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"This was conceived a year or two ago when we were approached by a developer that wanted to put a hotel on what we used to call the Butler property (an area near the YMCA)," said Planning Board Chairman Mario Tomei. "We would have had to increase the Commercial Low Traffic District to Commercial High Traffic. None of us wanted to do that and all of us felt there was enough Commercial High Traffic property in the Village. After that we had somebody that wanted to put a liquor store there, and recently Eric Goetzmann wanted to put something there and increase it to Commercial High Traffic."
Goetzmann owns Triax Management Group, L.L.C. that manages the Shops at Ithaca Mall. A project that brought BJ's Wholesale Club to the property is also supposed to include 12 senior housing units, wetlands and a bird sanctuary. The senior housing has reportedly been held up by Army Corps of Engineers approval of wetland issues on the property. In anticipation of building those units Goetzmann approached the board to ask that land south of the housing site, near the Ithaca YMCA, be reclassified Commercial High Traffic.
Part of the concept of the housing is that seniors who live there will want to walk to shops, including the mall. Goetzmann proposed a smaller store along the lines of a convenience store that would be easily walkable from the new residences.
"The reason these people want to put senior housing there is so that the residents can walk to the Y, walk to Ciao! or whatever restaurant that might end up in this zone, or walk to some retail stores. So it's not so bad that this is the only area that is residential that is going to be up against some high traffic areas."
Tomei says the Planning Board was not interested in more Commercial High Traffic zoning. Instead they came up with the idea to rezone the properties Commercial Medium Traffic. The new classification would permit uses including assisted living facilities, special care facilities and hospitals. Low traffic food and beverage establishments might include sit-down restaurants with or without a bar where food is consumed on premises, which may include carry-out or similar service such as, bakery or café. Drive-in/drive-through and separate entrance for carry-out service would not be permitted. Smaller stores like the one Goetzmann has proposed would be limited to a maximum average size of 10,000 square feet per tenant.
"We talk about the Commercial Medium Traffic District as a slight up-zoning of part of the Commercial Low Traffic zone," Tomei said. "We will allow more development in this area and a certain amount as square footage, but not as low as it was. The we are slightly down-zoning the Commercial Low Traffic so we don't end up with more restaurants up there or any other thing that we don't want. The purpose of this new area is to make it a buffer zone between all of the commercial areas and all the residential areas on the north and east side of Triphammer."
Tomei noted that the proposed senior housing is the only residential area within the proposed new zone, but it is part of the Planned Development Area (PDA) that included BJ's and thus is not technically part of the new zoning classification.
"With smaller type shops it presents more of a walkable Village up there," Code Enforcement/Zoning Officer Stormwater Management Officer Marty Mosely noted. "Right now you want a walkable village. You put a lot of money into sidewalks, trees and additional lanes. Unless you live here in the Village you don't typically walk to work. By having some small retail along Triphammer Road it may increase pedestrian traffic and have that 'village feel'.
The Village Trustees and Tomei credited Moseley with developing the idea and the documents, including language for a proposed. They noted that no new curb cuts would be opened on Triphammer Road as secondary roads to the west would handle traffic to new establishments, including Graham, Hickory Hollow and Butler Roads.
"It's been something that has been needed for a long time," said Mayor Donald Hartill.
"I think it makes a whole lot of sense to revisit this whole thing," said Deputy Mayor Lynn Leopold. "We can still get proposals for things that we don't really think fit."
At this stage the new zoning is a proposal only. If the Trustees decide to enact it they will have to craft a local law to change the village zoning, which would include a public hearing at some time before the law can be passed. Village Attorney said that some changes may be needed before a final law is crafted.