Progress in Collegetown?

9 03 2014

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Given the chance to look back at high-value projects over the past 30 years, one would find that, until the past several years, the list would be dominated by projects in Collegetown. Reasons abound- quoting developers, students “are looking for quality“, while increasing land values (comparable to downtown Los Angeles) have persuaded property owners to upgrade their stock and maximize their returns. The city has in general promoted Collegetown redevelopment since its slummier days, with relaxed policies in the 1980s and a couple of brief moratoriums allowing for reassessment (ex. the moratorium of 1999/2000, when the newly-built 312 College Avenue rubbed some locals the wrong way).

As of late, though, development in the Collegetown area has tapered down. There have been a couple projects over the past several years: 309 Eddy was completed in 2012, and 320 Dryden in 2008. If you want to stretch it, you can add 107 Cook, but that has less bedrooms than the building that burnt down. The big glaring omission here is Collegetown Terrace, but that is being built just outside of what is traditionally considered Collegetown.

A big factor in all of this has been the uncertainty in Collegetown’s zoning. Since about 2008, Collegetown’s zoning has been in flux. The city and Cornell paid about $200k for an urban planning company (Goody Clancy) to design a plan, which came out in 2009. TheĀ  project freaked out some residents and local politicians, who saw it as too dense and too much, period. Then the planning board went and took it in the opposite direction, proposing zoning that would force smaller buildings and reduced density. I made a b*tchy little rant when that happened. Since the old images can’t be blown up (I had an issue with that for a while back in 2009 or so), the numbers for the Goody Clancy plan can be seen better here on page 161. I’ve been unable to find another copy of the first revision, not that it specially matters since the plan was accepted, repealed in 2011 after a potential lawsuit from landowners, and has been revised seemingly a dozen times since, debating everything from the necessity of porches in certain zones, to the tremendous fight over maximum heights on the intersection of College and Dryden (90′ in the GC plan, 60′ for first revision, now 80′), to parking and encouraging townhouses. After much back and forth, something is now finally in place.

The final version is the Collegetown Area Form Districts guideline, the implemented form of the plan. The key thing with the is plan is the form-based zoning; traditional zoning focuses on regulating use and overarching parameters (lot size, density), form-based zoning scrutinizes design. Form-based zoning has been popular in new urbanism for encouraging walkable, mixed-use communities, an early example being Florida’s Seaside community.

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The plan has six zone types, each with its own tweak on the design guidelines. CR-1 to CR-4 are increasingly denser forms of “Collegetown Residential”, MU-1 and MU-2 are mixed use, with active street engagement through ground floor commercial or public uses.

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Compared to the Goody Clancy plan, the Dryden/College core isn’t as dense, but the floor count and maximum heights are even higher than suggested in some spots, for instance College at Bool Streets. But the primary focus of the plan is on the design of buildings. CR-1 and CR-2 will be large house forms with pitched roofs, CR-3 for 2-3 unit large homes/duplexes. CR-4 accommodates large houses, townhomes, and small-to-medium size apartment buildings. MU-1 welcomes medium-sized mixed use structures, while MU-2 is for the largest mixed-use buildings, up to 6 floors and 80 feet in height (think 403 College for example). Worth noting, most of Collegetown Crossing falls into MU-2, but the back end edges into a CR-4 Linden Avenue property also owned by developer Josh Lower. Since CR-4 is residential only, the difference would force him to make a redesign to reduce the building’s footprint, but at least parking will no longer be a concern. This December 2013 article says that required off-street parking was removed from CR-4 and the MUs, but I still see it listed in the guidelines as “required off-street parking” under accessory uses. Hopefully it’s just my paranoia; the IJ also said the parking reqs were also waived for the MUs when the plan was adopted.

The Sun, the IJ and other articles note the “strong support” for the plan. I can only hope, after six years and hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless meetings, that the city will have something to show for its efforts. Housing is only getting tighter in Collegetown, and developers are simply looking outside the core for their projects, so to have some guideline in place will hopefully spur some investment into Collegetown’s poorly-maintained and underutilized properties.

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9 responses

10 03 2014
Cornell PhD

About time. Too bad more of the collapsing housing stock likely won’t be replaced by nice new brick apartment buildings under this scheme, but at least it’s something.

Though what Collegetown needs most right now, IMO, is something done about its ridiculous commercial rents, which are causing storefronts to blank out across the neighborhood. Will more certainty about future construction guidelines induce more national chains to rent out expensive spaces? Will new construction drag down commercial rents in newer buildings? Or could some kind of neighborhood BID get involved like the Ithaca Downtown Alliance?

The ideal solution would be for Cornell to swoop in, buy up half of Collegetown’s property, and rent out storefronts at reasonable rates to establishments that’d be seen as attractive by the best faculty and students – a strategy Columbia, U Penn, and UChicago have pursued in their neighborhoods, with huge success. They could start by moving the Cornell Store to a new flagship space there and demolishing the hideous concrete mound it sits in today. Sadly, with Cornell financially strapped as it is, increasingly preoccupied by its NYC campus, and the university not perceiving itself as linked to its “urban” surroundings in the way those schools do, I doubt any of this will come to pass.

10 03 2014
B. C.

Regarding the housing stock, it’s a balance. I’m aware some of the permanent residents of outer Collegetown have been vehemently opposed to any further development whatsoever, and permanent residents have a lot more sway than transient students. Having this plan adopted is progress.

As for the commercial rents…I’ve ranted about that before, and there’s been some press dedicated to the topic (ex. http://cornellsun.com/blog/2013/10/29/many-reasons-for-dark-storefronts-in-collegetown-2/ ). There is very strong opposition to Cornell buying anything further in Collegetown, primarily from property owners (who stand to lose revenue if Cornell enters the market) and permanent Ithaca residents; some locals opposed Collegetown Terrace when it was being reviewed because they feared Cornell would buy it and take it off the tax rolls. There was a plan being examined to move the Cornell Store to either a new location near Weill Hall or to Collegetown, but it was shelved during the late 2000s recession.

10 03 2014
Ex-Ithacan

B.C., just wondering if you saw the article in the Sun about Jason Fane?

[url]http://cornellsun.com/blog/2014/03/10/businesses-allege-ithaca-renting-company-drives-tenants-away-through-horrible-leases/[/url]

11 03 2014
Ex-Ithacan

B.C., I was wondering if you saw the article in the Sun ref: Jason Fane?

11 03 2014
B. C.

I did, after I replied to Cornell PhD. Nothing in there surprised me. Fane is Fane. I enjoyed the infographics they included. I’ve heard different comments over the years about several of the “big players”, good and bad, but I avoid writing from gossip.

11 03 2014
Ex-Ithacan

I don’t have any first hand knowledge of Fane and I’m not a real estate expert, but during my time in shopping center management I did experience bad tenants and landlords. The landlords I found most successful tried to work with tenants who were having a tough go of it. Lending a helping hand or useful information seemed to be beneficial to both parties in the majority of cases. Obviously some will fail. But an empty space doesn’t profit anyone.

**shrug**

11 03 2014
B. C.

The thing is, Fane doesn’t care. He makes such a profit from his residential units that he can afford to leave commercial spaces empty. I dunno if it’s to present himself as unyielding or if he thinks the city will give him tax incentives to fill those spaces; maybe he’s banking on development of nearby parcels driving up demand. I like to imagine Fane and Mr. Potter from “It’s A Wonderful Life” going on golf outings together, sharing tips.

11 03 2014
Ex-Ithacan

LOL, sad, but that image in my mind is funny.

22 05 2014
Suddenly There’s A Lot of News At Once | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] next door, but I don’t see anything on their website either. Regardless, this falls in a Collegetown MU-2 zone, 4-6 stories, and 45-80′ in height. Whatever is proposed here is going to be pretty big, […]

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