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Committee Hears Comments on Future of Old Library Site

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Committee Hears Comments on Future of Old Library Site

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

At a 90-minute public meeting, a special committee of the County Legislature reviewing preliminary concept proposals to redevelop the site of the Old Tompkins County Library listened to public comments regarding the future of the site.  Close to 70 people attended the input session, and 28 of them spoke.

The committee is charged with reviewing preliminary concept proposals for the site received in response to a Request for Expressions of Interest issued by the County late last year, and recommending to the Legislature which proposals should be invited to advance to the next stage of the process, response to a formal Request for Proposals (RFP).  Of six Expressions of Interest received, five are currently active. 

Legislature Chair Mike Lane, who chairs the Old Library Committee, said, “We want to hear what you would like to see on this site…what is important to you.  We’ll take this as a part of the input we have from various places…Hearing from you will help us mold the RFP, and make it a better process.”

About half of the speakers spoke in support of owner-occupied housing on the site, in the form of condominiums, as proposed by one of the respondents, DPI Consultants—among them former long-time City Planning Director Thys Van Cort and former director of Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services Elizabeth Pretntice, who said such development would serve a strong public benefit and meet a pent-up demand.  Gerontologists Rhoda Meador, of Ithaca College, and Karl Pillamer, of Cornell, both spoke of the benefit of such accessible housing in downtown Ithaca, both serving to keep a vital aging population engaged and involved, and making the economy vibrant and robust. Such development, it was also noted, would also benefit segments beyond the senior population.

A number of other speakers urged the County to be mindful of the importance of preservation and sustainability—both in terms of minimizing environmental impact, and the effect on the neighborhood, both during and after construction.  Many pointed to the STREAM Collaborative project as the only one that would preserve the existing Old Library building and minimize impact on the neighborhood.  Nancy Metzgar and Tom Seaney, owners of the DeWitt Park Inn urged support of the STREAM proposal, and reported that the new DeWitt Park Civic Association has already collected 175 petition signatures supporting preservation of the building.  Former Common Council member Tom Hanna was one who advocated mixed use on the site, including a mix of age groups that he called vital to the city’s future.  Some pointed out that owner-occupied housing could be incorporated into the STREAM proposal, and that DPI should not be viewed as the only way to achieve that objective.

Among others addressing the committee were David Stoyell, of the County Office for the Aging, who cited results of the recent Housing Needs Preference Survey, which showed older adults were looking to move to affordable, single-floor accommodations with easy access to public transportation, preferably in the City or Town of Ithaca.  And County Mental Health Director Sue Romanczuk spoke of the need for integrated housing for all people in the community, including people with developmental disabilities and mental health needs.

The submitted Expressions of Interest for redeveloping the Old Library are available for review on the County web site at
http://tompkinscountyny.gov/planning/community-planning/oldlibrary
.

Members of the public may send comments to the Old Library Committee by letter, in care of the Legislature Office, Daniel D. Tompkins Building, 121 E. Court Street, Ithaca; through the County website at http://www.tompkinscountyny.gov/legislature/email; and by addressing legislators at future meetings of the Legislature and the Old Library Committee.

An audio file of the public meeting will be available on the Meeting Portal of the County website at http://tompkinscountyny.iqm2.com/Citizens/Default.aspx (Click on “Media” under the listing for the August 12 Old Library Committee Public Meeting.)