Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission Final FORMER ITHACA GAS

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					Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                             Final

       FORMER ITHACA GAS WORKS FINDINGS STATEMENT & DECISION
           As approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission
                       at the meeting held September 22, 2009


WHEREAS, on December 17, 2009, the Ithaca City School District (referred to hereafter as
“ICSD” or “the District”) submitted an application for a Certificate of Appropriateness from the
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (“ILPC” or “the Commission”) that would allow the
demolition of the former Ithaca Gas Works (also referred to hereafter as “the building”), and

WHEREAS, the building was first occupied by the Ithaca Gas Company; it is also commonly
referred to as “Markles Flats,” which was the name of an alternative school occupying the
building in the 1970s as well as an historical name for the neighborhood in which the building is
situated. The building is located at the corner of West Court Street and North Plain Street on an
approximately 3.25-acre (141,500 square foot) parcel of property owned by ICSD. It is a two-
story, brick masonry industrial structure with a 38’ by 93’ 4” footprint (3,550 square feet),
constructed in 1899 to replace an earlier building also used by the Ithaca Gas Company. The
property was acquired by ICSD in 1964 from New York State Electric & Gas Corporation
(“NYSEG”), successor to the Ithaca Gas Company, and

WHEREAS, the building was designated a local landmark in 1978, in accordance with
provisions set forth in Chapter 228 of the City of Ithaca Municipal Code (“Landmarks
Preservation” – see Section 228-4), a designation based upon the determination by the Ithaca
Landmarks Preservation Commission, affirmed by vote of the City of Ithaca Common Council,
that the building’s association with Ithaca’s early development as well as its design and
architecture meet the definition of and criteria for a landmark, as set forth in Chapter 228, and

WHEREAS, the building has been determined by the New York State Office of Parks,
Recreation and Historic Preservation to be eligible for listing on the New York State and the
National Registers of Historic Places, and

WHEREAS, Section 228-4.F of the Municipal Code states that:
(1) Demolition of structures erected on landmark sites or within historic districts and deemed
   by the Commission to be of a particular architectural or historical significance shall be
   prohibited unless, upon application and hearing, the Commission finds that either:
        (a) In the case of commercial property, that prohibition of demolition prevents the
               owner of the property from earning a reasonable return; or
        (b)    In the case of non-commercial property, all of the following:
               [1]     That preservation of the structure will seriously interfere with the use of
                        the property .
               [2]     That the structure is not capable of conversion to a useful propose without
                        excessive costs.
               [3]     That the cost of maintaining the structure without use would entail serious
                        expenditure, all in the light of the purposes and resources of the owner.
and
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                    Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                          Finding Statement



WHEREAS, as a result of the storage and/or disposal of hazardous wastes associated with the
building’s earlier use as a coal gas manufacturing plant, the site on which the building is located
is listed as a Class 2 Site on the New York State Registry of Inactive Hazardous Waste Disposal
Sites; NYSEG is currently undertaking remediation of contamination on other portions of the 2-
acre site by excavating and removing contaminated soils, under the direction of the New York
State Department of Environmental Conservation (NYSDEC), which remediation has undergone
full environmental review by others; the remedy for treatment of identified contaminants
underneath the gas works building, as stated in the “Explanation of Significant Differences”
issued in August 2007, by the NYSDEC, is to pump out as much of the contaminants underneath
the building as possible, to contain any remaining contaminants with a subsurface corrugated
metal barrier at the building’s perimeter and to include a system for ongoing monitoring of soil
gas vapors by the building owner, and

WHEREAS, an application for permission to demolish the former Ithaca Gas Works was
previously made to the ILPC, by NYSEG, which application was denied by the ILPC on
September 16, 2004, following full environmental review -- on the grounds that the applicant had
not demonstrated that the prohibition on demolition prevented it from earning a reasonable return
on the property, and that the applicant had not sufficiently demonstrated that there were no
reasonable alternatives to demolition -- and which denial was upheld by the New York State
Supreme Court in 2005, and

WHEREAS, notwithstanding the previous decision regarding a comparable application to
demolish the same landmark, just four years earlier, the ILPC accepted the ICSD’s application
for consideration, in part as a courtesy to another governmental entity, and

WHEREAS, the demolition of a structure designated as a local landmark under municipal law
and determined eligible for listing on the New York State and National Registers of Historic
Places is a Type I Action subject to environmental review under the provisions of the State
Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA) and City Environmental Quality Review
Ordinance (CEQRO), and

WHEREAS, the ILPC, which was designated as lead agency for said environmental review,
made a positive Declaration of Environmental Significance, on February 12, 2009, directing the
ICSD to prepare a Draft Environmental Impact Statement (dEIS) to evaluate potential impacts of
the proposed demolition of the former Ithaca gas works building, and

WHEREAS, at its public meeting on February 12, 2009, the ILPC informally considered the
scope of the dEIS, in order to assist the applicant in assembling a dEIS with a narrowed focus on
the matters of most concern to the lead agency, namely, the impact of the proposed demolition
on aesthetic and historic resources, and on the character of the community, as well as alternatives
to the proposed action, which suggested scope was subsequently communicated in writing to the
applicant (who did not attend the February 12th meeting), and




                                                 2
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                   Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                         Finding Statement



WHEREAS, the applicant and the lead agency agreed that the dEIS would not address the
environmental impact of the remediation process, as that subject was outside the purview of the
ILPC and had already been covered by environmental studies and reviews conducted under the
auspices of the NYSDEC, and

WHEREAS, on March 30, 2009, ICSD submitted a dEIS to the ILPC, and

WHEREAS, at its meeting on April 9, 2009, the ILPC, as lead agency for the environmental
review, reviewed the dEIS for completeness and adequacy, and found that the dEIS, as
submitted, was not complete or adequate for the purpose of public review and comment, and

WHEREAS, the applicant and its representative attended said meeting, and, in the course of
discussion with the ILPC, agreed to revise the portions of the dEIS identified as not complete or
adequate; furthermore, in an effort to expedite the process for the benefit of the applicant, the
ILPC, in a resolution adopted at said meeting, authorized its staff to determine whether its
concerns were satisfied by a revised dEIS, thus rendering it suitable for public review, and

WHEREAS, on May 28, 2009, the applicant submitted a revised dEIS, and

WHEREAS, on June 26, 2009, ILPC staff, in consultation with the Commission chair,
determined that the ILPC’s concerns were satisfied by the revised dEIS with respect to its scope,
content, and adequacy, thereby commencing the 30-day public comment period that ended on
July 28, 2009, and

WHEREAS, written comments on the dEIS were received during said 30-day period, and
proposed responses were drafted by ILPC staff and provided to the applicant for its review, prior
to the ILPC meeting scheduled for August 18, 2009, and

WHEREAS, at its meeting on August 18, 2009, the ILPC reviewed the public comments, and
discussed the lead agency’s response to the comments, as well as the applicant’s commentary on
the proposed responses, and

WHEREAS, after discussion, the ILPC approved the lead agency responses (as modified to take
into account the applicant’s review) and accepted for filing the final Environmental Impact
Statement, comprising the dEIS, the comments on it and the responses of the lead agency to the
comments, and

WHEREAS, at the same time, the ILPC directed staff to file a Notice of Completeness of the
final EIS and to issue the final EIS as required under SEQR 6 NYCRR Parts 617.10 and 617.21
and CEQR Part 36-19, and to distribute the final EIS to all involved and interested agencies and
to make it available for public review, and

WHEREAS, pursuant to its obligations under Chapter 228 of the Code (“Landmarks
Preservation”), under City and State environmental review laws, and under other applicable
provisions of New York State law, the ILPC has reviewed and considered the EIS for the


                                                3
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                   Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                         Finding Statement



proposed demolition as well as other information and materials provided by the applicant and by
members of the public, and has made certain determinations, as set forth below, and

WHEREAS, the ILPC has weighed the educational needs of this applicant, to the extent that
those needs have been articulated or defined during the course of this application, against the
City’s interest in historic preservation (as set forth in the City Code) and against the potential
impacts on the environment and on the community of the loss of this landmark, and has made the
conclusions set forth below, now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, that the current members of the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission
hereby reaffirm that the former Ithaca Gas Works is deemed to be of particular architectural and
historical significance, as that characterization applies to Section 228-4.F(1) of the Municipal
Code, thus requiring that its demolition be prohibited unless an exception to said prohibition is
granted by the ILPC pursuant to said section, and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission hereby determines that the
Ithaca City School District has not demonstrated to the ILPC’s satisfaction that an exception to
the statutory prohibition of the demolition of a landmark is warranted, on the grounds provided
for in Section 228-4.F(1) of the City Code, namely:
   (b) In the case of non-commercial property, all of the following [must be shown]:
        [1]     That preservation of the structure will seriously interfere with the use of the
                property .
        [2]     That the structure is not capable of conversion to a useful propose without
                excessive costs.
        [3]     That the cost of maintaining the structure without use would entail serious
                expenditure, all in the light of the purposes and resources of the owner.

and be it further

RESOLVED, that the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission hereby makes the following
Findings in connection with its determinations herein, including its balancing of the District’s
educational needs against the community’s interest in historic preservation:

NOTE: In considering these findings, the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission has
relied upon factual information contained in the fEIS prepared by the Ithaca City School District
and its counsel, Bond, Schoeneck and King, PLLC, including the materials appended thereto,
and materials received by the ILPC regarding this matter, from various members of the public.


Commercial or Non-commercial Use?
The City’s Landmarks Preservation ordinance, in Section 228-4F (“Demolition of Structures”),
specifies two methods for evaluating a requested exception to the prohibition of demolition of
landmarks: one for commercial buildings and one for non-commercial buildings. The ICSD
contends in a letter from its Superintendent to ILPC staff, dated December 17, 2008, that the
former Ithaca Gas Works is a non-commercial building.

                                                4
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                     Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                           Finding Statement



Finding: The ILPC does not know whether the building is a commercial or non-commercial
property. The ownership by a public entity and the P-1 zoning classification are consistent with
the category of a non-commercial building. However, during the District’s ownership, the
structure has primarily been occupied by business uses, office uses and studio/workshop uses.
Following brief occupancy by the alternative school program in the early 1970s, the building
was rented to non-school entities, including at least one private business. Since these rental uses
ended, the building has either been used for storage by the District or has been vacant.
Notwithstanding this ambiguous situation, for the purpose of acting on this application, the ILPC
will accede to the applicant’s request and will consider the exception to prohibition of the
demolition under the criteria stipulated for non-commercial properties.


The implications of building condition
In the fEIS, the applicant asserts that the building’s deteriorated condition diminishes its
importance as an aesthetic, historic and architectural resource to the community. The District
also calls attention to a report in the fEIS prepared by Novelli Engineering, Engineering Report
Structural Evaluation regarding the potential danger a deteriorated building poses to public safety
as an additional reason for the ILPC to allow demolition. Demolition of the building is
characterized as a community need and benefit.

Finding: The Commission agrees with the District assessment that the former Gas Works
Building is in a deteriorated condition, as supported by evaluations contained in the Johnson-
Schmidt & Associates, Architects Study to Evaluate: Repair/Rehabilitation Cost, Demolition
Cost and Structural Soundness and associated Engineering Report Structural Evaluation
prepared by Novelli Engineering. The reports also suggest that the current condition is
reversible, and set forth the means by which that could be accomplished.
        The ICSD has owned the building since 1964, many years prior to the building’s
designation as a local landmark in 1978. From that time until now it has had sole control over
its maintenance and upkeep. In the course of the present application, the ICSD was asked but
declined to provide information concerning specifics of maintenance during its period of
ownership, other than to explain that state aid cannot be used for District facilities that do not
have an educational purpose, and to argue that the burden of funding the repair and future
maintenance of the building should not fall to District taxpayers. The ILPC concludes that the
District chose to defer maintenance and repair of a prominent, recognized local landmark for
decades, allowing deterioration to progress to the degree where today the community is left with
a building that is described in the fEIS, as an imminent hazard to passers by. In addition, the
District states that deterioration is expected to worsen, implying that it will not take
responsibility as a property owner to stabilize or repair the building, should its demolition not be
permitted. The fEIS contains no reference to any credible effort to transfer the building by sale
or any other means to another entity with the resources and interest in preservation,
rehabilitation or adaptive use, despite questions about this from members of the ILPC. The
problem of the building’s deteriorated condition is a self-created one (by the owner), and one
that could be remedied by applying resources that were withheld for the past 30 years or more;
as such, it is not proper justification for demolition.


                                                 5
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                     Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                           Finding Statement



Remediation of the site
In the fEIS, the District asserts that demolition of the former Ithaca Gas Works would allow for
the most comprehensive clean up of the property. As described in the document, leaving the
building on the site means that there will be not be direct access to the soil beneath it, for
excavation. Instead, any contamination that cannot be pumped out or otherwise extracted will be
contained with a subsurface metal barrier, and the building will be monitored into the future. In
the fEIS, the District asserts that if legal responsibility (for addressing any remaining
contamination) falls to the District (as opposed to NYSEG), the cost of maintaining the barrier
wall or for ongoing monitoring would be borne by taxpayers. In addition the fEIS makes
reference to restrictions on the use of the property that will be determined by NYSDEC in the
future, following completion of the remediation.

In the course of the 2003 application from NYSEG, regarding demolition of the Ithaca Gas
Works, the ILPC pressed the applicant to investigate alternatives that included moving the
building either permanently or temporarily to facilitate removal of contaminants underneath it, or
lifting and supporting the building in place to allow for excavation of contaminants. A
preliminary study by preservation architect John Bero, commissioned by NYSEG, showed that
temporarily lifting and supporting the building in place could be feasible. The ILPC denied the
previous application for demolition based in part on these preliminary studies.

In 2007, the NYSDEC issued the Explanation of Significant Differences that has resulted in a
remedy that may not involve full remediation, about which the Ithaca City School District and
some members of the community now have concerns.

At the public hearing on the current application held on February 12, 2009, the ILPC was
presented with a letter from Joseph M. Simone, P.E., Manager-Environmental Compliance for
NYSEG (Exhibit F in the dEIS) acknowledging that “demolition is not the only way to achieve
this secondary benefit [referring to a fully remediated site].” The letter makes reference to prior
investigations by NYSEG and concludes that “while costly and not without risk, they [other
methods] are certainly possible.” The letter goes on to state that the ultimate authority for
deciding what level of excavation is necessary and appropriate to protect the public rests with
NYSDEC.

In separate communication with neighborhood residents, NYSEG has stated that if the District’s
application to demolish the building is denied, NYSEG could pursue more aggressive means of
eliminating contaminants. (Email from Joseph Simone dated January 2, 2009.)

Finding: The revised remedy described in the fEIS is one presented in the Explanation of
Significant Differences issued by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation
in August 2007. The ILPC accepts the professional determination of the New York State
Department of Environmental Conservation and the New York State Heath Department that the
revised remedy is protective of human health and the environment. While this issue is beyond
the criteria by which the ILPC is statutorily bound, in making a determination on a Certificate of
Appropriateness, the ILPC is mindful of the strong concern on the part of some in the community
that full remediation may not be achieved without demolition. For the record, the ILPC also

                                                 6
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                     Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                           Finding Statement



would prefer to see the site fully remediated and believes there may be alternate methods of
achieving full remediation without demolishing the former Ithaca Gas Works. The most obvious
alternative is to move (or raise) the building so that direct excavation can occur beneath it, as
the ILPC has suggested in the past. The ILPC is disappointed that the District declined to
include moving or lifting the building in the alternatives explored in its dEIS. The ILPC also
notes that statements from NYSEG indicate that full remediation may be achieved even without
moving or raising the building.


Cost to retain and rehabilitate the former Gas Works
In the letter from Pastel to Chatterton dated 12/17/08 (Exhibit A, fEIS), Superintendent Pastel
explains that under the New York State Education Law, the District’s sole statutory purpose is
the education and care of its students. The District is funded with a combination of state aid and
local tax revenue. The District asserts that State aid cannot be expended on facilities that are not
used for instructional purposes, and that funding of the rehabilitation of the former Gas Works
would therefore require expenditure of local tax revenue and would require public referendum.
The District asserts that use of tax revenue to rehabilitate the former Ithaca Gas Works places an
unreasonable burden on District taxpayers, and would require voter approval.

Finding: As stated by one of the commenters on the dEIS, “the building has been in District
ownership for 45 years. While the present board and administration cannot be held responsible
for the action or inaction of their predecessors, the realities of ownership, condition and cost
have remained throughout.” Despite requests by the ILPC and ILPC staff, the fEIS contains no
information about investment in maintenance of the building during the District’s period of
ownership. The ILPC notes that the former Ithaca Gas Works is not the only facility owned by
the District that is not used for instructional purposes. Despite its landmark status, the former
Gas Works has not received routine maintenance. Unlike a private owner, the District has
access to funds through its authority to tax. Seeking voter approval for capital projects is not an
extraordinary exercise for the District.

Johnson-Schmidt & Associates, Architects and Hunt Engineers, Architect & Land Surveyor, PC,
have estimated the cost of renovation to range from $2,334,700 to 2.5 million dollars (in the EIS,
the District gives its own, higher estimate of $3.5 million dollars), costs characterized by the
District as excessive. These estimates include both costs to reverse deterioration and costs
associated with rehabilitation for District office use.

Finding: The evidence before the ILPC indicates that over the course of several decades, the
District has chosen to conserve resources by avoiding investment in routine maintenance and
repair of the former Ithaca Gas Works (despite its awareness of the structure’s landmark status).
In doing so, the District has “saved” a considerable sum. However, this deferred maintenance
has a consequence. It has contributed significantly to estimates in the reports prepared by
Johnson-Schmidt & Associates and Peter Novelli, P.E., as shown by the estimates of $351,060
for structural repairs, $350,400 for façade renovation and $291,200 for roof replacement in part
required as a result of loss of structural integrity of the building’s walls. The estimate of


                                                 7
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                     Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                           Finding Statement



$42,000 for remediation of pigeon droppings, that, in addition to being a public health hazard,
has corroded metal roof trusses, is another example of present cost incurred through the
District’s decision to neglect routine building upkeep. In light of the District’s conscious
decision to avoid the cost of proper, ongoing maintenance and repair of the building for many
years, the ILPC does not find the estimated cost to “catch up” on this deferred work to be
excessive.


Impact on Aesthetic Resources
Acknowledging that the demolition of the building will have an impact on the aesthetic resources
of the community, the fEIS goes on to state that because the building is in such a deteriorated
condition and because the deterioration can be expected to progress in the future, the District
does not believe that the demolition would have a “significant” adverse impact.

Finding: First, it must be noted that the stated expectation of further deterioration appears to
indicate a determination to allow the landmark to crumble, on its own, if permission is not
granted to demolish it; the ILPC hopes this is not the District’s intent. In any event, the aesthetic
qualities that contributed to the building’s designation as a landmark remain recognizable today
despite the deterioration to date caused by the owner’s lack of proper maintenance. The
building’s inherent aesthetic quality has already been deemed worthy of protection by past and
present ILPC appointees, most of whom have professional expertise or personal interest in
evaluating qualities of historic buildings. The ILPC disagrees with the assertion that the
building’s current condition, which has deteriorated under the District’s ownership, is a key
indicator of the building’s aesthetic value to the community. Loss of the building would indeed
have a significant adverse impact on the City’s aesthetic resources.

Furthermore, the District maintains that because the former Gas Works is not a “destination”
sought by those who appreciate beauty and because it is not set apart in a park-like setting with
special views or other scenic qualities, the aesthetic value of the building is diminished or not
meaningful.

Finding: One important outcome of passage of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966
has been to dispel the notion that the aesthetic, historic and architectural qualities of historic
buildings, are best appreciated as monuments, destinations or as icons appreciated apart from
the ordinary fabric of the built environment. In fact, the eastern portion of the block owned by
the District on which the former Gas Works occupies the southwest corner was once populated
with neighborhood residences. Today the houses are gone and the eastern portion of the site is
leased by the City of Ithaca for recreational uses. These changes actually elevate the uniqueness
of this 19th century industrial building and the prominence of its corner location. The building
strikingly represents an era that predated modern zoning (for Ithaca, the 1920s), when
commercial and industrial uses occurred in the midst of (and provided employment for)
residential areas. There are many in the surrounding neighborhood and in the City who during
the ILPC’s proceedings concerning the demolition have voiced appreciation of the building’s
aesthetic qualities despite the fact that the surrounding site is not set aside in some special way.


                                                 8
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                      Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                            Finding Statement



Impact on Historic Resources
The fEIS states that the proposed demolition will have a significant adverse impact on the
historic and archeological resources of the community, in that it will involve the permanent
elimination of a structure that is eligible for listing on the National and New York State registers
of Historic Places. This is an unfortunate and unavoidable adverse impact of demolition.

Finding: The ILPC agrees that demolition would have a significant, unavoidable impact on the
community’s historic resources. The former Ithaca Gas Works is a unique and striking reminder
of a type of use and function from Ithaca’s past that is not represented elsewhere in the City. It
is important to note also that the building’s local landmark designation bestows protection that
reflects the building’s value to the community.


Impact on Community Character
In the fEIS, the District makes reference to the Novelli Engineering Report to support its
assertion that the building is in a dilapidated state. The District therefore concludes that because
deterioration is so advanced (implying that it is or will soon be a blight on the area), the actual
loss of the building will not have a significant, negative impact on community character. The
District also states that many neighborhood residents addressing the Commission concerning the
District’s application have stated that demolition will not adversely affect neighborhood
character.

Finding: Similar to its finding on the District’s assertion that deterioration of the building has
diminished its aesthetic qualities, the ILPC finds with regard to impact on community character
that the inherent visual qualities that impart a particular character to the neighborhood and the
city are not currently diminished by a deteriorated condition that can be reversed. The ILPC
therefore considers the impact on community character to be significant and one that will not be
meaningfully mitigated by steps such as a memorial plaque.
        It should also be noted that the purpose of conducting public hearings in the context of
the Landmarks Preservation Ordinance is not to substitute the criteria used by the Commission
in considering designation or material alteration of historic buildings with the sentiment of
public opinion in the manner of a popularity contest. Rather, the purpose is to hear substantive
remarks that may provide new or different information about the building or the proposal that
may be useful to the Commission’s deliberation. A primary goal of historic preservation is to
safeguard historic buildings for the education, pleasure and welfare of all the citizens of the city,
now, and into the future. The Commission disagrees with the applicant’s characterization of
public comment, and believes that the applicant’s comments speak for themselves.


Mitigation
In the fEIS, the District lists measures intended to mitigate impacts, should demolition be
approved. These include photo documentation, written history of the Ithaca Gas Works, period
lighting in the vicinity, salvage and display or donation of architectural elements from the
                                                  9
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                      Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                            Finding Statement



building. The District has offered to collaborate with the Commission regarding mitigation
possibilities of this type.

Finding: The impact of demolition of this landmark cannot be significantly mitigated by
measures described in the EIS; it will represent a permanent loss of a prominent, recognized
historical resource unique to this neighborhood and the City as a whole and representative of an
important aspect of Ithaca’s industrial past and architectural diversity.
        The severity and permanence of demolition could be mitigated (i.e., avoided) by
meaningful effort by the District to explore and exhaust alternatives to demolition, either alone
or possibly in partnership with the City. The District presents a scenario wherein demolition is
unavoidable because of costs related to the building’s severely deteriorated condition, and
because the continued existence of the building inhibits the District’s future use of the site. As
noted previously, the District bears sole responsibility for the severity of the deterioration, by
deferring regular maintenance and by its unwillingness to transfer the building by offering it to a
party with interest and resources that are less restricted. Furthermore, the District has
presented no plans that would give the Commission a real sense of how retention of the building
on-site or its relocation to another part of the site to facilitate remediation would inhibit future
uses. The Commission acknowledges that the District may not have specific plans for the site at
this time, and in the case of a building not distinguished by landmark designation this would not
be an issue. In this case, however, the Commission is asked to find an exception to the
Landmarks Ordinance’s prohibition on demolition of designated historic buildings without
demonstration of a specific need or that alternatives have been exhausted. Under such
circumstances, the District’s application for this drastic remedy can be seen as premature, at the
least.


Alternative: Sale to the City or Other Parties
The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission asked the District to explore in the EIS, as an
alternative to demolition, conveyance of the building to the City, for sale to a third party with the
interest in and resources for rehabilitating the building for a compatible use, as well as the pros
and cons of such an approach. In response, the District described an informal exchange between
City officials and the District, approximately three years ago, wherein the District agreed that
transfer of the building to the City would be an appropriate and reasonable solution that would
relieve the District of costs and liabilities associated with the building. The District asserts,
however, that the City declined such a transfer, citing the City’s reluctance to take on further
debt service for the purpose of renovating the Markles Flats building.

There is no record of the content of discussions referenced by the District, and the Mayor
indicates that she has a different recollection of exactly what was said. It was the Mayor’s
understanding that if the District were able to relocate its maintenance operations from the block
where the Markles Flats building is situated, to another suitable site in the vicinity, it would be
willing to pursue a transfer of most or all or the block to the City. Subsequently, City staff was
involved in helping NYSEG in its search for such a site - and, eventually, in successfully



                                                 10
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                       Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                             Finding Statement



relocating all of the District’s maintenance operations to a site just a few blocks from the original
one (notwithstanding an initial, unfavorable decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals).
Very recently, the Commission has received communication about a group of individual
Tompkins County legislators with a serious if preliminary interest in investigating the
opportunity for reuse of the building. After allowing the group an initial walk-through, the
District declined to grant permission for a follow-up visit, for the purpose of conducting a
structural assessment.

Finding: It appears to the Commission that within the past few years, the District was
entertaining transfer of the building, in its full context, to the City, but that this alternative (to
demolition) is no longer being pursued in a serious manner, even though it could mean
preservation of the landmark. Given that such a scenario was apparently considered feasible,
not long ago, and in light of the evidence that the District has, very recently, declined to permit
the requested investigation of the building by an interested party, the ILPC is not convinced that
this alternative has been thoroughly pursued, via a good-faith effort, by the District.


Alternative: “Modest” Rehabilitation of Building
The Commission also requested that the EIS address the pros and cons of a “more modest
rehabilitation” than that outlined in the Johnson – Schmidt & Associates, Architects, Study to
Evaluate: Repair/Rehabilitation Cost, Demolition Cost and Structural Soundness, one that would
leave the building in condition for uses other than office space, e.g., an indoor recreational space,
or a space that could be leased to other suitable entities. The District asserts several cons to the
proposal for a “modest” rehabilitation, including indefinite containment of some contamination
underneath the building, possible legal obligation placed on the district to maintain the
containment structure, the level of cost required for even a modest rehabilitation and the
District’s assertion that it lacks funds for to pay the cost of a modest rehabilitation.

Finding: The District response to the Commission’s request for consideration of a modest
rehabilitation suggests that any cost to the District that may result in the building’s preservation
is not acceptable to the District. If in fact state aid cannot be applied to buildings not used for
instructional purposes the District has an alternate method of raising revenue in its authority to
tax. Tax revenues are presumably used to fund maintenance and upkeep of other District
facilities and for District capital projects and it does not seem to the Commission that the
District has fully explored the alternative of a modest rehabilitation thus rendering the building
suitable for uses such as, for example, storage where less costly finishes, furnishings and
building equipment will suffice.


Potential Future Use of the Site
The District has made only limited use of its one-block site for educational purposes, during the
last 30 years. Parts of the block have been leased to the City for use as a
swimming pool and basketball court, while a larger area was used for the District’s maintenance
operations (which have now been permanently relocated to another site a few blocks away).

                                                  11
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                       Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                             Finding Statement



The ILPC asked the District to explain how preservation of the landmark (with its 3,550-square-
foot footprint) would seriously interfere with the District’s intended use of its overall site on that
block (approximately 141,000 square feet). The District’s response has been general, asserting
that it has a philosophy of maintaining “maximum flexibility” and alluding to future
“possibilities” (such as a new, “pre-fab” administrative office building, “enhanced recreational
activities” for students, or a new elementary school to replace the Beverly J. Martin School, at
some point) but without specifying any particular use for which the District now has plans.

Finding: The District has not shown that it has any particular plan for any part of its 3.25-acre
property. Furthermore, it has not said or documented how preservation of the relatively small
Markles Flats building, as shown on the map labeled “Former Ithaca Gas Works” and
distributed on 9/22/09, would specifically and significantly interfere with its plans for its large,
mostly open site. The building has been designated as a landmark since 1978, and prior to
initiation of the current remediation of the site, the District philosophy of maximum flexibility
has not threatened the preservation of the former gas works. The facts and implications of the
designation have not changed over the past 30 years. Professional reports included in the fEIS
show that the building can be stabilized and rehabilitated, and in such a state the building could
be reused by the District (e.g., for offices) or, if the District chooses, can be transferred to
another party. The district’s stated philosophy of “maximum flexibility” with regard to long-
term use should continue to take into account the reality of the building’s protected status.


Educational Need vs. Historic Preservation
The Commission understands that denial of the request to demolish the former gas works could
place some constraints on the District’s use of the property and in particular the use of that part
of the property. Demolition of the building could facilitate the remediation of the soil beneath it,
possibly eliminating future restrictions on its use (which restrictions will be determined by
NYSDEC only after the remediation project is completed). Retention of the building on site also
means that the District will have to accommodate limited access from West Court Street at the
location of the building site. Any redevelopment of the block would need to be designed around
or integrate the structure (and any parking or access needs associated with it).

Without knowing what the District’s specific plan for the site is, the ILPC cannot at this time
evaluate how seriously the continued existence of the landmark would affect such plans. The
ILPC notes that the building itself occupies less than 3% of the District’s total property on the
block, and that in the zoning district where it is located (P-1), the maximum amount of a parcel
that may be occupied by buildings is 35%. It would appear, therefore, that in any case the
District cannot cover its entire site with (new) buildings, according to current regulations.

Denial of the demolition is also likely to have some impact on the District’s budget since, at the
least, the building will require stabilization. As described in the EIS, the District has two
principal sources of funding, one being state aid and the second tax revenue. The District asserts




                                                  12
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                       Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                             Finding Statement



that state aid cannot be used for the rehabilitation of structures that are not used for educational
purposes, and that it expects the NYSDEC to rule out such use for the former Ithaca Gas Works.
In that case, funding of rehabilitation would require expenditure of monies raised through local
property taxes (possibly involving a referendum).

On the other hand, the impact of demolition of this landmark represents a permanent loss of a
prominent, recognized historical resource unique to this neighborhood and the City as a whole
and representative of an important aspect of Ithaca’s industrial past and architectural diversity.
In addition to its effect on historic resources, demolition will also have a permanent impact on
aesthetics and the overall character of the neighborhood.

Finding: Retention of the landmark will place some constraint on how the District can use its
overall site, and could require the District to raise funds for stabilization or rehabilitation, either
through tax revenue entailing the budget referendum process or through grants for historic
preservation, or to convey some portion of the site to another party with resources and interest
in the building’s rehabilitation. While it is not possible for the ILPC to evaluate the seriousness
of the afore-mentioned constraint, in the absence of any specific plan for the site on the part of
the District, it would appear that only a small proportion of the District’s property (on the block)
would be affected, that less than half of the block is available for building construction anyway
(under current zoning regulations) and that in any case preservation of the landmark does not
prevent the district from using the vast majority of the site for educational purposes (even if the
building itself is not available for that purpose). Weighed against this must be the drastic,
permanent effect of demolition on the city’s interest in historic preservation. The landmark, once
destroyed, is not replaceable. Unlike the District’s partial diminishment in its “flexibility,” the
loss to the community of the historic and aesthetic resource is a complete one.
         The Commission finds that, on balance, the permanent loss of this recognized and unique
landmark clearly outweighs the partial diminishment of the District’s flexibility in addressing its
educational needs (which at this time remain very non-specific), as well as its wish to continue to
avoid long-deferred repair and maintenance of the landmark.


Criteria for an Exception to the Prohibition of Demolition
Section 228-4F(b) of the City’s Landmarks Preservation ordinance requires that in order to
receive permission to demolish a designated landmark, the owner must show all the following
(in the case of a non-commercial property):

                [1]     That preservation of the structure will seriously interfere with the use of
                        the property.
                [2]     That the structure is not capable of conversion to a useful purpose without
                         excessive costs.
                [3]     That the cost of maintaining the structure without use would entail serious
                        expenditure, all in the light of the purposes and resources of the owner.

Finding: The Commission has requested but the District has not presented any specific plans to
enable the Commission to determine how seriously the preservation of the structure will interfere

                                                  13
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                     Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                           Finding Statement



with the District’s intended use of the property. While the retention of the building could
impinge to some degree on the District’s philosophy of retaining maximum flexibility for use of
the site, the fact of the building’s designation has been known to the District for many years, and
plans for future use should, by law, take into account the building’s protected status. The District
has not demonstrated that preservation of the structure will seriously interfere with the use of the
property.
         A significant portion of the 2.5 million dollar cost of rehabilitation shown in the Johnson-
Schmidt report, submitted with the District’s application for a Certificate of Appropriateness, is
the cost associated with measures necessary to reverse deterioration caused by years of deferred
maintenance and upkeep on the District’s part. This lack of stewardship has occurred despite
the District’s awareness that the building is a designated local landmark and as such, is
protected under provisions of the Municipal Code. The District has not demonstrated that the
expense of conversion to a useful purpose involves costs that are clearly “excessive,” especially
when that portion of such costs reasonably attributable to the avoidance of normal repair and
maintenance is separated out.
         The District claims that it has no funds for maintaining the structure, with or without use.
As explained by the District, state aid cannot be spent on buildings not used for instructional
purposes. Furthermore, although the District has the ability to raise funds through taxation, it
has determined that even the cost of routine maintenance and upkeep should not be borne by
taxpayers, although such funds are presumably used for other facilities for which the use of state
aid is likely also prohibited. At a minimum, maintenance held back for many years could be
invested back into the stabilization of the former gas works, leaving the building in a state of
preparedness for rehabilitation by a future administration or by others. The District has not
demonstrated that the cost of maintaining the structure without use would entail serious
expenditure, all in the light of the purposes and resources of the owner.
         Thus, in summary, the ILPC finds that the applicant has not met any of the three criteria
for an exception to the prohibition on demolition (noting that to qualify, an applicant must show
that all three criteria are satisfied),

and be it further

RESOLVED, that as suggested over the course of consideration of this Findings Statement the
Commission is willing to work with the Ithaca City School District, New York State Electric and
Gas and any viable neighborhood group and elected representatives of this neighborhood to
arrive at a strategy that would maximize the removal of contaminants beneath the building while
preserving the landmark, and be it further

RESOLVED, that, consistent with social, economic and other essential considerations, from
among the reasonable alternatives available, the action by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation
Commission to deny the proposal to demolish the former Ithaca Gas Works is one that avoids or
minimizes, to the maximum extent practicable, adverse environmental impacts disclosed in the
draft and final Environmental Impact Statements, and be it further




                                                 14
Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission                                   Former Ithaca Gas Works
Meeting Held on September 22, 2009                                         Finding Statement



RESOLVED, that, for the reasons set forth above, the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation
Commission hereby denies the current application of the Ithaca School District for a Certificate
of Appropriateness to demolish the landmark known as the former Ithaca Gas Works (or
“Markles Flats”).

Moved by S. Stein
Seconded by N. Brcak
In favor: N. Brcak, S. Jones, S. Stein, L. Truame
Opposed:. None
Recused: A. Peiper
Vacancies: 2




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