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Coalition Letter Which Requests a Cornell Heights Moratorium on New Housing Developments Pending Adoption of Improved Historic District Preservation Safeguards

Ithaca Common Council Members
108 East Green Street
Ithaca, NY 14850

Dear Sirs and Madams:

We, the undersigned, write respectfully to request that you undertake the following actions to preserve the “residential park” setting of the Cornell Heights Historic District:

a) amend existing RU zoning for the Cornell Heights Historic District by incorporating improved R-3aa restrictions including, but not necessarily limited to: 1) 120% “maximum bldg. Footprint,” for new development (see Appendix A), 2) maximum three-story-35 foot height; and 3), no dormitories;

b) limit “Maximum Percent Lot Coverage by Buildings” to 20%;

c) adopt a comprehensive plan for local land-use management;

d) require the Ithaca Landmark Preservation Commission (ILPC) to adopt standards to determine “certificate of appropriateness” instead of relying on guidelines. For example, “a new construction project that has either a significantly larger or a significantly smaller footprint than is common in the area would be considered inappropriate.” There is no numerical standard for what constitutes “significantly.” Standards also are needed to determine appropriate scale, massing and placement.

e) impose a moratorium on new housing developments in Cornell Heights, including 1 Ridgewood Road, until the aforementioned requests have been fulfilled. Approving additional projects before adopting a comprehensive plan and strict historic preservation standards defeats the purpose of planning. Ithaca adopted a Collegetown development moratorium for this very reason.

Cornell Heights Historic District

The Cornell Heights Historic District was established in 1989 in response to potential development activities that could have dramatically altered its architectural and historical significance:

“The Cornell Heights Historic District is architecturally and historically significant as an exceptional intact example of a turn-of-the-century planned residential suburban development placed in an outstanding natural setting along the northern rim of Fall Creek Gorge overlooking the City of Ithaca and the southern tip of Cayuga Lake. The district’s curvilinear street plan, lavish landscape features, dramatic geographical setting, strictly residential character (developed on large private lots) and its historical pattern of development place it within the romantic tradition of the ‘ideal’ residence park developed in the second half of the nineteenth century and popularized by Frederick Law Olmsted after the Civil War.”

Urgent Need For Historic Preservation Action

Despite its Historic District designation, new developments in Cornell Heights either under construction or seeking approval would irreparably alter its architectural and historic significance in contravention of requirements adopted to preserve the character of the area as a whole.

Due to recent development, the Historic District is clearly transitioning from its original turn-of-the-20th century “residential park” to a densely developed area that bears little resemblance to the community that warranted special historic district protection approximately 25 years ago.

312 Thurston Avenue Highlights Historic Preservation Shortcomings

An apartment complex now under construction at 312 Thurston is out-of-scale with the Historic District. It was granted a “certificate of appropriateness” even though it is much larger than almost all of the structures in Cornell Heights. It abuts Highland Avenue Apartments, the structure that originally catalyzed historic preservation concerns due to its massively inappropriate size.

That structure is the biggest in Cornell Heights, but is considered “non-contributing” regarding historic preservation. As a result, there are now two inappropriate structures next to one another.

Additional Historic District Safeguards Deemed Necessary by City of Ithaca

After the 312 Thurston project was approved, City authorities concluded that additional institutional safeguards were required to protect Cornell Heights from inappropriate large-scale development.

With that goal in mind, the City proposed to adopt R-3aa zoning that would have imposed a 120% building footprint limitation regarding new construction. Unfortunately, R-3aa zoning also would have permitted high-density development utterly inappropriate for the Historic District.

After a total of 261 signatories to a coalition letter expressed grave concerns about R-3aa zoning to Common Council members, the proposal was withdrawn on 2/19/14. City officials publicly promised to work with citizens to address historic preservation concerns in Cornell Heights.

1 Ridgewood Road

Approval is being sought for an apartment complex proposed for 1 Ridgewood Road. Three buildings would be built on the largest undeveloped property in Cornell Heights, a spectacular forested setting enjoyed by hundreds of local residents who walk along and through it each day.

The proposed buildings would dwarf nearby structures. Figure One illustrates that the buildings would be 300% larger than the adjoining structure on Highland Avenue and at least 200% larger than all the immediately surrounding structures.

Out of a total of more than 200 structures in the Cornell Heights Historic District, only six are bigger than all three proposed buildings. Those six were built before the Historic District designation.


In conclusion, we strongly support the City of Ithaca’s Historic District policy: “Protection of the historic, aesthetic, and cultural heritage of the city of Ithaca is considered essential to the promotion of the educational, cultural, economic, and general welfare of our citizens.”

Given that policy, Cornell Heights warrants additional protection from further inappropriate developments. That is why we believe the City of Ithaca simply must stop approving new development projects that could exist for decades to come until it adopts a comprehensive plan and strict historic preservation standards. We also oppose granting any zoning variances.

We look forward to working in a positive manner with the Common Council and City staff to resolve the Cornell Heights historic preservation concerns recently voiced by individual representatives and neighborhood residents.

Given that no public proceeding has yet been initiated to attain that goal, however, we ask that approval for new housing developments be withheld, starting with 1 Ridgewood Road, until the requests in this letter have been fulfilled.

We trust that you will find our requests self-explanatory, but please do not hesitate to contact us if you have any questions that we can answer. We would be pleased to meet to discuss our concerns.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Very truly yours,

Click Here to See Signatures

Appendix A

Amend existing RU zoning for the Cornell Heights Historic District by incorporating improved R-3aa restrictions including, but not necessarily limited to: 1) 120% “maximum bldg. Footprint,” excluding non-contributing buildings, for new development, 2) maximum three-story-35 foot height; and 3), no dormitories;


No new construction of a primary structure in the Cornell Heights Historic District shall contain a footprint that is larger than 120% of the average footprint of the existing buildings within a one-eighth mile radius of the entire block in which the building is located. If one or more such surrounding buildings have been demolished, then the calculation for maximum building footprint shall use the footprint of the primary structure that most recently stood on any lot where a demolition had occurred.

"In locally designated historic districts, any non-contributing buildings shall be excluded from this calculation.

Total Signatory Count: 994

Maria Sirenko
Alpha Phi
Ithaca , New York
405 Dryden Road
Ithaca, NY
Christopher Jacobi
Brendon-Sage Quvus
House Manager
Phi Delta Theta
2 Ridgewood Rd.
Ithaca, New York
Steve Slaughter
7111 Low Rise 7
Ithaca, NY
Nathaniel Coderre
623 university st
ithaca, new york
Jason Crossley
200 Highland Ave
Ithaca, NY
Kennedy Coffin
19705 moorlynch ave
Pflugerville , Tx
Paul Miller
Phi Delta Theta
208 B Stewart Ave
Ithaca, NY
Michael Sturman
110 Westbourne Lane
Ithaca, New York
Liam Sosinsky
348 Risley Hall
Ithaca, New York
Samuel Evans
Cornell University
347C Mews Hall, Cornell University
Ithaca, New York
Jay Feldman
10 Pond Lane
Linwood, New Jersey
Michelle Li
Cornell University
352C Mews Hall
Ithaca, NY
Kierra Bannister
108 South Baker
Ithaca, New York
Tania Perez
105 S Baker
Ithaca, NY
Pooja Verma
Cornell university
238 Jessup road
Ithaca, Ny
Phil Durnford
9 Cornell Walk
Ithaca, NY
Kevin Murdock
103 Holley Street
Brockport, NY
Jon Anderson
27555 Valley Rim Circle
San Juan Capistrano, CA
Julie Shields
619 Mary Donlon Hall
Ithaca, New York
Noah Miller
1333 Tasso St.
Palo Alto, CA
Luke Asperger
Pasadena, CA
Ariella Reidenberg
Alpha Xi Delta
635 Risley Hall
Ithaca, NY
Julia Wu
Jameson Hall
Ithaca, NY
Alexander Thomson
Veterinary student
Cornell University
2 Ridgewood Road
Ithaca, NY
Forrest Cox
Phi Delta Theta
2 Ridgewood Road
Ithaca, NY
Spencer Velarde
Phi Delta Theta
2 ridgewood road
Stamford, NY
katharine constas
1360 coddington road
brooktondale , ny
Michael Rosenthal
111 Country Club Road
Ithaca, NY
julia waldman
33 threepence drive
melville, new york
Sean Patel
308 eddy street
Ithaca , New York
Satya Yalla
5111 High Rise 5
Ithaca , NY
Kyle Coble
Erika Brigante
Ecology House
111 Country Club Road
Ithaca, New York
Nichollas Dawson
407 College Ave apt 5c
Ithaca, New York
Regina Di Fede
2 cypress rd
Eastchester, New York
Benjamin Van Doren
Ithaca, New York
Lauren Ferraiuolo
Kay hall
Ithaca, NY
Peter Greenberg
125 1/2 Eddy St
Ithaca, NY
Sarah Newman
709 Stewart Ave Apt B3
Ithaca, NY
Lewis Brown
6513 Lakeridge Rd
Los Angeles, CA
MT Condosta
Ithaca, NY
Jake Coonin
Bryan Pon
40 Old Mill Road
West Harrison, New York
Noah Pacifici
Cornell University
315 Donlon Hall
Ithaca, New York
Charles Edman
311 Mary Donlon Hall
Ithaca, NY
Calvin D'Rozario
Software Engineer
Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity
6000 Reynolds Drive
Rochester, New York
Merete Chaplin
3990 fifth avenue
pittsburgh , pa