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NRP/Better Housing Clears Hurdle for West Hill Project

Jul182014
Following the recommendation of two of its committees, the Legislature, after two hours of thoughtful discussion, approved a new process for consideration potential development of the remaining County-owned portion of the Biggs property on Harris B. Dates Drive.  The Legislature first repealed two resolutions related to the project passed last November, then authorized prospective developer NRP Properties, LLC, working in partnership with Better Housing for Tompkins County, to apply to the Town of Ithaca for a project on the 25-acre site.

The new authorization will allow State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) to be completed by the Town, with the County an involved agency.  The Legislature made it clear that the County is not committed to any further action regarding the property, that tonight's action is not a decision to sell the property, and that any future decision regarding sale of the property will only be considered upon completion of the coordinated SEQR process.

The Legislature, by a 12-1 vote (Legislator Dooley Kiefer dissenting and Legislator Kathy Luz Herrera excused) first repealed the two past resolutions that  had authorized the County to enter into a sales agreement with NRP, which had been contingent, in part, upon receiving moderate income housing tax credits, applied for last November, but not approved.  That resolution and agreement had also provided that any sale of the property would be contingent upon approval of the project by the Town of Ithaca, including completion of a Town SEQR review.  Since then, several Town residents challenged the County SEQR review in State court, where a decision is still pending.  (Legislator Kiefer had supported delaying action until after resolution of the court case, and amending the existing agreement.)

The authorization for NRP to proceed to the Town of Ithaca for Review (authorization necessary since NRP does not own the land) came by a 9-3 margin, Legislators Mike Sigler, Peter Stein, and Kiefer voting no, and Legislator Luz Herrera excused; Legislator Carol Chock recused herself because of potential family connections with Better Housing.  Mr. Sigler expressed deep concern about the obvious "bad blood" between the Legislature and West Hill residents over the project—about 40 people attended the meeting and close to a dozen spoke out against the project before the vote.  Legislator Sigler said the County should step back and totally start fresh, and ask what kind of development residents want.  Legislator Stein said he couldn't ignore concerns that have been voiced.  Among those who spoke out against the project and the process before the votes was Linda Grace-Kobas, on behalf of the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association, who said, "We are against this project because it's too big for our neighborhood and too destructive," urging that the County fully reopen its Request for Proposals process.

Before the Legislature acted, Planning Commissioner Ed Marx spoke of the huge and ongoing need for quality, affordable housing in Tompkins County, arising from insufficient housing supply to support the county's growing economy.  "This site has some shortcomings, as every site does," he said.  "There is no site that doesn't elicit some concerns, and all have some legitimacy.  We need to balance those concerns with meeting our housing needs."

Speaking in support of the authorization before the vote, Legislators Will Burbank, Jim Dennis, and Government Operations Chair Nathan Shinagawa all said they believe that moving the project forward in this new way is the correct approach, and that they will listen to concerns as it moves forward to the Town of Ithaca and should it return in the future before the Legislature.

v10i27

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