- By Marcia E. Lynch
The Tompkins County Legislature's Old Library Committee passed three resolutions Wednesday that advance consideration of disposition of the County's Old Library site to the full Legislature.
The committee recommended that the site, located at Cayuga and Court Streets in the City of Ithaca, just off DeWitt Park, be declared no longer needed for public use; that the County concur with the City's determination that sale of the property for the proposed DeWitt House Project will not negatively affect the environment; and that the property be sold to preferred developer Travis-Hyde Properties' DeWitt House Associates for a sale price of $925,000.
The DeWitt House Project would involve a four-story structure (the third and fourth stories set back on three sides), with 58-units of independent living senior-focused apartments; ground floor commercial space and a community room managed by the non-profit organization Lifelong; and 38 enclosed ground floor parking spaces.
Much of the committee's deliberation focused on whether the site would be recommended for sale or ground lease. A 50-year ground lease approach was initially proposed, Chair Michael Lane maintaining that a ground lease, whereby the County would continue to own the land, would protect the long-term interests of the County and its people, for a property located so close to the seat of county government and its historic buildings. Legislators Martha Robertson and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne both expressed surprise that the ground lease option was now being proposed when it had not been discussed previously as more than a potential alternative.
Ms. Robertson proposed substitute language recommending sale, instead of lease, to DeWitt House Associates, with language to be added to specify that the property revert to the County should its future use no longer be substantially residential. The measure was recommended by a 4-1 margin, Legislator Dooley Kiefer (who has long favored ground lease) voting no; and Legislators Mike Sigler and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, and Chair Lane in favor. Mr. Lane said he voted in favor sale, rather than lease, only "reluctantly," and Legislator McBean-Clairborne, remarking that she had never voted in support of this project, said she voted in favor so that consideration could advance to the full Legislature. Language regarding the reversion clause will be added prior to Legislature consideration September 5th.
Before the matter went to a vote, Commissioner of Planning and Sustainability Ed Marx thanked the Travis-Hyde development team for its work through a long and often difficult process that has spanned several years. He said he believes the outcome is in line with what the County had anticipated, and that aesthetics have improved a bit throughout the long review and design process. He characterized the project as "a great contribution in a really good location."
Addressing the committee prior to its deliberations, Enfield resident Robert Lynch spoke out against sale of the Old Library site, for both aesthetic and economic reasons, calling the design inconsistent with the open-space character of the residential neighborhood, and criticizing the proposed sale price as too low. He urged delay and further study.