The Node of the Matter on Rt. 96

A public meeting for the Route 96 Corridor Study on Wednesday, April 23 at the Museum of the Earth presented the results of a survey of residents along the highway and the numbers from a traffic study done by SRS traffic engineers.

The corridor study is focusing on the portion of Route 96 between Route 13 in Ithaca and the village of Trumansburg. It is primarily addressing transportation issues, but this naturally leads to a discussion about economic development patterns.

Forty people attended the meeting where they were shown a PowerPoint presentation and encouraged to give feedback to Bergmann Associates, the consulting planners, and the Tompkins County Planning Department.
“We did what’s called a ’20-20’ exercise,” said planner Andy Raus of Bergmann. “We asked people, ‘If you were to move away from the corridor and come back in 20 years, what would you like to see change?’”
Raus believed that the responses from the attending public represented an “underlying stream of ideas that were consistent,” he summarized, “People wanted to preserve the rural character of the corridor, have appropriately scaled retail and housing, and they were interested in motorist and bike safety.”

Leslie Schill, the senior planner for Tompkins County, admitted that there seem to be many ways to define “rural character,” but was clear that the county has its own definition, which is stated in its comprehensive plan. “We want to enhance existing farms, preserve open space and encourage economic development that enhances the farms,” she said.

Raus said that his firm will take the comments that were made at Wednesday’s meeting plus the data from the traffic engineers and begin writing a report that explores “opportunities and strengths along the corridor.”

The initial recommendations will address land use. “We’re comparing the conventional development process versus the nodal development that is encouraged by the county,” he explained. “The nodal development pattern will encourage a shift in the way people travel and create a sense of place.”

The “nodes” along the corridor under study are the area around the Cayuga Medical Center and the hamlet of Jacksonville in the town of Ulysses. Raus said, “The county would like to maintain a rural corridor between the nodes and encourage mixed-use development at the nodes.”

The results reported represent the end of the portion of the study that describes existing conditions. “Now we will go into projections,” said Schill. “We will model nodal development and the consequences will be outlined.” Various scenarios will be assembled with both positive and negative outcomes described.

The county has no regulatory authority over land use. The results of the study will be handed over to the towns for implementation. “The adoption of these recommendations in most instances leads to updating of zoning ordinances,” said Raus, who is also working with the Town of Ulysses on the revision of its comprehensive plan, “and to changes in the site-plan review process.”

The encouragement of nodal development is in line with what planners are promoting around the country, according to Raus. “It seems to lead to a more sustainable pattern of development,” he said. “For example, you encourage mass transit by having more people living closer to a hub.”

The transportation study is the result of a year’s negotiation between the county and the boards of the Town of Ulysses, and the Town and City of Ithaca. “Businesses prefer to see inter-municipal planning for consistency and for long-term planning,” said Schill.

According to Schill, there is much interest in the study. The planning department sent survey to all residents with property either directly abutting Route 96 or in a 50 feet buffer zone around it. A total of 592 surveys were mailed and 29 percent of them were returned in time to be included in the report. “They are still coming in,” said Schill. “Those responses will be included anecdotally, although it is too late to include them in the analyses.

The existing conditions study will be posted at the county planning department’s Web site within the next two weeks.

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