2nd ward news – February 2016

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:

 MAYOR’S DRUG POLICY PLAN

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.

CITY DRINKING WATER QUALITY REPORT

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.

 CITY NEWSLETTER

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.

CITY “NOTIFY ME” TOOL

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.

 “OFFICER NEXT DOOR” PROGRAM

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.

J. DIANN SAMMS AWARD

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.

 BIKE LANES ON NORTH TIOGA STREET

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.

 EXTERIOR PROPERTY MAINTENANCE ORDINANCE CHANGES

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!

DEVELOPMENT UPDATES

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,

Seph

 

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.

Discussion:

  • 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

January 2016 2nd ward news

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

-Wallace Stevens, “The Snow Man”

 

Nothing like a little Wallace Stevens to kick off your January. We have some new faces on Common Council. On New Year’s Eve we held our “changing of the guard” meeting, where we welcome in new members of Common Council and say goodbye to departing ones.

It was a fun evening, but also a little bittersweet. The Ithaca Journal has some nice coverage. Yes, the Red Solo cup was declared the official drinking vessel of Ithaca in honor of Ellen McCollister, and yes, JR Clairborne did receive no less than 2 shot glasses as parting gifts (totally unplanned by the way, whatever the Ithaca Journal article might imply).

We also swore in the Mayor, as well as returning Alderpersons George McGonigal (1st ward), Steve Smith (4th ward), and Josephine Martell (5th ward). After saying goodbye to outgoing Council members JR Clairborne (2nd ward) and Ellen McCollister (3rd ward) we welcomed new Council members Ducson Nguyen (2nd ward) and Rob Gaerhart (3rd ward).

And we have a new 2nd ward rep! Ducson Nguyen has already hit the ground running. We’re looking forward to working together in 2016.

RECEPTION FOR JR CLAIRBORNE

My departing Council colleague, JR Clairborne, will be honored at an upcoming reception. JR has represented the 2nd ward, including the Northside and Southside neighborhoods, on Common Council for 10 years. Please stop by the GIAC second floor teen lounge on Monday, January 25th between 5 and 7pm to say a collective “thank you” to JR for his many years of service. Light refreshments will be served. Sponsored by the Community Leaders of Color (CLOC).

 NEW 2ND WARD WEBSITE

Our new 2nd ward rep, Ducson Nguyen, hasn’t wasted any time getting to work. We now have a brand new 2nd ward website. Duc and I will be posting things on the website from time to time. If you’re so inclined, you can also follow us on Facebook (Ducson, me) or Twitter (Ducson, me). We post updates there too pretty regularly.

210 HANCOCK MEETING

Want to get the latest on the 210 Hancock project? Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services is hosting a community meeting to discuss the redevelopment of the former Neighborhood Pride site. They’ll be available to answer questions and discuss the construction schedule. The meeting will be held on Monday, February 1st at 6:30pm in the Quaker Meeting House, 120 Third Street. Hope to see you there!

CASCADILLA CREEKWAY PROJECT

You know the little avenue that runs between North Aurora and North Cayuga streets along Cascadilla Creek? It’s a popular spot for pedestrians, and it’s in need of an upgrade. Here’s a great overview written by Ducson. The plan is to replace the footbridge and railings, preserve the creek wall, and put in some pedestrian enhancements. There are a few different options for design. Please look over the options and send comments to Addisu Gebre, our city bridge engineer, by January 31st at agebre@cityofithaca.org.

CHANGES TO EXTERIOR PROPERTY MAINTENANCE ORDINANCE

At our Planning committee last Wednesday, we voted to send some changes to our External Property Maintenance Ordinance on to Common Council. You can learn more about that effort here (look, I’m using the website!). And if you haven’t done so yet, please do sign up for the city’s email notification system.

COMMUNITY INCENTIVE INVESTMENT TAX ABATEMENT PROGRAM (CIITAP)

For some time now, we’ve been working on a reform of the city’s tax abatement policy. Ducson has the latest, on the website.

STATE STREET TRIANGLE PROJECT

It’s back. The State Street Triangle Project, which caused a lot of controversy when it was introduced last summer, will be heading back to the Planning Board for review. But this time, a shorter, more-scaled back version.

OLD LIBRARY PROJECT

Another project in the 2nd ward up for review: the redevelopment of the Old Library. Next Tuesday, January 26th at 5:30pm in Council Chambers, the Planning Board and the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will hold a joint meeting to discuss the project. (The reason the ILPC is involved is because the project is located in the Dewitt Park Historic District). The Ithaca Journal has the latest. This year, I’m Common Council liaison to the ILPC so I’m sure I’ll have more to report on this in the months ahead!

 HOTEL ITHACA CONSTRUCTION

Just a heads up if you are someone who uses the Hotel Ithaca parking lot as a pedestrian shortcut. This is the parking lot that runs between Hotel Ithaca and McGraw House. Very soon, the parking lot will be closed to the public when Hotel Ithaca begins construction on its planned expansion, for at least a year and most likely longer, like 18 months. So basically for the next 18 months or so, the neighborhood will need to walk around the block and will not be able to cut through to downtown using this walkway.

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

-Seph

January 2016 City Administration committee

The first City Administration committee meeting of 2016 will be held this Wednesday, January 20th at 6pm in Council chambers. (There are two standing committees of Common Council: Planning and Economic Development, which I chair, and City Administration, which is chaired by Alderwoman Deb Mohlenhoff.)

It’s a fairly light agenda. There are some routine personnel matters and an approval of funding for affordable housing, neither of which should prove controversial.

One interesting thing on the agenda, though, is the creation of an “officer next door program” that would allow police officers to reside in specific areas in the city. In this case the identified area is West Village, although the option is there to expand the program to other areas of the city, if so desired. The thinking behind this is that encouraging police officers to live in the neighborhood would help reduce crime and increase community policing. There’s more info on this in the agenda packet. Should be an interesting discussion.

Again, here’s a link to the agenda. You can watch a live stream of the meeting here. If you have any questions, comments, or concerns, you should contact Chair Deb Mohlenhoff at dmohlenhoff@cityofithaca.org. Thanks!

-Seph

Changes to Exterior Property Maintenance Ordinance

At last Wednesday’s Planning committee meeting, we voted to send some changes to our External Property Maintenance Ordinance on to Common Council.

The Exterior Property Maintenance Ordinance (or “EPMO” in City Hall parlance) requires that city properties comply with certain standards: no overgrown lawns, no discarded trash in the front yard, no snow-impeded sidewalks, no bags of garbage left on porches, etc.

The ordinance has produced an enormous amount of frustration. The exorbitant fines and delayed notification periods have long proven to be a major hassle for city residents and property owners. To address these problems, we’re proposing to reduce the fines and improve our notification system. These changes are long overdue. In fact, four years ago, when I was a reporter at the Ithaca Times, I wrote an article on this very issue.

Under the proposal we sent to Council, fines for garbage-related offenses (like leaving a bag of trash on your front porch) would be lowered from the current rate of $25, $50, $200, $300 (for 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th offenses in a 6-month period) to $25, $50, $100 (for 1st, 2nd, 3rd offense in a 6-month period). Sidewalk-related offenses (like blocking failing to clear the snow from your sidewalk) would stay the same – $40, $60, $100 (for 1st, 2nd, 3rd offenses in a 12-month period) – so as to reflect the value we place on safe access to city sidewalks. Finally, the notorious “lid off garbage can” fine would be lowered to $10 per offense and would not escalate.

We’re also proposing a 24-hour warning period for violations related to litter, solid waste, and garbage stored outside. Those signed up to the city’s email notification system would get an email warning about an offense, and if the problem is fixed within 24 hours, no ticket will be written. This change does not apply to snowy sidewalks, which must be cleared 24 hours after the snow begins to fall. This rule would stay in effect. If you haven’t yet signed up to the city’s email notification system, you should do so here.

These changes still need to be approved by Common Council. They will be on the agenda for our February Council meeting – Wednesday, February 3rd at 6pm in Council Chambers, 108 East Green Street, Ithaca. If you have any comments in the meantime, please feel free to send them to me at jmurtagh@cityofithaca.org.

 

January 2016 Planning and Economic Development Committee meeting

My first post on the new 2nd ward website! I’ll be chairing the first 2016 meeting of the Council’s Planning and Economic Development committee this Wednesday, January 13th at 6pm in Council Chambers. It’s a whopper of an agenda. Here’s a quick run down of the meeting:

Voting to send on to February Council meeting (Wednesday, February 3rd at 6pm in Council Chambers):

  • 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. Shouldn’t be controversial.
  • 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. The ordinance has produced a lot of frustration. The exorbitant fines and delayed notification periods have proven to be a major hassle for city residents and property owners. We’re proposing to reduce the fines and improve the notification system. These changes are long overdue. In fact, four years ago, when I was a reporter at the Ithaca Times, I wrote an article on this very issue. Among other things, it’s an interesting case of a future Council member quoting a future Mayor!
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Changes to Community Investment Incentive Tax Abatement Program (CIITAP) – our ongoing attempt to reform the city’s tax abatement policy. Here’s a good overview.

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):

  • 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.
  • 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.

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