The potential for waterfront redevelopment has been a recent hot topic of debate here in Ithaca, New York. Ithaca’s waterfront consists of the southern end of Cayuga Lake, which is mostly parkland and upscale residential properties, and Cayuga Inlet flowing from the south into the lake, whose banks host a wider variety of industrial, recreational, and residential uses.
Cayuga Inlet is seen by some as a corridor of great physical and economic redevelopment potential. The first step in the process of redevelopment for any site is usually to change its zoning. As such, in March 2011 the Ithaca Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee entered into discussions of rezoning the area to allow for denser development. New zoning for the area, including increased height limits and relaxed setback limits, was approved by the Common Council in October 2011.
Despite nearly unanimous agreement among the Common Council, the debate over the waterfront’s future persists. While supporters see new development at increased density as a way to open economic opportunity and reinvigorate this area of town, opponents worry that this scale of development is inconsistent with the small city’s character and will push out small business owners (read letters of opposition from the Tompkins County Planning Dept and a prominent local attorney here).
A pending proposal for a large-scale housing complex informally called “Johnson’s Boatyard Housing Project” presents one example of the denser redevelopment, constituting a drastic change in the Inlet as Ithacans know it. The sketch plan suggests three phases of development:
- The first phase, to start in 2012, will build about 20 townhouses;
- The second and third phases will be multistory (2-4 floor) mixed-use buildings of a modern design. Future market conditions will determine the final height of these buildings.
Usually urban planners, landscape architects, and environmental non-profits always support waterfront improvement, but the intense debate surrounding Ithaca’s waterfront may leave doubts in the community’s mind as to whether this redevelopment is an improvement or not. An important question is whether it will contribute to a more sustainable Ithaca.
Has waterfront redevelopment affected your community positively or negatively?
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