Argentina Plans Overhaul Of Tax Code


Let's start this off by saying that zoning is typically a cut-and-dry affair. But discussions to change it are often anything but. Such was the scene at last night's Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) meeting in the city of Ithaca.

First up, the Planned Unit Development Overlay District, or PUDOD for short. This was described in the preview piece a little earlier this week.


Let's briefly touch on those fundamentals. A Planned Unit Development (PUD) is essentially flex zoning - a sort of "Do-It-Yourself" zoning code, where if you can propose a project, you can propose your own zoning guidelines, if you can justify that to the Common Council as well as the Planning Board.

Normally, a project that needs a zoning change will propose a plan, schedule a visit to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA), get a recommendation from the Planning Board during their review, and BZA will have their vote. But the BZA is disinclined to support big self-created variances. It's one thing if your new porch is going to be three feet over the required front yard setback. It's a much bigger, much tougher issue when you want to do six floors on a site that allows four. That's where a PUD comes in. The PUD says if you can get Common Council to approve it, you can do those six floors on a site that allows four. It also tends to make life a lot easier for mixed-use projects, since many city zones are just housing or just business.

There's always been a bit of anxiety with the PUD approach because most Ithacans aren't known for welcoming new development with open arms. So PUDs have only been allowed in industrial zones, which the city has very few. Ithaca Gun was one before they rezoned it to residential in 2015. The others are Carpenter Business Park (now owned by Cayuga Medical Center), the Cherry Street Industrial Park, and Emerson Power (the future Chain Works District, if developer David Lubin's dreams come true).


What the PUDOD is expand that. A lot. It covers inner Collegetown, Downtown, the waterfront, the State Street Corridor, Southwest Ithaca. If a developer wants to exceed height limits or lot size, they can, if they provide a community benefit the Common Council agrees with. It didn't work out for the Maguires, but if a project offers low or moderate-income housing for an extra floor or two? Or if to save the front half of the Nines and its little plaza, a developer asks to build a couple more floors on top so the finances work? That can be on the table. Existing zoning becomes a guiding recommendation more than a strict rule.


With that in mind, the big question of the night was where to draw the bounds of PUDOD. On table was a request from some Collegetown landlords, and one from INHS at the Henry St. John site. Board members expressed discomfort with the Collegetown request, noting the need to set a buffer. When it came to vote, the inclusion of the requested properties and any remaining CR-4 buffer zones not covered failed by a 2-3, with councilors Cynthia Brock (D-1st Ward) and Stephen Smith (D-4th) in favor, and Seph Murtagh (D-2nd), Donna Fleming (D-3rd), and Laura Lewis (D-5th) against.

“We go back and forth for three years talking about where this boundary should go…I feel like this boundary is staff’s best stab at properties that would be most useful for this tool, and follows the more urbanized areas of the city,” said Murtagh. "My reluctance stems from the Collegetown environment being so fraught between developers and residents. CR-4 was always meant to serve as this protective zone. Originally, I supported this, and supported this citywide, but this is a new concept and there’s a lot of concern about how it’s going to work. I think it pays to be cautious."

The INHS request was also declined, but a friendly amendment by Brock to include the Emerson/Chain Works project on the map, for the sake of good housekeeping, was accepted. In the end, a vote send the PUDOD on to the full council for a final vote was approved 4-1, with Fleming opposed.

"I don’t plan to vote for this at all, mostly for the reasons I expressed last month. I can imagine Common Council becoming another Planning Board, and doing Planning Board issues on these projects, and I don’t think that’s a good way to proceed," stated Fleming.


"Millionaires Overnight"

A second overlay debated at the PEDC meeting was the ever-controversial CIITAP tax abatement program. The waterfront extension and affordable housing addition, previously discussed here, were hot topics for councilor Brock.


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“We mixed in too many things. I’m 100% in support of a city-wide affordable housing requirement, that can be a requirement you can’t cash out of," referring to an option to pay into an affordable housing fund like the joint city-county-Cornell CHDF. Brock complained it would lead to economic and class segmentation in the city, and it was important to mix lower-income households into higher-income neighborhoods. "In Collegetown, it’s vacant for the summer. Businesses like Greenstar struggle when there are no permanent residents." (Before anyone gets nervous, Greenstar says the store is doing well overall.)

"I recognize there are cost impacts to development along the waterfront. That’s true down to Wegman’s, Kohl’s, all the way down to Home Depot. I think we do have a concern with the CIITAP being very successful, to the point we’re subsidizing luxury housing....they {the City Harbor developers} purchased the property even without knowing the tax abatement was available."

"That's not true," replied city planning director JoAnn Cornish.

“If staff is advising CIITAP when it hadn’t been passed, that seems ill-advised…they closed on those properties without knowing if a tax abatement would be available. Every developer is now coming forward with a handout. They’ll make the numbers represent it too,” said Brock. "We turned all the property owners in CIITAP into millionaires overnight."

"That is so unfair. The profit margins on many of those properties are very thin," Cornish shot back.

“CIITAP is a tool that could get some housing in that 60-80% {area median} income range. That’s why we came up with this proposal," said Murtagh.

After the flaring of tempers, a vote to circulate the affordable housing stipulation and waterfront expansion for comment among staff and officials was approved unanimously, so expect this debate to continue next month.

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Source : https://ithacavoice.com/2018/03/city-considers-subtle-major-overhaul-zoning/

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