President’s Letter: Changing the Conversation about Development

Changing the Conversation about Development

One does not need to explore many online news articles about development or redevelopment in Ithaca and Tompkins County, nor attend many public board meetings, to find several individuals speaking emphatically against all varieties of development projects. We are long overdue for a fresh perspective—and perhaps you are someone who could help in that effort.

“Not in my backyard” (NIMBY) takes on a different meaning entirely in Tompkins County. This is in part because projects often aren’t even close to the backyard of the individuals speaking out against them; but also because of the tendency to say “not in your backyard, either!”

Whether the issue at hand is new market-rate housing, student housing, affordable housing, downtown redevelopment, business expansions (or infrastructure projects that are necessary to stay in business), traditional energy infrastructure, solar panels, or wind farms…there seem to be myriad reasons to oppose each and every one.

Tompkins County has a very engaged community of intelligent, highly educated individuals and social and environmental justice warriors, conducting research on various issues and speaking eloquently regarding the pros and (mostly) cons of various projects. We have a notion that we can endlessly make demands which can increase costs, alter designs, and add new burdens and regulations on business owners, real estate developers, and investors.

There’s reason to believe that a majority of local residents and business owners are accepting of, or in support of, most proposed projects and development opportunities. Whether they are not coming out because they are simply okay with the proposed project, or busy with work and family obligations—the public commentary is decidedly one-sided on many issues.

There can be many positive impacts from growth, and while some are more short-term, and others are much longer-term, all growth is NOT bad growth. We should stop treating it as such.

Here’s a short list of reasons why more community members should be open to growth and development, and even speak out in support of development projects whenever possible:

  • We have a housing affordability and supply problem. The cost to rent or own an apartment or home in Tompkins County is significantly higher than neighboring counties—and it impacts people of all income levels. We need thousands more units over the next decade to render our housing more affordable and accessible in the long term.
  • More people moving and living here is a good thing. Ithaca and Tompkins County are fortunate to be slowly adding population, while most upstate New York counties have lost population. Our workforce is also aging, and population projections show need for more young professionals and families to settle in our communities.
  • Increase the tax base. This will benefit you and your family, as well as your neighbors, in the long term. If you’re a commercial property owner, you could would also benefit.
  • Job creation, either direct or indirect. Most projects create high wage, quality jobs directly—or support sustained economic impact which adds jobs to the local economy indirectly over time.
  • Diversity, inclusion, and equity. The more opportunities for new housing and jobs the community has, the more likely that our economic growth will be shared and beneficial to broader populations.
  • Workforce development. We have numerous quality job opportunities at local companies, but if we cannot attract adequate workforce to this area, businesses will struggle to grow and continue investing in Tompkins County.
  • Balance of perspectives is necessary in every conversation. Decision makers and elected officials need to hear multiple perspectives to be well-informed about what their constituents actually want in their community.

What developers see and hear when they come to our community matters. And, what elected officials, municipal planning board members, and other decision makers hear also matters. If you’re supportive of the objectives listed above, you can add your voice to the conversation regarding development by choosing to mail or email comments, or to attend meetings in support of projects in your community.

We are a rare bright spot in an otherwise struggling upstate New York economy. Let’s continue that trend by working to simplify the development process, take a more progressive stance on growth, attract quality jobs, and invest in long-term economic vitality for our communities.