2nd ward news – February 2016


We unstave the winter’s tangle.
Sad tomatoes, sullen sky.

We unplay the summer’s blight.
Rotted on the vine, black fruit

swings free of strings that bound it.
In the compost, ghost melon; in the fields

grotesque extruded peppers.
We prod half-thawed mucky things.

In the sky, starlings eddying.
Tomorrow, snow again, old silence.

Today, the creaking icy puller.
Last night I woke

To wild unfrozen prattle.
Rain on the roof – a foreign liquid tongue.

-Tess Taylor, “Mud Season”

A poem called “Mud Season” seems appropriate for this February. There’s been a lot of that peculiar mix of rain and snow that’s known rounds these parts as “Ithacating.” It’s been a busy month, folks. Here’s your 2nd ward news:


Big news this month was the announcement of the “Ithaca Plan,” a comprehensive drug policy for the City of Ithaca. This grows out of the work of a committee commissioned by the Mayor two years to examine the growing problem of drug addiction in our community.

You can read the entire plan here. The announcement of the plan garnered a lot of media publicity, particularly the most controversial part: a proposal for supervised heroin injection sites, something that has never been done in the United States, although it’s been done in Europe and Canada.

There are pretty big political and legal hurdles that would have to be overcome to build a heroin injection site. The injection sites are just one part of a multi-part plan, however, and there are many other proposals in the plan that are more straightforward: an office of drug policy, methadone treatment, a crisis center, a law enforcement assisted diversion program, and more.

As with any new proposal I have a lot of questions, but as a set of recommendations, this plan is really valuable. A comprehensive drug strategy for our community is long overdue, and there are some excellent ideas here. Heroin is a major crisis in our community, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had constituents contact me about it. Wait, I’ve had to say, we’re working on a plan. Well, I’m glad to see that plan is finally here, and I commend the Mayor for pushing forward a vision that could put Ithaca on the cutting edge of municipal drug policy.


I’m sure you’ve heard the news reports by now about elevated levels of lead in the water at Ithaca area schools. The news is alarming, and it’s sparked widespread concern. The City of Ithaca Water and Sewer Division released its annual water quality report, and the news is good: the water quality has exceeded the requirements set forth by New York State Public Health Law. I wanted to share this information to reassure city residents who may have concerns.


The February issue of the city’s “CityScene” newsletter is out. Check out the Mayor’s 2016 State of the City Address, information about new taxicab rates and clean energy opportunities, and a farewell to four long-time public servants who served the City of Ithaca well.


A new development in our ongoing efforts to improve city communications with the public: by signing up to the city’s “Notify Me” tool, you can receive all kinds of news from the city, such as press releases, agendas, city newsletters and more. Enter your info here, and you can go down the list and pick the updates you’d like to receive.


At our February Council meeting, we approved an “officer next door program” for the West Village apartment complex, which has seen its share of crime over the years. This program would allow a police officer to live on site in return for subsidized rent. The hope is that the presence of an officer would deter crime in the neighborhood. West Village is privately owned, so no city tax dollars would be spent.

We had a vigorous debate about the program at our Council meeting. The Ithaca Voice did a good summary. Ultimately I do think this program will be helpful, but it should be paired with other measures, like better property management. No one in our city should have to live amidst the kind of crime that West Village families have experienced.


Congrats to Milicent “Millie” Clarke Maynard who was honored with the 2016 J. Diann Samms African-American History Recognition Award at our February Council meeting! This is an award that’s given out by the Ithaca Common Council every February to a member of the Ithaca community who has made a lasting commitment to improving the lives of the underserved or marginalized. Here’s a write up of the ceremony with a nice photo of Millie and her husband.


The City of Ithaca is looking for public feedback on a proposal to install bike lanes on the section of North Tioga Street between Court Street and the Commons. If the bike lanes are installed, on-street parking in the area would be reduced. See this link for more info, as well as a schedule of public meetings where this topic will be discussed. Written comments will be accepted until March 14, 2016 and can be submitted to the Department of Public Works, Engineering Services, 108 E. Green Street, Ithaca NY 14850 or submitted to engineering@cityofithaca.org.


At our February Council meeting, we passed some changes to our Exterior Property Maintenance Ordinance – you know that costly ticket you received for a missing trash can lid, overgrown yard, or bag of garbage left on your porch? Here is the best summary of the changes. And if you haven’t signed up to the city’s notification system yet, please do so!


Here’s a quick roundup of development news of interest to 2nd ward residents:

            State Street Triangle Project – last month I reported that the State Street Triangle Project had returned in a smaller, more scaled-back version. (If you’ll recall, this is the 11-story building that caused all the controversy over the summer). The developers brought back a 9-story version, but they pulled the project from the Planning Board agenda and issued a statement that they were unable to come to an agreement with the property owner. So this project, for the time being anyways, is not moving forward. I’m sure many people will be glad to hear it; this was not a popular project.

            Old Library Project – the redevelopment of the Old Library is moving forward. The developer and architects met with a joint meeting of the Planning Board and Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission to get feedback on the concept, which calls for a new building that would include market-rate housing for seniors, expanded facilities for Lifelong, and professional office space. The project is in the Dewitt Park Historic District, so it needs to get ILPC review. The public process to approve the project is quite lengthy, and will go into the summer. There will be a second joint meeting of the Planning Board and ILCP on Tuesday, March 8th at 6pm in Council chambers.

            210 Hancock Projectjust last Friday, demolition started on the former Neighborhood Pride grocery store to prepare the way for INHS’s 210 Hancock project. The Ithaca Journal made a video of the demolition, which is quite something! The project has a website, which is a great way to find out information on the project’s timeline and construction schedule. There is also a number to contact if questions or concerns come up during the construction process.

Simeon’s Rebuild – The Simeon’s building is aiming for a late spring reopening date. Brian Crandall has the latest. In other news, Chuck Schumer was in town to announce federal funding that could be available to improve traffic safety on Ithaca roads; as I’m sure everyone knows, the Simeon’s building was demolished when a runaway tractor trailer struck it in the summer of 2014.

            Chapter House Rebuild – Not in the 2nd ward, but it’s such an Ithaca icon that I thought I would include it: the Chapter House rebuild received its final approvals from the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission and is moving forward. I think the new design looks great!

That’s about it for February, folks. Until next month,



February 2016 City Administration Committee Meeting

5th Ward Alderperson Deb Mohlenhoff chairs the City Administration Committee meeting this Wednesday, February 17th at 6pm in Council Chambers. Read the full agenda here. It’s not the most thrilling, I admit, but there’s still interesting goings-on with the police and a plan to allow boat rentals at city parks. A guide to the agenda follows:

  • Add a Professional Standards Lieutenant to Police Department roster: “oversight of all Internal Affairs investigations and will oversee the Records Division, administrative sergeants, and associated civilian and administrative positions” (pp. 2-8)
  • Public Art Commission request that the requirement that 5 of its 7 members be city residents be reduced to 4 in order to help fill long-standing vacancies (pp. 9-10)
  • Authorization to use City parkland for non-motorized watercraft rentals and boat storage racks to improve public access to water-based activities in the City. Proposed locations: Cass and Stewart Parks, golf course (pp. 11-24)
  • First stage of application for grant funding to study City-County law enforcement consolidation (pp. 25-26)
  • Unused money to City’s Operating Fund (p. 27)
  • Amend the 2016 Youth Bureau budget in order to meet unexpected needs in the Big Brother Big Sister Program (pp. 28-29)
  • Accept Community Arts Partnership grant to complete third round of electrical box murals (pp. 30-31)
  • Park Foundation funding for Sustainability Coordinator position (pp. 32-34)
  • Amend Police Department budget to spend New York State Homeland Security and Emergency Services grant on overtime, staff development, and equipment: night vision helmets, spotting scopes, Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus, portable mass notification system, personal protection equipment, throw phone and training (pp. 35-37)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Training and Education Program Grant from the new York State Department of Labor grant for various safety training (pp. 38-40)
  • Appointment of new City Chamberlain (pp. 41-42)


February 2016 Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting

I’ll be chairing the February 2016 meeting of the Planning and Economic Development Committee this Wednesday, February 10th, at 6pm in Council Chambers. Here’s the agenda. A quick run down of the meeting:

Special Business:

  • Public Hearings – we’re holding two public hearings, the first on a proposed new “temporary mandatory planned unit development” zone for the Waterfront, the second on a proposed change to our cell tower ordinance. You can find information on both these subjects below.
  • Presentation on Brindley Street Bridge project – this is a topic that was before Council a year ago, and now it’s back. You know that little bridge near Trombley Tire and Auto that people use as a shortcut to get to Wegmans from West State Street? It’s in serious need of repair. The question is whether we want to rebuild the bridge in its current location or extend Taughannock Boulevard to create a new bridge over the Cayuga Inlet. See agenda for more info.

Voting to send on to March Council meeting (Wednesday, March 2nd, 2016 at 6pm in Council Chambers):

  • Request for Neighborhood Incentive Improvement Fund for South Hill Civic Association Website – South Hill Civic Association wants to create a website, and they are asking for a small amount of city funds to do it.
  • Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development” for the Waterfront – kind of a mouthful. Basically this would create a special “planned unit development” zone that would give Common Council more oversight on any potential development that happens on the Waterfront. The Waterfront is a critical area, and we want to make sure that future development fits with our comprehensive plan. See the agenda for more info.
  • Street Level Active Uses – a zoning change that would “active uses” in ground-level storefronts on the Commons. Based on a similar requirement in Collegetown, this one is proving to be more difficult downtown. It came before Council in January, but was sent back to committee for more clarification on just what we mean when we say “active use.” See agenda for more info.

Voting to “circulate” (basically this means that we send a proposal out to the public for feedback; the proposal will come back to the committee next month for further consideration):

  • Backyard Chickens Pilot Program – everyone’s favorite topic. After a discussion last fall, we’re proposing to move forward with a pilot program. See agenda for more info.
  • Changes to Planned Unit Development ordinance – a minor change that make it will make it easier for Common Council to approve a Planned Unit Development for multi-phased projects. See agenda for more info.


  • Proposal to Reduce Cell Tower Fall Zone – the city has received a request to reduce our cell tower fall zone to make room for a development on South Hill. Currently, the fall zone is twice the height of the tower. It appears this might be higher than is standard practice in other cities. The question is whether we want to reduce it. See the agenda for more info.
  • Cayuga Watershed Restoration and Protection Plan – The Cayuga Lake Watershed Inter-municipal Organization is seeking input from municipalities to identify priority issues that should be included in the updated Cayuga Watershed Restoration and Protection Plan. We figured Planning was a good place to take this discussion.

Again, here’s a link to the agenda. You can watch a live stream of the meeting here. As always, if you have any questions, comments, or concerns don’t hesitate to contact me at jmurtagh@cityofithaca.org. Thanks!- Seph

February 2016 Common Council Meeting

Common Council’s February meeting will be on Wednesday, February 3rd at 6pm in Common Council Chambers on City Hall’s 3rd floor. The major items on the agenda are:

  • Resolution for the J. Diann Sams Annual African-American History Month Recognition Award. I’ll let the Ithaca Times summarize: “In 2004, the City of Ithaca established a tradition of honoring a leader whose accomplishments highlight the positive impacts African American residents have in the Ithaca community. The first recipient was Alderperson J. Diann Sams in 2004, the first African American woman to serve on Council. The award was renamed after her passing in 2007 to honor and celebrate her service to the city.” Read about the award’s winners in 2015, 2014, and 2013.
  • Items from the January City Administration Committee meeting:
    • The “Officer Next Door Program” – This would allow property owners to give a discount of 50% or more on rent to eligible police officers (eligibility factors might include “relevant experience and community policing ability” among other things) who are interested in living in certain areas of the city. The program areas currently include West Village and Chestnut Hill Apartments but may be expanded. The thinking behind this is that encouraging police officers to live in the neighborhood would help reduce crime and increase community policing.
    • Funding for affordable housing – Authorizing expenditures of $80,000 to a Habitat for Humanity project on Morris Ave (a small street between 3rd and 4th Streets) and $85,000 to Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services for-sale housing at 210 Hancock St. and 304 Hector Street.
  • Items from the January Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting (copying and pasting some items from Seph’s earlier post):
    • Changes to Commons Ordinance – we’re making some non-substantive tweaks to the Commons rules that we passed last year. See agenda for more info.
    • Changes to Exterior Property Maintenance Ordinance – The Exterior Property Maintenance Ordinance (or “EPMO” in City Hall parlance) requires that city properties meet certain standards: no overgrown lawns, no discarded trash in the front yard, no snow-impeded sidewalks, no bags of garbage left on porches, etc. We’re proposing to reduce the fines and improve the notification system. Details here.
    • Changes to Taxicab Ordinance – another one that’s been in the works for a while. Our current rate structure for taxicab fares is complicated and confusing. This legislation would establish a standard fare within city limits and also provide set fares for destinations outside city limits, like the hospital and the airport. See the agenda for more info.
    • Local labor reporting requirement for Community Investment Incentive Tax Abatement Program (CIITAP) – At the January 13th meeting of the committee we decided we will need to continue discussion regarding extracting more community benefit from developers that get tax abatements. In the meantime, we have passed on to the full Council an amendment to the basic CIITAP (all abatement levels) to require soliciting bids from local sub-contractors and reporting where workers live. This is by no means the end of CIITAP reform. But as we spend months getting it right, this can ensure that we don’t miss out on collecting vital data.
    • Discontinuation of Lake Ave and Adams Street – we’re discontinuing a public street. INHS is going to maintain it as a public thoroughfare as part of their 210 Hancock project. Requires Council action.

The full agenda can be found here. You can view a live video stream of the meeting here.