the north face fleece womens Don’t blame panel for project delay
An early design for the proposed Dewitt House, to replace the current Old Library site.(Photo: HOLT ARCHITECTS)I would like to offer an update and some background information on the Old Library project to clarify why the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) has not approved a design.
The ILPC has, unfortunately, been unable to approve any of the HOLT/Travis (H/T) plans because all of the building proposals have been too large for the site.
During the selection process, members of the Tompkins County Legislature were made aware of the importance of size, scale and mass in a historic district, and warned about a potential conflict between the allowable zoning and the constraints of appropriateness as stipulated by Chapter 228 of the Ithaca Municipal Code.
The city’s “up zoning” of this site in 2014 may be why certain members of the Tompkins County Legislature thought the H/T project might be feasible. Early on, in January 2015, most ILPC members stated a preference for the Franklin/STREAM adaptive re use project, a proposal that also was preferred unanimously by the planning board and by seven members of Common Council.
The selected H/T building was originally 73,000 square feet, and remained so at the March 2016 joint meeting of the ILPC and planning board, when most members stated its mass was simply too large and too imposing. Despite this clear message, in June and July, the building had grown to 86,000 square feet; and then at the October ILPC meeting, it was back to 73,000 the same size as in March.
The ILPC must not be pegged as the problem when the impasse is due to the developer’s team not addressing this primary concern about size. Frost Travis has stated repeatedly he must have a minimum of 57 rental units to make the project financially viable. It remains to be seen at the January 2017 meeting whether his team will have managed to solve the conundrum of retaining the desired number of apartments, while at the same time making the building an acceptable size that provides adequate parking.
The Old Library site should not be considered “toxic” if HOLT/Travis were to withdraw. Such an outcome might provide an opportunity to revive the Franklin/STREAM adaptive re use project, which many people feel should have been selected in the first place. Both firms have indicated they remain interested in pursuing their project, a plan likely to gain ILPC approval far more easily and quickly, if the legislature were willing to revisit and reconsider their selection.
If the county seeks growth in heritage tourism, it should not discount the economic benefits of historic districts, but rather do its part to protect and promote them. The ILPC should be applauded, despite intense political pressure, for abiding by its mandate and not approving an incompatible building in the Dewitt Park Historic District.
Meanwhile, exterior maintenance on the Old Library site, including the Sagan monument in front, has been minimal, and it has become an eyesore and embarrassment. More housing, especially condos, are desperately needed, and something must be built on this corner, the sooner the better.