The Evolving Plans For West Hill

2 06 2015

West Hill is, in a sense, Ithaca’s final frontier. The least developed of the hills, it isn’t nearly as built out as South Hill or East Hill, and what is there are mostly single-family homes.

For clarity’s sake, this post is about the part of West Hill within city lines.

While looking up something else, I stumbled across West Hill’s Master Plan from 1992. Which, given its been over 20 years since it was written, gives an interesting perspective on how the city has wanted development on West Hill to fill out. The West Hill plan was created in response to strong developer interest in West Hill sites in the late 1980s, both in Ithaca city and Ithaca town. The plan notes that seven major projects were proposed during 1988 alone, in an area more accustomed to annual construction in the range of a few to several homes, and the very occasional apartment building or business.

west_hill_1992_1

The map above shows both the current and proposed projects at the time, There were eight in total, with dozens of units and lots. It’s hard to read even when blown up, but the proposed projects, which have a heavier lot outline and blurry labels, included subdivisions for single-family housing tracts in the proposed Deer Creek, McPherson and Sunrise Terrace projects, and individual sites with multi-unit potential like INHS and Overlook Park.

west_hill_2015_1

As seen in this 2015 map from the county, the majority of those late ’80s plans were never built, probably because the local economy tanked in the early 1990s. The four housing tracts in the middle of West Hill are still vacant today and under various private ownerships. The Overlook Park site eventually morphed into the 44-unit Bella Vista proposal in the 2000s, but that project was also never built.

A few plans did come to fruition, however. A site just east of West Village (380-90 Floral Avenue), called “LoPorto” on the 1992 map, became a 28-unit townhome development in 1995 that was sold to INHS five years later. The INHS site indentified in the 1992 map (310 Floral Avenue) became the 39-unit Cedar Creek Apartments in 2009, 17 years after the master plan was published. The last site, called “Clynes” after the owner, was subdivided into two lots, a currently vacant lot, and a house at 131 Haller Boulevard that was built in 1999.

Also, note the very different street configuration over on Inlet Island – this was the time of the original Ithaca “Octopus”, a jumble of streets feeding into one bridge, and infamous for its traffic problems. That’s a story for another day, but there are rundowns here and in a 1989 NYTimes article here.

west_hill_1992_2
The 1992 Master Plan called for a number of new roads criss-crossing West Hill, two new parks (one by West Village, the other in the undeveloped lands in the middle of the map), and a new bridge at the southwest edge of the city. Sidewalks were recommended for the large majority of residential streets, new feeder roads would be built with Ithaca town, and Cliff Street was to be upzoned, while most of West Hill would stay the same or be downzoned to “preserve character”. Here’s the current zoning map, but without a 1992 map it’s hard to cross-check and see what, if any zoning was changed. About the most I can ascertain is that swaths of West Hill near West Village were downzoned from R-3 to R-2 at some point.

The plan also notes the abnormally large lot size used by single-family homes on West Hill, which were less dense than even the city’s lowest-level R-1 zoning; but decided it was best to keep precedent and the plan suggested narrowing all residential streets as a character-protecting and traffic calming measure. Interestingly, a number of the newly-built or currently vacant single-family lots in West Hill are recent creations from subdivisions of larger parcels by their owners. So the streets are filling in via “organic growth”.

ith_big_plan_map

Now a look at the 2015 Comprehensive Plan. A large conservation swath (natural area with no permitted development) runs through the Floral Avenue and Cliff Street corridors, and chunks of medium density residential are put forth south of Hook Place and east of Chestnut Street. The 2015 plan notes that the undeveloped tracts in the middle of West Hill present significant opportunities for new single-family housing. The 2015 Plan notes that, just like 23 years ago, the lack of sidewalks is an issue. The cul-de-sacs, utility capacities, and “sensitivity of development to existing character” (a.k.a. be wary of neighborhood opposition) also pose issues and concerns that both existing homes and new projects need to address.

Off-hand, there haven’t been any major projects announced recently in the city’s portion of West Hill, and I haven’t heard any through the rumor mill (I can think of a couple homes I’ve heard about and that’s it). But it’ll be interesting to see how West Hill evolves in the next twenty or so years.


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