals are commonly at odds.

In this case, the vicinity of the proposed expansion lot is housing, and neighbors have expressed their interest in keeping the land free from use as a parking lot for concerns of noise and disruption that parking lots tend to bring to an area. I think it’s a valid point, although I do think concerns of that nature can commonly be overstated. Another consideration can be made from a planner’s perspective: I think most planners would desire a building there (the parcel is zoned West End Zone 1b).

The proposed lot was approved in the original plan for the apartment tower, which seems like a trade-off consideration: tolerate undesirable parking for new desirable housing units. This can be confusing though- if the proposed parking is not outweighed by the benefits of this revised project, then at what point is it? An outsider would have to logically assume that somewhere between the apartment tower and this revised project, there’s a break-even juncture on the social utility curve.

Developers and builders can be put off by uncertainty; there’s an associated cost for lack of information, and especially, uncertain permission.

Land use regulation should seek reform to alleviate this disconnect. The development process would be more desirable given a code that says plainly “this is what you can build, no meetings if you build it” rather than what we have now: “this is what you can’t build, and any site change must be approved in a public meeting.” In addition to the outdated code, some if it disincentivizes the very things we want most as a small city.

The objective of code models like SmartCode is exactly that: zone form-based building districts that mimic the order of nature, and perhaps just as important, provide a zoning document that is genuinely clear. Buffalo’s GreenCode effort will culminate in a new form-based code in Buffalo, NY. There was also a recent demonstration study done by Randall + West and Noah Demarest of Stream Collaborative for an area of land in the City and Town of Ithaca.

Of course, nothing changes overnight, but a better code and a better process would help to avoid future situations like these. Development is an investment, so if the costs of uncertainty are too high, and the process too frustrating, the finances for development may turn to a different investment to seek a return. In this instance, it seems sad that the plans for an overhauled building may be decided by another parking drama.


2010 AADT (Annual Average Daily Traffic) for Ithaca, about 32,000 vehicles a day pass by Purity:



Original approved proposal for 24 apartment unit tower and two additional parking lots for Purity and apartment residents:

Purity Render



Revised proposal that is being considered, which included overhaul of the existing building, new office on the second floor with a terrace, and one additional parking lot at the corner of Cascadilla and Meadow Streets:




Enterprise Rent-A-Car’s recent expansion, at the corner of Fulton and Cascadilla, a block down the street from Purity. It’s zoned West End Zone-1a, which allows parking as of right.