The Collegetown Boom Continues: The Plans for 302-306 College Avenue

30 10 2014

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I touched on this one in last week’s news updates, but now I have some images to go along with it. Plans brought forth by Avramis Real Estate and designed by Collegetown favorite Sharma Architecture show not one but two buildings, one 6 stories and one 4 stories. The sketch plan can be found here. The buildings are split up according to zoning – one occupies the 6-story MU-2 zone, the other the 4-story CR-4 zone. Neither requires parking, although a small amount is provided between the two structures.

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The buildings on the MU-2 portion consist of three older homes originally built around 1900-1920, and periodically updated to reflect a changing Collegetown, such as the bump-out in front of 306 College that houses Collegetown Liquor. Not exactly devoid of charm, but the alterations have been enough to compromise their historic value. These house 36 bedrooms.

The CR-4 portion has 4 homes, all late 1800s to early 1900s, and house 32 bedrooms. Once again, not without their charms, but pretty run down.

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The MU-2 building, called “304 College Avenue”, will house 64 apartments with 117 bedrooms. The CR-4 building will house 38 apartments with 85 bedrooms. So the site will see a net gain of 134 bedrooms (202-68).

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304 College almost doesn’t look like a Sharma to me.  The mosaic tiling is a feature that makes it stand out, although I personally am not the biggest fan. It’s boxy and bulky, but not offensive.

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Not much to say about the Catherine Street building, the design still has yet to be fully rendered. But it looks pretty standard for Jagat Sharma’s work, the Fontana Apartments or 211 Linden come to mind.





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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Belle Sherman Cottages Update, 9/2014

9 09 2014

Agora Development‘s Belle Sherman Cottages project continues to build out. Some observant readers might have caught the piece from Buffalo development blog Buffalo Rising, which featured the project as an example of smart infill development (Buffalo Rising is rather fond of Ithaca). Since the early August update from Jason at Ithaca Builds, lots 4 and 6 have been completed and lot 18, a craftsman bungalow, is substantially complete. Meanwhile, work has begun at lot 3, a craftsman farmhouse. Given the previous rate of progress, I expect 18 will be complete by the end of the month, and lot 3 by early November. I don’t think it would be remiss to think another home will start before winter sets in. Of the 19 lots for single-family homes, only two lots are left, lot 12 (another craftsman bungalow) and lot 9, a new design that has yet to be published.

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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.





News Tidbits 8/30/14: There Never Seems To Be Enough Housing

30 08 2014

1. In a glance at the economy, some good news: over in Lansing, a new research building is under construction, and expected to add jobs. the new “Northeast Dairy and Food Testing Center” is a 50-50 collaboration between local firm Dairy one Cooperative Inc., and Chestnut Labs of Springfield, Missouri. The new 17,000 sq ft building at 720 Warren Road is a $3.5 million investment and will add 11 jobs at the outset, 3 through Dairy One and 8 through Chestnut Labs. 4 more jobs would be added over the following two years if all goes to plan.

According to the TCIDA report, Chestnut opted for Ithaca as its first satellite office because of a desire to expand into the Northeast and its proximity to Cornell. Although construction was supposed to begin last fall, it looks like we can expect construction to be completed this spring. I have yet to see a rendering, but the design is supposed to be by Syracuse-based Dalpos Architects.

2. Revised renders for 327 Eddy. The 28-unit, 64-bedroom Collegetown project looks nearly the same, except for one crucial detail – the east courtyard and stairwell have been transposed (mirrored), with the east courtyard on the south face and the stairwell on the north face. A few more windows were placed in the west courtyard as well. This is a smart suggestion, whoever’s it was; the 100 Block of Dryden obscures the blank faces of the side wall and stairwell, making it less prominent. The side with more windows faces down the hill, and given the relatively historic building next door, the views are likely to be more protected, and it’s more aesthetically pleasing from most vantage points.

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3. As reported by the IJ last Wednesday, the much-anticipated Harold’s Square project will be getting another revision. The building was originally supposed to be one floor of retail, three floors of office space, and six floors of apartments, with a penthouse level consisting of conference, mechanical and exercise rooms. Now, the top two floors of office space will be apartments instead. Currently, the building has 46 apartments approved, and any changes will likely need to be approved by the planning board. The article also notes that high construction costs in the growing economy are forcing businesses to rethink their development strategies, although the exact same thing happened during the recession due to the tight bank loan market. There’s always a reason.

I really can’t say this change-up in use really surprises me. Ithaca’s office market is not that great. The biggest employers here are colleges (who house offices on or very near campus), research/labs (who need specialized spaces), and tourism (hotels). It’s extremely tough to build office space in the Ithaca market because there’s so little demand for it. Seneca Place downtown was able to be built in 2004-05 partially because they secured Cornell as a tenant. But I’ve heard through the rumor mill that Cornell doesn’t fully use their space post-recession, and the university keeps renting it out as flex space and as a gesture to the community. On the other hand, apartments go like hotcakes, since the residential supply is much less than demand, and the success of recent projects indicates apartments are a safe investment in downtown.

Here’s what I expect – the building will be a little shorter, since residential floors have lower floor-to-ceiling ratios than office spaces. The exterior will be revised, mostly the low-rise section facing the Commons. The massing may change up, but given that there were 46 apartments on six floors initially, at a minimum I think another 20 apartments to be proposed.

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4. The Stone Quarry Apartment project by INHS has been approved. It wasn’t a pretty process, but it’s been greenlighted for construction, which is expected to begin this fall with an intended completion in October 2015.

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5. On the topic of affordable housing, another protested project is coming up for review, the 58-unit Biggs parcel project near Cayuga Medical Center. The project needs an approved SEQR from the town of Ithaca before it can move forward; the sketch plan is to be discussed at the September 2nd meeting, there will be no vote at that time. The working name of the project has gone from Cayuga Ridge to Cayuga Trails; I’m just going to keep calling it the Biggs parcel. There’s only a tenuous little overlap between the opposed parties here and those against Stone Quarry, but if the Ithaca West list-serve is any indication, the argument against the project is one part logic, one part bluster. There have already been allegations thrown around from both sides with this project, which is co-sponsored by the rural equivalent of INHS, Better Housing of Tompkins County, in a partnership with project developer NRP Group of Cleveland. While this Jerry Springer-type showdown continues to unfold, here are some updated renders of the project, courtesy of RDL Architects of suburban Cleveland:

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Nothing to write home about, simple and colorful. But there’s a good chance these never leave the drawing board. If it does somehow get approved, construction will start in Spring 2015 and last 12-14 months.

6. In other West Hill developments, EcoVillage is building their 15-unit apartment building/common house in their third neighborhood, TREE. Article from the Ithaca Journal here, and photo gallery here. I only reach EcoVillage once in a blue moon because it’s so far out of the way from other developments; my last photos are from spring 2013. At that time, the first set of houses were going up for the 40-unit neighborhood. According to the EcoVillage website, the first TREE residents, with homes designed by Jerry Weisburd, moved in last December. When all is complete by next spring, EcoVillage will actually be a fairly sizable village, with virtually 100% occupancy and a population around 240. Unlike many West Hill developments, EcoVillage has had comparatively weak opposition from West Hill residents. Lest they change their mind, EcoVillage adds a neighborhood about once a decade, so they have probably have nothing to worry about until the 2020’s.

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