Student Housing: More student housing invades city’s East Hill neighborhood

By William F. Olney for Ithaca Journal

It is a sad moment when things don’t go your way. It is even sadder when a whole neighborhood is ignored. Residents of the Bryant Park neighborhood on East Hill are facing such distress.

Developer John Novarr is forging ahead with plans to add approximately 600-plus student housing units to our East Hill neighborhood, doubling the student population already in place. He will be tearing down 30-plus houses in order to construct several large dormitory-style housing units along East State, Quarry Street and Valentine Place.

This raises numerous and significant concerns with family residents who live nearby. Noise, traffic and safety are primary concerns, but also high on the list are longer-term damaging effects to our neighborhood. And given the height of these new structures, this is a huge variance request.

It is pretty widely accepted that family housing and dense student housing don’t mix. Each group has wildly different views, issues and priorities. Our neighborhood is already surrounded on three sides by dense student housing. This project will intensify the pressures facing East Hill residents and erode the attributes we seek in a healthy middle-class neighborhood. Solitude and views, both important factors for healthy neighborhoods to thrive, will all but disappear under this plan.

We may need density in the city, but density that adds to Ithaca’s charm and character — attributes this project doesn’t provide. Right or wrong, this is the direction city planning is going.

More than 100 families have signed a “Petition of Concern” regarding this project. After all, this is where we live. Dozens of others have submitted comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS); most of these concerns were either overlooked, ignored or not taken seriously. The Board of Zoning Appeals now has before it the final decision to grant a height variance for these buildings, angering many as views of South Hill will be totally obliterated. The buildings range from four to seven stories in height and could easily be reduced with more attention to outdoor parking. Lowering the height of building by 3.2 feet will at least preserve neighbors’ views of South Hill.

The BZA, Planning Board and developer have barely acknowledged neighborhood concerns, and the BZA is now on the verge of giving its final approval to the height variance for the project — almost a 50 percent difference in height than what is permitted by the existing zoning, tantamount to a rezoning of the entire property.

We who live in this neighborhood can only hope the BZA gives serious thought to its decision, as it will affect an entire neighborhood, not just a few folks. If approved, the project will undoubtedly haunt us for the next 30 to 40 years. There is already a precarious imbalance of family and student housing in the area, which calls out for neighborhood preservation.

We can only hope the BZA does the right thing Feb. 1 and lessens the impact wherever possible of such a humongous undertaking. Let’s send the developer back to the drawing board. Ithaca deserves better than this.


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