A New Vision: Landscaping
When it came to landscaping, the challenges we faced were extraordinary. Fortunately, so too are the results!
Our purchase of 111 The Knoll, located right next door to the men’s house, finally made our vision for a unified living-learning community possible. But first, the space between the houses had to be totally reimagined in order to unite them. Formerly the properties were divided by large trees, a solid wooden fence, a couple of sheds and even the trash and recycle bins of both houses—overall, an eyesore if ever there was one.
The trees were removed (as were the sheds and trash cans), and truckloads of fill brought in to level the grade. All of this opened up the gorgeous view of downtown and Cayuga lake and created a blank canvas for the creation of the shared patio. The patio includes landscaping and pathways to the doors of both houses, offering residents and guests a beautiful place to gather. We have begun to furnish the space, and hope to install a more permanent fire pit!
The First Hurdle: Red Tape
The first hurdle in the process of acquiring and renovating 111 The Knoll was securing the requisite approvals. Because it only made sense for us to purchase the property if we could enlarge it, the purchase contract was contingent on these approvals. The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Committee (ILPC), charged with maintaining the historic character of the neighborhood, loved our design and approved it unanimously.
But because there is a bias against converting family housing to student housing, the project still required a variance. In the words of one person we met with at City Hall, a recent ordinance was passed precisely to “prevent people from doing what you are trying to do.” We knocked on doors in the neighborhood to explain what we were doing and fortunately found nothing but support.
So it all came down to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) meeting on June 6th, 2017. Our architect was clear with us that we should not get our hopes up, and in fact it was clear from the beginning that the proposal did not have unanimous support. And with only four members of the board present, we could only afford to lose one vote! To the entertainment of the large crowd present, many of whom were waiting for their turn on the agenda, the debate went on for almost an hour. To contribute to the drama, the first vote was opposed. By God’s grace, the other three votes were in favor of the project, and the variance was secured.
Pictured above is a very old hitching post that we discovered early in the process and have preserved. Previously obscured by overgrowth, it is now one of the first things that visitors to the Knoll see upon arrival.