From the Ithaca City Planning Board:
Site Plan Review, Townhouse Apartments, 107 Cook St., Jason Demarest, Applicant for Owner, Dan Liguori. The applicant is proposing to construct two 2‐story townhouses with partially finished basement levels, four parking spaces, and asphalt‐paved access drive, walkways, and landscaping. The buildings are each 2,304 SF with 6,128 SF finished floor area, and contain two 3‐bedroom dwelling units, for a total of 4 new units with 12 new bedrooms. Proposed exterior finishes include brick, fiber cement board, cedar shakes, and stained wood lattice detailing. The project is in the R‐2b Zoning district. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance and the State Environmental Quality Review Act (because the site is contiguous to a historic district) and is subject to environmental review.
If the address looks familiar, it should. The ca. 1912 house that stood on the property was engulfed in flames in May of last year, killing a Cornell student. One of the factors that was believed to have weighed in on the fire (which was accidental) was a confusing internal configuration due to subdivision of the original property from single-family into multiple tenants (there were eight units total, housing 13 students).
The first proposal for new development on the property was rejected for a couple of reasons – for not having a porch, and for having a mansard roof that wasn’t much of a mansard roof. The planning board has been fairly adamant that any new property on the street fits in with the current set of buildings. Well, that and fire safety. Old single-family houses that are subdivided are usually grandfathered from the sprinkler requirement as long as the alterations are strictly internal. The new building would have to have a sprinkler system in order to be approved as a multi-tenant building.
So here we are on proposal two; townhouses, two units in each, 12 bedrooms, so two bedrooms less than the previous proposal and one less than the original building. Based off of description alone, with cedar shake and wood lattice detailing, it sounds like this structure is more in-line with the current style of buildings on Cook Street. I for one will be curious to see how it looks.
Arguably, from a purely financial standpoint, it would be a blunder to not redevelop the property – several new units close to Cornell would fetch a higher going price than neighboring houses, just for being newer and safer. Also, paying taxes on land as highly valued as Inner Collegetown’s probably dissuades the owner from sitting on the property. If one were planning on holding onto the parcel for the long-term, this could be a potentially lucrative setup for the small-scale owner/developer.
Taking a grander view, I wonder if projects like this could be a demonstration of what may lie ahead for some smaller Collegetown properties. As large new developments open up (CTown Terrace, the Palms proposal, etc.), and assuming a static student population, the rates for older unrenovated buildings will go down and the owner’s revenue will take a hit. This will be further compounded on poorly-maintained properties; owners who suddenly have a building declared unfit by the city, and have to make costly repairs or rebuild (while being excoriated by local residents and officials). Ii is possible that over the next decade or so, more projects that seek to build smaller but student-specific properties will be proposed in the area. Quality of design and materials, of course, is up to the owner and requires the city’s approval. In summary, I see the redevelopment of 107 Cook as an illustration of what may lie ahead for Collegetown.