Upcoming . . .


First Ward Report

Greetings fellow First Warders,

I don’t recall ever having been accused of rushing into things.  So here, on my last day in power, is a farewell First Ward Report.  I hope it finds you all in good health and optimistic about the upcoming new year.


On South Hill, the City’s appeal of the recent local ruling in favor of a Hudson Street landlord, who put in a backyard parking lot in violation of the City’s building regulations, is going forward.  This appeal will not be cheap, and success for the city is by no means a certainty, but it is thought by all current members of Common Council to be a very important precedent —  a fight that must be fought on behalf of all the city’s residential neighborhoods.
With regards to the Emerson Power Transmission/Borg Warner/Morse Chain factory site, good things may be on the way.  John Graves and other South Hill residents have been working very hard coordinating proposals that involve:  re-invigorated site pollution clean-up,”clean-tech commercialization,” residential housing, and recreation components ( I personally have been working on the idea of creating the LONGEST BOWLING ALLEY IN THE WORLD!).  They are referring to it as an “Eco-industrial Village Plan.”  This represents a tremendous amount of ground work, that will hopefully lead to an even greater amount of intellectual and physical work, and make the Emerson property and South Hill a dramatically different neighborhood in many positive ways.  My hat is doffed to these First Warders.
In the (way-)South of the Creek neighborhood, namely along Spencer Road, there is concern that this relatively affordable residential neighborhood may be facing increased pressure from upcoming commercial development.  A recent zoning appeal was granted to allow the foot print and parking area for a new Elmira Road hotel to be built partly on residentially zoned lots that face Spencer Road.  How this will affect adjacent residences and traffic on Spencer Road remains to be seen.  It would be a bad thing, in my opinion, to lose this neighborhood in which Ithacans of modest means can still afford to buy or rent a home.
The past month or so has been a difficult time for many of our neighbors on West Hill.  A young man from the NYC was shot and killed at the Chestnut Hill Apartment Complex on December 1st.  Two days later, a man was seriously wounded in a stabbing at the same location. These crimes are drug related;  apartment(s) have been used as “drug stores” by non-resident dealers who “lease” the space from a tenant with a drug problem.  People living nearby, particularly families with young children, are understandably frustrated and upset.
During the past month, I have become acquainted with many of the residents at Chestnut Hill, and I have a great deal of respect for them.  At a meeting a couple of weeks ago at the Lehman Alternative Community School (LACS), the residents of Chestnut made their concerns known, very clearly and eloquently, during a round-robin discussion that included the Chestnut Apts. property manager, leaders from the Police Dept., the Building Dept., LACS and Beverly Martin Elementary School, as well as Common Council members Jennifer Dotson and JR Claiborne, Mayor-elect Svante Myrick and Council woman-elect Cynthia Brock.  Ana Ortiz, who lives at Chestnut Hill Apts. with her three children, was instrumental in getting a good turn-out for this meeting.
Many good ideas for improving  safety and the quality of life in the neighborhood were discussed.  Creating a neighborhood watch organization, installing improved lighting and reporting suspected illegal activity promptly to the police, were items that were universally agreed upon. It was generally agreed that LACS should be the site of a new outdoor basketball court and an improved playground. ( Both of these were lost to West Hill when the expansion of LACS and its parking area were built.)  Additional meetings, both to get the neighborhood watch group organized and to include a more far-ranging group of West Hill neighbors, are in the works for the near future.


A week from today will be the first South Hill Civic Assoc. meeting of 2012.  The entire meeting will focus on issues involving the Emerson Factory Site. These meetings are open to everyone and this one in particular is of import to all City residents.  The meeting takes place at the Church of the Nazarene, on Grandview Ave., between S. Aurora and Hudson Streets, from 9:30 -11 am, January 7th.
On January 11th, at 6:30 pm, at the Borg Warner Room of the Tompkins Public Library, there will be a presentation about the City’s new water treatment facility and Six Mile Creek, which everyone should know is the source of the City’s drinking water. This multi-faceted presentation is sponsored by the Community Science Institute, the Six Mile Creek Volunteer Monitoring Group, the City of Ithaca, and Tompkins County Soil and Water Conservation District.  It promises to be a very interesting and informative meeting.


The City of Ithaca’s redistricting committee is currently working on re-drawing the lines of Ithaca’s five wards, based on the population of the City according to the recent census data, which is collected every ten years.  They are also working toward a decision about wether we should continue to have five wards, or reduce the number to four wards.  Obviously, each of the four wards would have to be larger than each of the current five wards.  It is important to appreciate that these boundaries must first and foremost adhere to almost equal population numbers, with neighborhoods and all other considerations coming in lower on the totem pole.  It is a very difficult task. Like trying to solve a Rubrick’s Cube.
I encourage everyone in the First Ward to learn as much about this coming change as soon as they can.  The incoming mayor and Common Council will be making the decision relatively early in 2012, I think.  There are those on the Tompkins County Redistricting Committee who would like to see the City go with four wards and eight members of Common Council.  This would allow for identical geographical districts for representation in both the County and City governments.  Four County Board members would represent districts that lie entirely within the City limits, instead of including parts of the Town of Ithaca, as they do now.
I have attended most of the City Redistricting Committee’s meetings, and I am very impressed with their thoughtfulness and attention to neighborhood, socio-economic, and other complex issues.  IN MY OPINION, it would not serve any of the people or neighborhoods of the First Ward well to go with a four ward configuration.  It would be bad for the 2nd Ward, and probably the 5th Ward as well.  This is because the largest population growth and concentration is in Collegetown and on the Cornell campus.  A four ward scenario would leave at least two wards almost exclusively on East Hill, and combine most of the First and Second Wards (and possibly parts of the Fifth Ward) into one, leaving this huge area of mostly long-term Ithaca residents with only two representatives on Common Council.  Like I said, that’s my thinking.  I encourage all of you to learn more and decide for yourselves, then let the incoming Council know what you want.


This year has brought the most challenging new task I have undertaken, probably since I went out for the high school football team as a 105 pound freshman, a few years back.  Unlike that challenge, I stuck this one out.  Being appointed (anointed?) to the remainder of Maria Coles’ term on Common Council, and learning how to do this challenging work while also running for Council in the Democratic primary, and doing my regular job mowing lawns, got to be a tad busy.
But it was well worth it, I kid you not.  I met a very large number of good and way- interesting people: in my travels door to door around the Ward, in City Hall, and all across town.  It has been a very cool learning experience, and I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity.
I want to congratulate Cynthia Brock, not only for her hard-fought victory in the election, but also for her dedicated service to the people of this town.  Cynthia is a hard worker.  She cares about the people of the First Ward, and the City as a whole.  She will pay attention to creeks and waterways, infrastructure, toxic nastiness, parks and kids.  All of which is a good thing.
So thank you, my fellow Firsties.  I am more proud than ever to be one of you.
Stay in touch if you like.
I’ll see you around town.
George McG

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