Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services tabled their application for a site review of a new four building development located in and around Temple and Liberty Streets in Owego so that it could provide more information to the planning board before they render a final vote. Set to be built in a flood plain, board members wanted more information; not just on how a flood would affect the proposed buildings, but how the buildings could affect a flood.
“I am always concerned about flooding, but I think this is a good design set to 2021 building standards – with self actuating flood vents and [fake] basements – all designed so that the water flows right through the bottom of the building like it wasn’t there,” said Owego’s Mayor, Mike Baratta.
Despite supporting the project, Baratta said it was prudent for the planning board to request the information they did.
“The buildings will be constructed in a zero impact manner; but despite that they will have a different impact than the current structures on floods because the water flows differently,” Baratta said.
Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services also needed certification from the Department of Public Works regarding the project, due to the fact that it is in a flood plain, and had yet to secure that.
“[Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services] said they would have the information to the board within a couple of weeks, and the planning board is set to take it up again on October 26,” Baratta added.
Despite the controversy surrounding the project, Baratta said he views it as a net positive for Owego, should it be approved.
“Personally, I think it is a good thing; we need housing, and the housing that is there [isn’t enough] and as part of the [Downtown Revitalization Initiative] that area was identified as in need of revitalization,” Baratta said.
Under the current plan the new housing development would contain a three-story building with 30 apartments, some of which would be for assisted living with one to two bedrooms, and three additional townhouse-type buildings containing 15 bedrooms at two to three bedrooms per apartment. Applicants would have to earn somewhere between roughly $30,000 to $60,000 in order to qualify for one of the 45 apartments.
“Obviously any time you develop in a flood plain it is controversial,” said Baratta, adding, “One of the proposed buildings is three stories tall, but the first story is off of the ground due to flooding, so it is 50 feet tall. Some neighbors are not in favor of that.”
Despite the opposition, Baratta said that 50 feet is well within height limits in that area, and with a mixed-use designation overlay the zoning is not an issue either.
“From what I saw, [Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services] has a well thought out plan as far as flood mitigation, with run off accounted for,” Baratta added.
Due to the fact that the site review was tabled, a scheduled hearing before the Zoning Board of Appeals to ask for two zoning variances for the project has also been pushed back to next month.
“One thing [Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services] is verifying is that apartments are above any sort of flood level; every storm is different but you go off the data accumulated over the last 100 years,” Baratta said.
The Board did approve the site plan proposed by the Owego Hose Team for a new building to go next to the existing fire station. The building will house an antique steam engine from the 1800s used to put out fires, along with a vintage fire engine.
“I am hoping, personally, that between the housing project, the new art park and the steamer house, this is going to spark a lot of change in that neighborhood in a positive way,” said Baratta.
The Mayor also confirmed on Thursday that the county’s Industrial Development Agency has agreed to Payments in Lieu of Taxes, or PILT, for 30 years for the project.