News Tidbits 10/25/14: It Seems Expensive Because It Is

25 10 2014

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1. I always appreciate it when people respond to my emails. On a whim, I emailed the realtor in charge of the Belle Sherman Cottages to see which ones were underway with sales, and what the time frame was. She forwarded the request to the developer, Toby Millman of Agora Homes and Development LLC, who wrote back to say that as of the 17th, the front-loading garages on lots 25-29 (render above) were being marketed, and three of the five have been sold. They are planning for an April 2015 completion for those five, with the modules being set into place next year (some site prep work may occur this fall). The five townhomes with the back-loading garages are not being marketed just yet. Who knows, with most of the homes being sold and several under construction, the entire project could be complete by the end of 2015.

2. Oh geez. An Irish-themed Hooters is coming to Ithaca. According to the Post-Standard, Tilted Kilt, a “Celtic-themed sports pub”, is looking at a restaurant for Ithaca. The Syracuse location due to open next month will be 7,000 sq ft, I expect an Ithaca location would be similarly-sized. The chain already has a location in Watertown, and has plans for a Utica restaurant as well. Basically, any city over 30,000 roughly within an hour’s radius of Syracuse. Here’s the chain’s website, featuring a woman preparing to make out with a hamburger. I’m sure the fratty frat boys at Cornell are getting excited. Placing bets on whether they go for Lansing or southwest Ithaca.

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3. Per the IJ, The developers of the Carey Building expansion are asking for a tax abatement from the city via the CIITAP application. A primer on CIITAP applications can be found here at the Ithaca Voice; a number of projects in the city’s “density district” have used them in recent years as a way to offset high development costs in downtown and West End. Recently, Jason Fane made news for pursuing a tax abatement via CIITAP for his project on East Clinton Street. The standard abatement is 7 years, with 90% of the increased value being offset in the first year. In this case,the building was assessed in 2014 at $475,000. The new construction will cost $4.7 million according to the IJ, but it says $1.6 million in the city’s site plan application; that gives us assessed values in year one of $945,000 if the IJ is right, or $635,000 if the SPR is still accurate. The abatement tapers off through the latter six years. As with Fane, I suspect Travis Hyde Companies is pursuing an abatement simply because they can, they meet the qualifications so carpe diem. The wide difference in the IJ and SPR numbers could be an indication of rapidly rising project costs. Regardless of reasoning, this definitely isn’t going to do the developers any favors when it comes to community relations.

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4. Maybe the Novarr interview in the Voice will have run by the time this runs; maybe it won’t. Just in case, straight from the developer himself, Phase III/Building 7, with its 247 units, is planned for a late 2015 construction start, with completion in the summer of 2017. It’s a long construction period; it’s also a very big building.

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5. From the Cornell Daily Sun, it’s expected that rents at Collegetown Crossing will be around $1,000, per month, per tenant. Students in Cornell’s Student Assembly aren’t exactly pleased, since that number far exceeds even what most Cornellians can afford (but don’t worry; with student population growth far outstripping supply, there’s enough demand for student rentals, even in the luxury segment, that this place will fill up to capacity as soon as it opens). Welcome to Ithaca’s severely under-supplied rental market; open your wallets wide, boys and girls.

It just occurred to me that since I wrote the enrollment column last year with 2012 numbers, I glanced at the 2014 numbers on the University Factbook. Now it’s 21,850, an increase of 426 students in 2 years, and in pace with the 2002-2012 period. 234 of that 426, 55%, were grad and professional students.

There are a number of factors for why it’s so expensive – land values in Collegetown are high, construction labor is expensive because Ithaca is off the beaten path, taxes are high, and the new Collegetown zoning doesn’t allow Lower to build out the rear portion as he initially intended, forcing him to keep the building’s rear flank at 4 floors instead of 6 (the zoning is also what allows him to build in the first place, since it removed the parking requirement).

Let me be clear. Unless something is done to reduce demand or increase supply, this will become the norm, and Cornell students of modest means will be placed in an increasingly precarious situation with the cost of housing. Just like the rest of Ithaca.

6. To wrap things up, here’s looking into the agenda of next week’s Planning Board meeting (and what will probably comprise my mid-week posts). Purity, The Canopy by Hilton, Chain Works, 114 Catherine, and the 15,700 sq ft retail building on the Wegmans pad site. Only the Wegmans parcel is up for final approval.

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114 Catherine comes to the board with one major change – the front entrance was moved from the corner to the middle of the front facade. Still 17 bedrooms in 3 units.

As for new projects coming up for sketch plan, we technically have three. As much as I was looking forward to it, Ithaca Gun is not one of them, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed for next month.

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The first is 402 S. Cayuga Street. Eagle-eyed readers will recognize this as INHS’s 4-unit townhome project.

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The second is Cornell – Upson Hall renovations. Cornell stuff is easy enough to find, they publish veritable novels about projects once they’re cleared by the Board of Trustees. Upson renovations sound like they’re mostly internal work with a facade update. I’m more interested in the proposed biomedical building they have yet to roll out designs for. The Upson renovation is supposed to cost $63 million, so maybe there are additions involved; the new biomedical building, $55 million. The firms involved look to be LTL Architects, Perkins+Will, and Thornton-Tomasetti. In other words, modern glass and steel box, looking for LEED Gold. No renders yet, but I’ll post ‘em when I see ‘em.

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The last of the trio is yet another Collegetown project – 302-306 College Avenue, an address which consists of the three architectural stunners above. I’ve been patiently waiting for a proposal here (though to be honest, I’m kinda partial to 302, second from the left). John Schroeder from the Planning Board has wanted a proposal here for years. They sit in an MU-2 zone – 6 floors, 80′, no parking required. All three are owned by the Avramis family, Collegetown’s third-largest property owners. More interestingly, rumor has it that the buildings they own contingent to 302 College on Catherine Street, which are CR-4 zoning (no parking, 4 floors), are involved as well. So this could be a fairly substantial project. My money is on Sharma Arch being involved, since they are Avramis Real Estate’s usual architect-of-choice. I figured that the M&T Bank on the 400 block would get torn down first, but this is no big surprise, the Avramises have been fairly active in redeveloping their properties.





Riots in Collegetown

14 10 2014
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Photo courtesy of the Cornell Daily Sun

Entry number five in the Collegetown history series.

***

There’s a lot to dislike about Collegetown. The litter, the students, the traffic, the students, the noise, the students. For as much value as it is to the city’s coffers, I’m willing to wager that a survey of 20 random Ithaca residents on the worst neighborhood in the city would turn up a near tie between Collegetown and specific sections of crime-plagued West Hill. To some, Collegetown could hardly be a worse place.

But it can; take for instance, student rioting.

Rioting could fall into two fairly broad categories – violent social commentary, or drunken idiocy. Syracuse can provide an example of the latter. Collegetown’s riot may be a little alcohol-infused (particularly the second one discussed here), but mostly they were the result of social unrest.

Today’s clock is rolling back to May 1972. That spring had been a long semester at Cornell. Carpenter Hall had been taken over a few weeks earlier, with students demanding that Cornell Aeronautical Lab stop government research (much of their research focused on defense and military concerns), that trustees with a hand in Gulf Oil force the company out of Portugal’s African colonies, and that the ROTC be permanently disbanded. The administration, then under President Dale Corson, said it was “prepared to talk and listen but not negotiate“. The protestors refused to budge, but stormed out to Day Hall when an injunction was about to be served.

May 11 started just like any other anti-war rally, with 200-300 students protesting in front of Day Hall at around 10 PM. But when they decided to march to Collegetown, things spiraled out of control. Several students went to the First National Bank on the corner of College and Dryden (the corner where the failed Green Cafe is now), smashed the windows, and tried to set the bank on fire with homemade torches. IPD responded to the rioters with tear gas. Eight protesters were arrested and two policemen sustained injuries, one of which was a broken leg. The rioters, dressed in Halloween masks and being in a destructive sort of mood, retreated to campus, where they smashed the windows of the Campus Store and Day Hall, to the tune of “Day Hall must fall” chants. They marched on to Barton because of its ROTC affiliation, smashing several more windows while Cornell police watched in their riot gear, but did not intervene. By 1:15 AM, the rioters called it a night and dispersed. The damage to Collegetown was estimated to be thousands of dollars, which would be in the tens of thousands when adjusted to 2014 values.

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Photo courtesy of the Cornell Daily Sun

Corson and his administration were none too amused, and vowed to prevent any recurrence with the help of the IPD. That vow would be tested two days later, at a student block party on College Avenue near its intersection with Catherine Street. The party had hundreds of attendees and had been well-publicized, but it lacked the necessary permits from the city (yes, even in the idyllic days of yore, there was red tape). Mayor Ed Conley, remembering the riots two days earlier, was not going to let it slide. The police were out by 6 PM and started to arrest students for minor infractions such as noise violations. The proverbial stick was poking the hornet’s nest, and Cornell’s provost tried to step in on the university’s behalf and offer up party space on campus. But students declined, and unrest began to boil over by 9:30 PM. The officers turned to tear gas to keep the street clear, which fomented the students and encouraged them to act out. Bottles, rocks and obscenities began to fly. Soon the battlefield had migrated up College Avenue, where IPD threw tear gas into buildings in an effort to gas out what they thought were unruly students taking refuge, but ending up gassing innocent bystanders as well. One store-owner accused the police of starting a fire with a canister thrown into his deli. The rioting continued to 2 AM, and resulted in 29 arrests, including 13 Cornell students. Accusations were thrown around about who started it and who did what damage, and a report some time afterward laid blame on the students, the IPD, the mayor and Cornell (so essentially, everyone was at fault). In retrospect, the May 13th episode was regarded as a giant mistake. The May 11th incident was still a flash point months afterward, a drug-infused example of organized crime per the district attorney and a witchhunt per the students.

Not to condone the drunken throngs losing their dinner on the sidewalk, but I suppose I’d rather put up with that than burning buildings and riot gear.





News Tidbits 10/10: Waiting For That Fall Slowdown

10 10 2014

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1. Well, this should be fun and exciting. 707 East Seneca, a vacated parcel that was put up for sale by the city, already has a potential development proposed. A sketch plan is due to head to the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council this month. It’s a small piece of real estate in a historic district, neither of those details beckons development opportunities. The property was offered for sale at $175k, which is $75k above assessed value, and is zoned to allow up to 4 housing units.

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2. Some additional documentation about 114 Catherine. Cover letter here, Site plan Review drawings here, and Site Plan Review forms and documentation here. Apparently they were reusing the Dryden South SPR and forgot to update the numbers; Sharma has so many projects going they can’t keep in track. About the only difference from the old renders to these new ones is the addition of narrow windows into the brick face of the front facade, and some cute cut-and-paste vegetation. According to the docs, the new 3-unit, 17-bedroom building will cost about $500,000 to build, and has a timeline of January 2015 to July 2015 (for August move-in, presumably). This is a key detail – developer Nick Lambrou wants his project done before projects like Collegetown Crossing, 327 Eddy and others start major work; bigger demand for construction workers will drive the labor costs up, so he’s trying to get his project completed before that happens. Look at it as an appetizer before the main course arrives.

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3. Next up, a few more details on Ithaca Beer Company, courtesy of its TCIDA application. Apparently, the construction on this project is supposed to start very soon – mid-November, for a May 2015 completion. A PDZ is very encompassing, and as close to carte blanche as town zoning gets. There’s not much the town needs to sign off on. And although winter construction is difficult, the foundation can be poured during the winter, given proper precautions. The cost of construction and new equipment will be approximately $7.2 million. The total cost of tax abatement requests (property, sales and mortgage) is about $350,000, most of that being in property tax. The addition is expected to create 22 new jobs (IBC currently employs 42), of which 18 look to be living wage. IBC has received tax incentives in the past and met or exceeded its obligations; I don’t see this application causing much fuss.

4. Normally, I don’t pay a whole lot of attention to Board of Public Works minutes; while important, public works aren’t exactly glamorous. But one thing caught my eye in the 9/22 minutes. It’s related to the Brindley Street bridge replacement, a one-lane bridge on a street you’d forget about if you weren’t explicitly looking for it. This line was included in the discussion of bridge options:

“Ben Weitzman has some very large plans for his parcel which is a very under
developed piece of property”

I think this is the Ben Weitsman of 132 Cherry Street? A branch of the Upstate Shredding metal scrapping company? I’m not sure if the plans are industrial or something else, there have been rumors of residential projects being considered in this area. It’s something to keep an eye on in the coming months.

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5. From the Cornell Daily Sun, looks like Cornell “Sesquicentennial Commemorative Grove” is complete. That was surprisingly quick. The formal dedication will be the Friday before Cornell’s Homecoming.

 

 





News Tidbits 9/29/14: Thinking Inside the Box

29 09 2014

This is a little later than usual. I didn’t want to post anything before now was because I was hoping the Ithaca Gun sketch plan would be posted to the city website by Friday. It still has not, meaning that it either wasn’t discussed at the Planning Board meeting, or someone in city hall is taking their time with the uploads. My plan to write that up and get that out Friday while in Dulles airport was a no-go, and only now have I had the time to execute Plan B. So here we are.

1. Down in big box land, Wegman’s is planning yet another big box, with maybe a couple more to follow. The site plan dates from 1999, When Wegmans received approvals for three outparcels (satellite little boxes to their big box) with a total of ~36,000 sq ft of retail space. Wegmans wants to move forward on that plan, but change up the individual parcels (the completed total would still be 36,000 sq ft). The first phase is for a one-story, 15,700 sq ft building with 88 parking spaces, to be built on a section ot the current parking lot. Cover letter to the city here, Full Envrionmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here, Site Plan Review (SPR) application here, SPR renderings here, and color rendering here. The first building is planned for construction from April to October 2015, with an estimated $4,000,000 cost. Fake second floor? You got it. Cutesy little awnings and brackets to suggest Main Street USA imagery? You get that too.

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There’s a pretty good chance that, as Jason at IB covered this past spring, this is a new Wegmans-owned wine and liquor store, which they have at several of their NYS locations (for those unfamiliar with state law, grocery stores can’t sell wine or liquor, unless it’s a wholly separate part of a building with its own entrance, or it’s in another building completely).

2. Collegetown Crossing is finally, finally approved. Familiar readers will recall that this project has been held up for years due to its need for a parking variance under the old zoning plan. The new plan did away with the parking requirement, but since the building straddles two parcels with different form guidelines, part of the rear portion was reduced. With approvals in hand, developer Josh Lower can focus on getting financing and construction loans (being in Collegetown with its captive and lucrative rental market, that probably won’t be a big hurdle). Over time, the retail spaces on the first floor have been consolidated to three, a 3,200 sq ft small grocery store (a planned Greenstar branch) and two smaller spaces. 46 apartments with 96 bedrooms will fill out the second to sixth floors. The tentative opening of the store, and first occupancy for those apartments, is summer 2016 (July/August). 2015/2016 will see a lot of steel going up in Collegetown, with 327 Eddy and 205 Dryden on similar timeframes. To my pleasant surprise, a number of residents spoke in favor of the project, citing the appeal of a small grocery store in walking distance.

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3. One project moves forward, another bites the dust – NRP is calling off its Cayuga Trails development over on West Hill. Although the 58-unit project was opposed by neighbors due to concerns about traffic and for being lower-income housing, the reason the project is being called off has nothing to do with either of those. When the full environmental review was conducted, the wetlands on site are much larger than anyone anticipated, and developing wetlands is an extremely complicated and expensive process – they usually have to be replaced in order to get permission to build. Most developers, affordable or otherwise, will not touch wetlands because of the permissions process and high costs (this recently was an issue in Lansing because an undeveloped site being marketed for office space was found to be wetlands). So the project is halting and it is unlikely anything will be built on the site. Unfortunately, this also results in the county trying to rid itself of a parcel they don’t want and can’t be developed – not a great situation for their budget, but alas, not much they can do.

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4. Another setback, this one economic – Sears is closing its location up at the mall, putting 37 people out of work, including 13 long-term full timers. When it closes in December, 55,000 sq ft of big box space will hit the market. For those taking this as a sign that the economy is doomed, it’s not. Sears and its sister brand KMart have been dropping like flies all over the country, with several dozen closing in the past year. In Albany, the Sears store shrank by 50%, giving up space to expensive supermarket Whole Foods.

While Ithaca’s market is too small to be on Whole Foods’s radar, I’m not worried about the future of the space. 55,000 sq ft is middle-of-the-road for the big boxes, and like with the Ithaca Kmart that closed in 2011 and was replaced with Hobby Lobby, this has significant redevelopment potential. I’m no fan of suburban malls, but I like empty storefronts even less.

5. Here, let me stress that again – there are many issues in Ithaca’s market, but a weak economy is not one of them. At the moment. A 1.7% increase in jobs year-over-year is pretty good. I’m not happy that the gains were completely in education and healthcare, but since these are summer numbers, these are more likely to be full-time staff positions, rather than seasonal positions which are typically service-oriented (and lower-paying).

 





Another Project for Collegetown: 114 Catherine Street

24 09 2014

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Yet another project slated for Collegetown and its construction boom. In this case, it’s 114 Catherine Street. I discussed the background of the parcel in my last post, but I’ll do a one-sentence rehash – it’s a 10-bedroom apartment building in a CR-4 zone where parking isn’t required.

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Now we have a design. Renders and sketch plan details here. Perhaps somewhat surprising, the new building doesn’t tear down the whole apartment building and take advantage of the full lot. the new 3-story, 4,180 sq ft, 17-bedroom addition will be placed in the front of the current building, replacing the street-abutting parking lot (hooray for that). There is one 5-bedroom unit on the first floor and a 6-bedroom unit on the second floor and the third floor. The design is by the prolific Collegetown firm Sharma Architecture. If they wanted to, they could probably add another floor, but in terms of length and width, this is pretty much it once you account for required lot setbacks and maximum permitted lot coverage.

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Is the design going to win awards? Probably not. It’s not bad, though, and it’s certainly better than a parking lot. Since CR-4 doesn’t require parking, this parcel will lose 6 spaces of the current 14, and have only 8 spaces on the property. The old zoning would’ve required 18 parking spaces. Extra spaces would be available for rent in the parking lot northwest of the new building, on an adjacent parcel also owned by developer Lambrou Real Estate.

 





News Tidbits 9/20/14: Ithaca’s A Habitation Destination

20 09 2014

1. Expanding on the Ithaca Times piece on increased tax revenue from construction in the city, the IJ has come out with its own piece. Here are your spark notes:
I. Of the 6.16% increase in the tax base (an extra $1.2 million in revenue), 53% is due to commercial property construction.

II. “Only” 59.2% of property is tax-exempt now. Of which 83.5% of that 59.2% is Cornell and its holdings.

III. Building permits are lagging forecast revenue a little ($631k vs. $700k expected), but some larger projects are only getting their permits now, so it will probably balance itself out.

2. One more set of revisions for 323 Taughannock, pdf here. The differences compared to the previous revision are minor; the projecting “tower” on the southeast side has seen its windows tweaked, and the roof layout has been modified as well. This should be the last revision, since the project is up for final approval this month. The 20-unit residential waterfront project is set to begin in January, with a six-month build-out and $3.5 million price tag.

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3. According to the IURA (Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency) meeting minutes, the city is very much interested in selling off a parcel it owns on Inlet Island, once it buys out the DEC’s property. Currently, 410-426 Taughannock Boulevard is used as a municipal parking lot. The 1.29 acre parcel was acquired for $1 by the city in May 2003. The parcel is assessed for over $300k, and that’s not including an adjacent parcel also used for parking (416 Taughannock). This is a large waterfront zoned (WF-1) piece of land, where the zoning is for one or more buildings with of 3-5 stories and nearly unrestricted lot coverage. For a developer, that means that there’s a lot of possibilities here. This would hit the market in early 2016 at the earliest, after 323 Taughannock has been built. But if 323 is successful, then I think this parcel will be highly desirable and any development on its land could potentially be quite large. Along with the DOT site up by the Farmer’s Market, Ithaca could have quite the developed waterfront at the end of the decade.

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4. Since approval in late summer of 2013, all has been quiet on the wooded and hilly site of 130 East Clinton. Frankly, given that it’s a Jason Fane project and he doesn’t usually dawdle (having significant resources allows him to secure construction loans with relative ease), I was surprised, and in private, this was a topic of debate. Well, now we know. He’s seeking tax abatements for his 36-unit market-rate project through the city’s CIITAP incentive program. As previously briefed on the Voice, CIITAP is a program that allows an abatement on a portion of property taxes for up to 7 years. The parcel needs to be in a targeted urban area, 3 stories, and receive at least $500,000 in developer investment (130 East Clinton’s projected cost is $4.5 million). The city’s meeting is the 18th, and if the city endorses the project, then chances are good the county IDA will grant the abatements.

Fane’s probably the least-liked developer in town due to his colorful local history (this would also explain why I had hits to the blog the other day with the search phrase “fane like mr. potter”), but there’s no compelling reason to deny his CIITAP application. He meets the program requirements, and for Fane, this is all about the money and taking advantage of an opportunity. Presumably, if the tax breaks are approved, we could see this one begin excavation and site prep before year’s end.

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5. Another revision – this one the “Hampton Boutique Hotel” formerly known as the Hampton Inn downtown. A large number of major changes here – a floor has been added (bringing it to 123 rooms, 74,200 sq ft, 7 stories and 92 feet from ground to the mechanical penthouse roof), the external materials and the window layouts have been altered substantially, and of course, it’s no longer being proposed an a Hampton Inn (for comparison’s sake, the previous design is here). About the only thing that’s the same is the footprint. Part of these changes are likely the result of the Carey Building addition planned next door – the blank wall shown below faces the Carey’s rear side.

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6. A lot more info about the Chain Works District proposal. For one, it will be in four phases. The first phase will consist of the redevelopment of 4 buildings on site – 21, 24, 33 and 34, which combined will create 343,510 sq ft of space, of which 18,520 sq ft will be new. Phase one is planned as office/mixed-use (21/24) and manufacturing space (33/34). New roads and parking lots will also be developed. Phase 2 will be renovations and selected demolition of the rest of the complex, and 3 and 4 will be brand new buildings on the factory’s 95-acre land. There’s no rush, phase 4 won’t be completed until about 2030. Note that the first image below is a hypothetical setup – none of those later phase site plans are set in stone.

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7. Next week is going to be a fun week for this blog. Why, you ask? Well we’re going to have two new projects at the Planning Board meeting that will be presenting their sketch plans -

The first is 114 Catherine Street in Collegetown. Currently, 114 Catherine, also known as the “Mission Apartments”, is a 5-unit apartment building last renovated in 1985, assessed at about $590k, and owned by Lambrou Real Estate. 114 Catherine is in a CR-4 zone per the new form guidelines, which allows for a 2-4 floor all-residential building with no off-street parking required. At about 0.27 acres, 114 Catherine is fairly large as Collegetown lots go (much of the current site is used for parking), and given the Lambrous’s multiple building Collegetown Park development that abuts the property to the north, whatever gets proposed here is a likely continuation of that complex. Expect another Sharma Architecture design, as Jagat et al. have been the Lambrous’ go-to architects for the past couple decades.

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The second is…”Gun Hill Housing Project”…be still my beating heart. I’m cautiously optimistic that Travis Hyde Properties might finally, finally have achieved enough environmental rehabilitation of the once-toxic factory site that construction is now feasible. Fingers crossed, because this has been a huge pockmark on the city since the factory closed in 1986 (and demolished in 2008), has been in development hell for years, and redevelopment would really be a feather in the community’s cap. The last I heard, it would be about 45-50 units of non-student oriented condos, and most likely a HOLT Architects design (HOLT being a popular choice for Travis Hyde). I’m sure local environmental activist Walter Hang will be going over the project details with a fine-toothed comb, but like I said, fingers crossed.

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News Tidbits 9/6/14: What Makes A Neighborhood?

6 09 2014

1. A trio of notable articles from the IJ. The first one is about the 128 West Falls Street development (previously discussed here), and the negotiations done with neighbors in order to make the project acceptable to the neighborhood. The developer (Heritage Builders) and the neighbors worked together for a compromise. Some of the neighbors are still upset about their being any development at all (in which case, I must ask why does one live in an inner city neighborhood with vacant land), but if most of them are on board, I’m glad they and the developer were able to address each other’s needs and concerns and come to a reasonable solution. There are still people willing to make compromises, thankfully.

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2. Article number two has already been foreshadowed by Ithaca Builds, namely that old Elmira Road is getting a more pedestrian-friendly makeover. Bike lanes, sidewalks (only on the north side due to budget cuts), curbing, all in an effort to make it more friendly to all street users, from walkers to bikers to drivers. And it’s only going to take three days? Color me surprised.

At least one building on Elmira Road will be getting a makeover soon – a renovation prepared by local firm STREAM Collaborative will turn the old BOCES Building at 214 Elmira Road into the the Finger Lakes ReUse Center’s new headquarters.

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Image Property of STREAM Collaborative

3. Piece number three is that, surprise surprise, Ithaca has a higher cost of living then most other upstate cities. Most upstate cities are a little below the national average (4-12% less). Ithaca is nearly 6% above. Ithaca has the highest cost of living outside of the the New York City and downstate metros. If anyone feels uncomfortable using numbers from a conservative think tank, here’s their government source. Personally, I always just go with Sperling’s. Taking a closer look at those numbers gives a big clue why Ithaca is more expensive – the housing cost is over 31% above the national average. Every other parameter is virtually average. except that one.

I’ll give an example: Syracuse and Ithaca are only about 50 miles apart. On a scale with 100 equaling the national average, Syracuse has a score of 88.9, Ithaca 113.4. Quite a difference. Food, utilities and transportation are cheaper in Ithaca. But housing is astoundingly different – Ithaca’s 131.2 to Syracuse’s 45.4, which is what causes the disparity. Granted, I know that for many, living in the Syracuse area is undesirable (and I say this as someone originally from the Syracuse metro). Ithaca is in demand, ergo, prices for homes and apartments go up. But as middle-income families feel the pinch, spiraling housing costs pose a serious concern to the region’s economic well-being.

4. Now for a piece from the Cornell Daily Sun, an informative piece they did about the recently-approved 205 Dryden (Dryden South) project by Pat Kraft. No shocking revelations, but the interview with Kraft is a nice asset. I do take some umbrage with his complaint that the Collegetown form zoning makes it feels like he’s not developing anything, and he’s being told what he can build. There are reasons for that. Certain landowners have a blemished track record, and this is better than years of bickering with city agencies because of someone’s artistic license, or more likely, profit maximizing through value engineering.

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5. Stone Quarry is getting really nasty, really fast. INHS has retained the services of Philips Lytle out of Buffalo (the same law firm that handled the indefinitely-postponed 7 Ridgewood project). Meanwhile, neighbors are demanding that the HUD funds for the subsidized project are withheld, on the grounds of environmental issues, not having enough time for community notice and comment, and that the project is “incompatible” with the neighborhood. They’re considering a legal challenge to stop the project, which was approved during August’s PDC meeting. There’s a ton of documentation that’s been uploaded in recent days – a 1,189 page environmental assessment report for the site, public notices, and so on, and so on. The city has also released point-by-point rebuttals to the filed complaints, and formally requested that HUD release the approved funds. If I had a workday where I just had to write rebuttals all day long, I might be hitting the bottle when I go home. IJ news summary of it all here, Voice summary of the events of the PDC meeting, including angry neighbors and the mayor’s outspoken support for the project here.

I’m going to call out one statement, this being from a group called the SRNA (Spencer Road Neighborhood Association) – they describe the neighborhood as being full of affordable housing, and run off some examples. The first is an 18-unit townhome project at 324 Spencer Road, called the Belmont Apartments. I’m familiar with this development because they advertise their townhomes as “NEW” on Craigslist, even though they were built in 1995. Rents there run from $1100-$1250, which is about equal to, or a little above the area mean. It’s middle-income, market-rate housing. Affordable in context is the cute word agencies substitute in for low-income housing, so using it to describe a market-rate, middle-income project seems misleading.

The second is the primary reason why I’m writing this whole thing – discussions of a 14-15 townhome development at 661-665 Spencer Road by local low-income services group TCAction (that address also happens to be their headquarters). I checked the minutes they cited and I can’t find any record of that. It could have been said and just not recorded in the minutes, but that seems like an odd thing to leave out. The three duplexes at 634, 636 and 638 Spencer check out, and they were built in 2008/2009.

Like many projects lately, tempers will be flaring, so for those of us without a dog in this fight, we might as well break out the popcorn and watch this boxing match play out from our ringside seats.

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6. Here we have the projects memo for proposals to be discussed at September’s Planning and Development Board meeting on the 23rd. No curveballs here; the project memo only reviews projects that have already been seen and have had initial comments (sketch plan), so everything here has come up at least once before. 128 West Falls Street will be looking for PDB declaration of lead agency (the board’s agreement to conduct formal design and environmental review) and recommendation to go to the BZA for zoning variance. The Hampton Inn downtown is looking to obtain PDB declaration of lead agency, as is the Chain Works District on South Hill. The Chain Works is probably the vaguest proposal they’ve had to review, because it’s over 15 years and the developers have only a couple ideas fleshed out on the Emerson site’s redevelopment. It also makes a few voters wary because once the environmental review is complete and the developer’s T1, T4 and T5 zones are approved, the developers have an enormous degree of freedom to develop the site as they see fit because it’s a PUD, a Planned Unit Development. They’re also using the town’s equivalent, called PDZ, for the portion of the 95-acre site in Ithaca town. For more about these details, Jason at Ithaca Builds offers a great summary here.

307 College and 323 Taughannock are up for final approval, and 327 Eddy for preliminary approval. There’s also a couple of minor zoning changes up for review.

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7. Here’s your morbid amusement for the week – the Lansing school district might have difficulty installing its new septic system because it could be disturbing a previously-unknown Native American burial ground. I think we have a plot point for the next Stephen King novel.








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