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Update: Dramatic, heated meeting ends in tabling of controversial Ithaca development


Ithaca, N.Y — After a heated discussion with multiple twists and turns, Ithaca’s planning board tabled a proposal for a controversial housing development on Tuesday.

The meeting began with several residents near the planned housing complex speaking out against it. Many of them pointed to an Ithaca Voice story published Tuesday showing that toxic contaminants exist at the site.

“It is not too late to go back and fix mistakes,” said Benjamin Kirk, who lives at 351 Spencer Road, in asking the board to stop the development. “We feel that this is all the more crucial given the new information about soil contamination.”

On Monday, The Ithaca Voice published a story in which Paul Mazzarella, the executive director of Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services, said the state had closed the investigation into the site.

But in an interview on Tuesday, a New York Department of Environmental Conservation representative said the developers of the site were still required to submit a clean-up plan for state approval and that the investigation remained active.

Mazzarella appeared to accept that the investigation was active in an interview Tuesday when he acknowledged, “My understanding about this … is that (the DEC) decided today to reopen the site.”

But then, at Tuesday’s meeting, confusion reemerged. Tim Seeler, consulting engineer for the project, said that the DEC had in fact closed its investigation into the contaminants at the site.

There are therefore no environmental concerns that should hold up the project, Seeler said.

“According to this article,” one planning board member said during the meeting, “the investigation is open. “So what is the actual status?”

Seeler was ready with a reply.

“There is some misinformation relative to that,” Seeler said, “I confirmed with DEC this afternoon that the original statement that there were two open spills on this property is incorrect.”

The board member seemed surprised. “Is incorrect?” he asked.

“That’s right,” Seeler said, “The first spill, which was reported initially, was closed approximately a year later. The second spill was erroneously identified at this particular site but is not (open), and the state’s prepared to provide documentation” to prove it.

The board continued to discuss what to do with the project when, a few minutes later, another city official contradicted what Seeler had said.

Alderperson Cynthia Brock, whose district includes the proposed development, interrupted the board’s discussion.

“If I may, a point of clarification,” Brock said, her closed cell phone still in hand, “I just spoke with Dick Brazell, who’s the District 7 representative for the Department of Environmental Conservation, and he has confirmed that there is one active spill on the site and as of tomorrow there will be two … that involve the DEC in the assessment of the contamination and the mitigation of the site.”

Some light applause came from the crowd. One planning board member laughed.

“We seem to be getting some conflicting information,” she said.

After another lengthy discussion about the project, planning board member John Schroeder seconded a motion to table the planned development.

Schroeder gave three main reasons for doing so:

1 – New information about had emerged that planning board members hadn’t had the chance to review.

2 – Planning board members wanted to know what steps they could take legally and needed more information from the city attorney’s office to make an informed decision.

3 – There’s still confusion about if the DEC is involved or is not involved in investigating the site.

The motion carried. The development will be discussed again next month.

The planning board will request a written statement from the DEC outlining if they are or are not investigating the site, board members said.

Earlier —

This is a live update from the meeting. We’ll update this post with a thorough story once the meeting is over.

Ithaca, N.Y. — About two dozen people have packed Ithaca’s City Hall Tuesday night for a planning and development board meeting that could help decide the fate of a controversial project on Spencer Road.

Several speakers have expressed vehement opposition to the proposed affordable housing complex, which is being spearheaded by Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services.

“I’ve been a longtime supporter of INHS … but they’ve dropped the ball in failing to perform the truly thorough due diligence needed to assure the safety of this site,” said Ken Deschere, of 202 South Hill Terrace.

“The responsibility for addressing these environmental concerns does not rest with the planning board, but assuring that those concerns have been properly and fully addressed by the appropriate agencies … is this board’s concern.”

The Stone Quarry development proposal as of July.

Ithaca’s City Hall Tuesday night. (Jeff Stein/IthacaVoice)

Alderperson Cynthia Brock, whose district includes the site, also spoke at the meeting. She criticized the proposed development.

“Given the abundance of data … I appeal to you, the planning board, to retract the negative declaration of environmental impact,” Brock said.

“I believe these concerns are substantial.”

You can read more about the development proposal here:

This is a live update from the meeting. We’ll update this post with a thorough story once it is over.