Last February’s City of Ithaca Planning & Development Board meeting contained a sketch plan item that seems to confirm Wegmans’ intention to develop the grassy open portion of land to the south end of the parking lot. In the preliminary sketch plan, a new 15,900 square foot building is proposed, with a retail face towards the east end, parking along the east and north, and a loading dock in the west end. The intersection is also showing pedestrian crosswalks, along with a plan to remove pavement along the southwest corner of the lot, replacing with soil.
At first glance, it looks like it could be a retail store for lease, but since Wegmans owns the parcel, and the design is coming directly from Wegmans, it may be a plan for a wine & liquor location. Wegmans is putting a liquor store in Johnson City for an opening this Spring, and they have branded “Wine, Liquor & Beer Stores” in a few other states, but their brand in New York is separate. The Pittsford location is called “Century Liquor and Wines“, but it’s owned and operated by Wegmans, along with several other locations, including an acquisition in Syracuse five years ago.
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:
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.
There’s been a lot of discussion generated on minimum parking requirements for new developments in Ithaca, and I thought I’d throw in my two cents.
Firstly, to define: minimum parking requirements are rules that determine how many parking spaces must be supplied on a proposed development based on various features of the proposal (number of planned dwelling units, square footage of planned office space, etc., Central Business District not included).
Given that the City of Ithaca now has a parking director, and the Board of Public Works has announced their support of abolition, my hope is that a discussion on minimum parking requirements for new development resurfaces once the new director has established a “current state of affairs” and a sound plan of action for parking managed by the City.
The social, economic, and physical implications are well studied, and I recommend turning to this short and excellent video of Cornell’s Michael Manville (link courtesy of Daniel Keough) for a brief overview of what has been identified in modern studies:
A philosophical basis for arguing in favor of abolition has roots in the inequity of placing the burden of provision on the private sphere, specifically, new building developments. Just about everywhere in the US, municipalities have decided that parking should be built municipally and provided at a cost to willing consumers, and thus we have municipal garages, metered street parking, and of course, “free” parking, which is parking that carries a public and social cost, but is free to the consumer. One could argue that public entities shouldn’t be in the business of providing parking at all, and furthermore, that car owners should establish their own private arrangements for vehicle storage, but in this case, that’s beside the point.
Any planning rule, especially minimum provisions, imply an enforced sponsorship upon the developer/owner of the good that must be supplied on the development parcel. Minimum parking requirements create one of the most extreme situations, because it involves the mandated supply of a good that generally takes up a lot of land space, making the opportunity cost high, and in addition, parking itself is not a very productive use of space. In turn, the owner must shift this burden onto the consumers of the building space, whether they are apartment tenants, office, or retail tenants.
The enforcement of this burden works a lot like a tax. Let’s use a new apartment development as an example: the development will charge higher rents because a burden of supplying parking has been put on them (and oddly enough, the building itself was contingent on whether or not it could supply the required parking). In turn, a portion of rent from apartment renters can be attributed to this burden.
Apartment renters in this example are sponsoring the cost of vehicle ownership regardless of whether they own a vehicle or not, and in addition, are sponsoring the automobile ownership of existing drivers in the area. Ideally, those that decide to own a car should pay for the full cost of that ownership and usage. These rules enforce a “me first” policy for existing drivers, whom are commonly the political constituents of those in office with the power to make change.
There seems to be an American (especially young, urban) trend against automobile-use in general, and there are countless other reasons as to why that is, but in this case, it’s quite clear that the argument in favor of the abolition of these sorts of rules is rooted in sound logic of fairness.
Of course, if minimums were done away with, then you get parking spillover into areas with “free” parking, or un-metered street parking. In this case, as mentioned in the video, the remedy is to price parking. “Free” parking is not economically free. Taxpayers right now are paying for the space regardless, and it would be a fairer and more efficient policy to price parking provided by a municipality. Parking benefit districts, restrictions, and permitting are all logical and efficient policies that should be utilized in favor of minimum parking requirements.
San Francisco’s SFPark is one example of this sort of policy, aimed at using demand-driven information to establish pricing. This sort of system is probably out of reach for Ithaca for quite some time, but given the small size of Ithaca, it probably wouldn’t take long to figure out what pricing would be appropriate, and what permitting system would work best for everyone.
As for new developments, it’s not hard to imagine that developers tend to have a good understanding of what parking demand they will see in their proposed developments, so if there is demand for parking on-site, it will be planned to meet that demand (with the consideration of opportunity cost), and will come with a price, as it should.
The roughly 400-car Green St. Parking Garage (above Cinemapolis) downtown is eventually slated for a re-build, noted in this brief reconstruction study by Brittingham & Associates for Cooper Carry, the architecture firm for Hotel Ithaca Marriott. I suppose the study was probably asked for by the Planning Board or the City of Ithaca to determine how the proposed tower would affect the City’s eventual plans to build additional stories on this garage. Looks like the plans won’t be affected.