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First Ward Report

From George McGonigal — Greetings fellow First Warders,

So here we go at last, on a chilly 2nd day of October, my initial First Ward Report.
I’d like to begin with what is about to happen, before I cover what has been happening.


As most of you already know, we are facing a true ecological emergency in the Cayuga Inlet due to the infestation of the invasive Asian aquatic plant, Hydrilla verticillata.  Yesterday, the Treman Boat Launch closed for the season due to this emergency.  The entire Inlet and adjacent creek mouths are closed to all boat traffic, including canoes and kayaks.  The plan is to hit the Hydrilla with a herbicide this Fall, before its’ vegetative buds and tubers can mature and spread across the water.  This must be done by mid October, or we may very well be in deep trouble.  You can learn more about this problem from, among other sources, the City of Ithaca’s web site, the Co-operative Extension web site, ccetompkins.org, or from the West Hill website, ithacawest.org.


In what has received a lot less attention, but some might also consider a threat to Cayuga Inlet and its shoreline, Ithaca’s Common Council will be voting this week on a zoning change that could re-shape much of Inlet Island and the city’s West End.  The plan involves combining the several existing zoning districts on the West End into two “Waterfront” zoning districts, (WF-1 and WF-2).  The new zones would extend from roughly the site of The Haunt night club at the northern end, along Cascadilla Creek, to the Meadow Street bridge on both sides of Six Mile Creek at the southern end.

These new guidelines would allow 5 story buildings (up to 63 ft.) to be built along the eastern side of Inlet Island,( the side with Kelly’s Dockside and Castaways), where the current regulations limit building height to three stories.  In addition, the new zoning would require new buildings in the proposed WF-1 zone to be a minimum height of 3 stories, or 36 ft.  Minimum height in the WF-2 zone would remain at 2 stories, or 24 ft.

Because of the considerable expense of doing foundation work on the island, any developer who builds in these new zones is quite likely to want to build to the full height allowable.  So there is real potential for 5 story buildings being constructed up and down the shores of Inlet Island and the adjacent shorelines of the West End.  Other than the Island Fitness Center, the tallest buildings currently on the West End – The Lehigh Valley House and the cool brick building at 1001 West State St. – are 3 stories high.

These plans have been progressing quietly and steadily, and are supported by a few land owners, most of whom are relatively new to Inlet Island.  The time for public input is not over, but it is drawing short. If you have concerns about these changes, one way or the other, I would strongly recommend contacting Jennifer Dotson or myself, J.R. Clairborne or Eric Rosario, who represent the 2nd Ward, or Mayor Carolyn Peterson.  Common Council will be voting on the re-zoning  at this Wednesday’s meeting, which starts at 6 p.m.


Some of the other noteworthy issues that Common Council, the City and the First Ward are dealing with include:

The City recently lost a law suit brought by a South Hill landlord over the landlord’s creating a backyard parking area without a permit.  This is the same suit in which members of the South Hill Civic Association were sued for speaking their minds at a public meeting.  That part of the suit was dismissed, thankfully.

The City, with full support from Common Council, intends to appeal the local judge’s ruling in this case.  Council will also be working to strengthen the language in the relevant building ordinance.  The Building Department and Common Council are united in the belief that illegal backyard (and front and side yard) parking areas need to be stopped.

Also on South Hill, there was a rash of particularly destructive incidents of vandalism last weekend, the most noteworthy being on Hudson Street, where, at 2:30 a.m., a bad guy threw a rock through a family’s front door window, while standing on their porch.  He then ran off, as drunken cowards often do.  Down the street, an entire section of wooden picket fence was ripped from its supports.

This kind of desecration of one of our neighborhoods simply cannot stand. We need to keep an eye out for each other – while at the same time not demonizing all college students.  When the police catch people doing these types of things, they need to be prosecuted.  If they are students, we need to get a commitment from Ithaca College or Cornell that they will be punished by their school as well.

As for the now infamous 25ft passive vent stack and sewer replacement project to mitigate TCE soil vapor that was being proposed for East Spencer St. by Emerson Power Transmission and the New York State DEC, it isn’t going to happen this year, or next year.  Maybe never.

Meanwhile, down in the South of the Creek neighborhood, a good portion of those streets were recently in the creek, not south of it.  The neighborhood residents did a stellar job looking out for each other, and 1st Ward CC Rep Jennifer Dotson was extremely busy keeping people updated about what was and was not happening.  Nice work, Jennifer and S ‘o C neighbors.

The removal of the traffic barriers on Wood and South Titus Streets has occurred and, so far, I am led to believe that thru traffic is not as bad as some of us thought it would be.  If I am mis-informed, please let me know.

On West Hill, I am concerned about the lack of play areas and recreational outlets in a large neighborhood full of small children and teen-agers.  The expansion of the Alternative School (LACS) inexplicably was coupled with the elimination of the school’s playground structures and the only outdoor basketball court in the City west of Meadow Street. There appears to be absolutely next to nothing for kids to do at both Chestnut Hill Apts. and West Village Apts.  I am also very concerned about recent break-ins and burglaries to homes on Chestnut St. I urge everyone who might share these concerns to contact the Ithaca City School Board about bringing back some significant outdoor play areas to LACS.  They have a fairly large pot of money left over from the recent bond act.


In the weeks leading up to the recent primary election, I learned a lot about very neighborhood-specific traffic problems.  Many of them seem to have a common short-cut theme.  So it is with Turner Place and Columbia and Giles Streets on South Hill, with Campbell Ave. and Warren Place on West Hill, and with South Plain St. and Spencer Rd. down on the Flats.  I will be talking with the City’s traffic engineers about all these problem areas in the near future.


That is all I plan on including in this FIRST WARD REPORT, although there are many other ongoing issues to discuss.  Please feel free to contact me with any concerns or comments you have, either about issues in the City of Ithaca, or about this report and the way I’ve presented it.  Its a little too wordy, I’m thinking, for starters.  Perhaps, aided by your suggestions, I’ll do better next time.

I can also be reached by phone at 272-0639, or at my Common Council e-mail address, gmcgonigal@cityofithaca.org

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