Residents get first look at Waterfront development plan

Phase II of Plan Ithaca moves forward


On July 11, the City of Ithaca held two open houses to introduce a draft of its Waterfront Plan, which is designed to outline how Ithaca’s Waterfront Area will be developed, taking into consideration interests like tourism, recreation, housing, environment and transportation to try to accommodate Ithacans’ needs.

JoAnn Cornish, director of planning and development for the City of Ithaca, said businesses, residents and others are now looking to develop the Waterfront Area, which, historically, has been underused.

“We’re seeing a lot of interest in the waterfront, a lot of development or developers wanting to come into the community,” Cornish said. “We really wanted to be sure that we had some guidelines in place that we could draw upon when we get development.”

According to a press release, in September of 2015, the city of Ithaca adopted Phase 1 of the Comprehensive Plan, Plan Ithaca, which is a plan lining out the general development goals of the city. Phase 2 introduced specific neighborhood plans, which included, as of 2016, a Waterfront Area plan.

“After collecting comments from the public and completing a zoning rewrite of this area, the working group began developing specific waterfront goals and recommendations related to land use, economic vitality, community livability, mobility and transportation, natural and cultural resources, and sustainable energy, water and food systems,” according to the release.

The Waterfront Area runs from Cherry Street to the Stewart Park lakefront, with Route 13 as the outer border.

The open houses, held from 3 to 5 p.m. and again from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Ithaca Farmers Market, were laid out with presentation boards with the main points of the plan and comment spaces open to the public. Alex Phillips, planner for the City of Ithaca, said holding it at the Farmers Market helped to get people who would not otherwise come to a planning meeting to gain interest in this development.

“When you have these engagements, it’s traditionally difficult to get people to come out, so whenever there’s food or some sort of cultural act, it helps bring people out to these sort of events,” Phillips said. “For me, it was a great learning process to see what people value here in the city and what they wanted the waterfront to look like.”

City of Ithaca representatives helped answer people’s specific questions, and that feedback is crucial, said Jennifer Kusznir, economic development planner for the City of Ithaca.

“It’s important for us to get a feel from the community on what they’re looking for and then plan for that so that we can encourage development in certain ways,” Kusznir said.

Thomas Knipe, deputy director for economic development for the City of Ithaca, said that, from the business aspect of the plan, the City of Ithaca wants to encourage businesses to build on the water and attract consumers to the natural landscape.

“Land use is really interesting because it’s undergoing a lot of changes right now,” Knipe said. “We still have industry here, small manufacturing. We really want to retain and enhance opportunities for newer types of businesses as well.”

Tourism was another area of consideration, Cornish said, as she has heard many people wanting restaurants on the water and other attractions, but the concerns of the residents have to be accommodated as well.

“We already have a lot that attracts tourism to this area, so we want to make sure we keep it strong and we keep it going, but we also want to make sure that we’re offering residents who have access here options to get to the water,” Cornish said.

Some of the common feedback from the public who attended the open houses included concerns about traffic, flooding, accessibility and housing.

Leslie Schill, director of campus planning for Cornell and a member of working group for the Waterfront Plan, said she thinks it is important for people to be able to use the waterfront for everything from housing to recreation.

“I would love to see it better connected with the city,” Schill said. “It’s such a wonderful asset. I use the park, so I have access in that way, but think about living on the water is highly desirable. … We have a lot of people that want to live in Ithaca and can’t find housing, so anything to add housing into the mix … I think it’s a win.”

Stacey Murphy, an Ithaca resident and avid paddle boarder, said she loves being on the water but is concerned about congestion on Route 13 and with the crossing railroad tracks.

“I enjoy being on amazing water,” Murphy said. “It just encourages an all-around better community. … One of the things that’s going to be interesting to see because there’s a lot of different things being thought of is how to manage traffic between Route 13 and getting across it.”

Daniel Keough, also an Ithaca resident, rides bicycles for competition, which fueled his areas of concern regarding the plan. He said Ithaca needs more housing and more affordable housing, and the golf course by the water would be better used as land for that housing. He, like others, is also concerned about travel to the waterfront.

“I find having a highway come through a city very divisive. We need to calm the traffic and encourage more people to get out of their cars,” Keough said.

Cornish said the City of Ithaca is hoping to touch on all these areas before creating a new draft.

“We’re trying to balance development and environmental concerns and be able to offer options for people who want to live near the water and just in general have more housing because we do have a housing shortage,” Cornish said. “Those themes are what’s been driving decision.”

The City of Ithaca plans to discuss the public feedback and draft a new version of the Waterfront Plan, which it hopes to adopt by the first quarter of 2020.


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