The Collegetown Construction Boom

12 07 2014

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Building off of some of the work I’ve done with Jeff Stein over at the Ithaca Voice, this will be done in the form of an explainer.

1. What do you mean by “construction boom”?

Housing proposals have increased in the city of Ithaca in the past couple years, and in no place is it more apparent than Collegetown. The recent proposal for 327 Eddy Street brings the total of proposed developments to five – 327 Eddy, 205 Dryden Road (Dryden South), 307 College Avenue (Collegetown Crossing), 140 College Avenue (the John Snaith House addition), and 202 Eddy Street (a reconstruction of a house that burned down). As proposed, the projects would add 86 units and 223 bedrooms to Collegetown proper, a level of development not seen since before the October 2007 development moratorium.

2. Moratorium? What’s that, and why did Ithaca vote for one?

In its basic definition, a moratorium is a temporary ban on an activity. In Ithaca’s case, a moratorium on all new construction was voted into place by the Common Council for what was traditionally defined as the Collegetown neighborhood. Construction already approved could go forward, but no projects in the neighborhood could be reviewed and approved until the moratorium was lifted. The moratorium was originally for 12 months, then extended to 18 months, finally lifting in April 2009. One might have expected construction to take off at that point, but it didn’t, for the same reason the moratorium was put into place – design and implementation of a new zoning plan for Collegetown, sometimes called the Collegetown Vision, and later, the Collegetown Urban Plan and Conceptual Design Guidelines.

3. It took them seven years to update the Collegetown zoning?

Well, if you count from the time the initiative was announced, it was actually eight years. Initially came a public meeting period from 2006 to 2007 to design an implementation strategy (you could joke they had a meeting on how to set up meetings). Then they selected Goody Clancy, a Boston-based urban planning firm, to design the guidelines based off city and market needs, and public input. When the plan came out in late 2008, a number of local officials and public members were unhappy because they felt it made Collegetown too dense, so they counteracted and endorsed a plan in August 2009 that reduced the proposed zoning, placed emphasis on annual payments in lieu of parking, and instated community incentives to allow for taller structures. For instance, at the corner of College and Dryden, the Goody Clancy plan called for 90′, and the revised plan called for 60′, with 75′ if special incentives were met, like hotel rooms or community space. If you’re really interested, you can view a 239-page PDF that shows the two plans here.

At this point, many of the major property owners in Collegetown were incensed by the complicated zoning plan and balked at having to pay for parking that many of their tenants wouldn’t use. The landowners ran to their lawyers, and faced with an insurmountable legal challenge, the city was unable to affirm their endorsement. For $250,000 in fees and costs, there was nothing changed from when the vision statement was written, because no one could come up with a compromise.

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4. Then why are we seeing a building boom if there was no zoning change? Or did the city actually come up with a plan?

In fact they did. One of the biggest changes to the plan over the past few years was the exploration and adoption of form-based zoning. Traditional zoning focuses on use – residential, industrial, and so forth. Form-based zoning focuses on the design of the structure – how tall it can be, should it have street-level retail, porches, window size, setbacks, and so forth.  There have been many meetings to work out the details, but eventually, a form-based plan was developed. I’m not going to bore you with the zoning details, but if you’re interested, I did a write-up here, and you can find a copy of the new zoning plan here. Perhaps the key detail to developers was that for the most densely zoned parcels, parking would no longer be required. In an area of extremely high land values like Collegetown, that makes all the difference.

5. So you’re telling me this came down to parking?

That was a big part of it, yes. Also, because the zoning’s been in flux for so long, a lot of developers who wanted to build were holding off because they weren’t sure if they would end up spending money designing and planning something that would be prohibited by a change in zoning. Once the new zoning was adopted this past March, it created an attractive, stable structure for those inner Collegetown parcels, and developers have responded in earnest.

6. Whoa, hang on. I’ve seen that huge Collegetown Terrace project going up on East State Street. Why aren’t you counting that?

Because it falls just outside what’s considered to be Collegetown, and was never affected by any of the zoning debate. Not to say that the project wasn’t controversial, but that’s another story.

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Making Room(s) at Collegetown Terrace

21 02 2014

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Here’s an interesting concept coming out of Collegetown Terrace: A proposal to exchange some of the interior parking for more housing. This info comes courtesy of the city of Ithaca, which will have to grant a zoning variance in order to let such a change proceed.

The last phase of Collegetown Terrace (phase III)  is slated to begin later this year, with construction complete by summer 2015. Phase III is supposed to focus on the construction on the last building, #7 (formally known as 120 Valentine Place), a long, curving building very similar to  the currently underway #5. The whole complex as-is provides 1177 bedrooms and 699 parking spaces (5 more than legally required). However, the developer (Novarr-Mackesey) has noted that only about 50% of tenants utilize parking, which means about 100 will go unused (guest parking tends to only make up a very small % of lot use). They have put forth a rather unusual proposal where the second floor of parking for building 7 would instead be 80 units of dorm-style housing: all tenants get their own bed and bath, but share kitchens and community spaces. After reconfiguring some two-bedrooms to three-bedrooms, the net gain of units is 69 (from 178 to 247 in Bldg. 7).  The current buildings, #5 (112 Valentine, 167 units) and #6 (113 Valentine, 71 units) would be unchanged. Zoning calls for 703 parking spaces in the new setup, the develop wants to put in only 652, which they claim it would still result in 50 underused spaces. So here we are. I know even the regulated 9 additional spaces for 80 more units seems a little unbalanced, but the unit reconfiguration and the small square footage of those “dorms” allow it to be so. Changes to the exterior are expected to be minimal.

At a glance, this is a nifty idea – the dorm units are expected to rent for about 50-67% the cost of a typical studio or one-bedroom in the complex (which looks to be around $1000, so $500-$670 for these). Since Collegetown Terrace mostly appeals to wealthier echelons, this sort-of mixed-income aspect is appealing, and it gives a different group of landlords increased competition for tenants; also, it makes for a denser parcel, and does a favor to those seeking to buoy business in Collegetown, and avoid more home-to-rental conversions. However, I doubt the neighbors will be amused (some are not fans of having so many college students gathered in one complex), and the parking discussion (which so far is based only off “experience”) will be reviewed with a figurative magnifying glass. I feel like this project could be a major test-bed of the city’s evolving views on parking requirements.





Collegetown Terrace Progress Photos, 12/2013

6 01 2014

I always carry a second set of charged batteries on me when I do these little photo tours, because the last thing I want is to have my day cut prematurely short, or pay out the nose for a new pack of AAs (I rotate through two sets of rechargeables, for the record). It doesn’t help me much when I leave the extra set on the passenger’s seat of my car, which is parked way up on Pearl Street. I was cold and soaked to the bone by the time I finally finished getting all the shots I wanted. Here, there are not only construction photos, but also shots from some less familiar angles of the project.

It still astounds me when I think of the numbers associated with this project. Seven buildings over 12 acres. The net increase in bedrooms is 589 (1,226 total, in at least 610 units). The construction cost exceeds $70 million. Using the Danter study (which assumes a 98-99% occupancy rate), that would mean 580 more residents in this area (although given the intended market, it’s mostly re-appropriation of tenants from other parts of the county). That’s more than the population of nearby Freeville. Certainly, the project has been fraught with contentious debate since it was first proposed. As development goes, it’s the proverbial 800-pound gorilla.

Buildings 5 and 6 are well-underway, heading towards a completion/occupancy date of August 2014; building 7, which is very similar to building 5 but further south (i.e. deeper into) on the property, will be constructed in the 2014-2015 timeframe.

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Building 5 and the elevated walkway.

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Building 6, complete with winter-friendly plastic wrap.

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The rear addition of the George C. Williams House.

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The “Mithcell Plaza“, which incorporates elements from the locally-relevant Delano House that was demolished to make way for the project.

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Vinyl-tastic. I thought these were supposed to be metal panels…?

 

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No one mind me, I just needed a place to briefly dry off.





Collegetown Terrace Update 7/2013

27 07 2013

Taking a page out of Ithaca Builds’ format – breaking these up to reduce wordpress photo drag. I had exactly 90 minutes to try and hit as much of Ithaca as possible before getting back on the road; I didn’t see everything I wanted, but I hit a lot, and I’ll be sharing those photos over the next few days.

Phase 2 for Collegetown Terrace is nearing completion (units will have their first tenants next month), and phase 3 is underway with a targeted completion date of August 2014. Phase 2 consists of buildings 3.1, 3.2, 3.3, and 3.4. Phase 3 will have buildings 5, 6 and 7, and these buildings will be similar in appearance to phase 2.

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The large glassy entry pavilion (where the fitness center will be, if I remember right) is largely complete, Any work left at this stage would likely be cosmetic details such as finishes.

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Since I’m not the biggest fan of modern architecture, I was a little nervous about the facade treatment when it was first proposed. The metal tiles don’t look half bad, as the landscaping grows in they’ll blend into the environment more nicely.

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The George C. Williams house has been sympathetically renovated, although the addition to the back is rather incongruous.

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Building 3.4 is quite massive, although the north facade attempts to make the structure seem a little less mammoth. The south side, deeper into the gorge, makes less of an effort. Building 5 can be under construction in the above image.

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This guy totally struggled to turn into the street. On that note, I struggled just trying to cross the street. I will be quite relieved when the reworked intersection of State and Mitchell is in place.

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The buildings from Phase 1 are growing out their landscaping and appear to be faring all this construction rather well.

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Not quite sure what the red-and-white checkered flag means, it could be a warning symbol or a company symbol, like the topping pine tree seen with some construction projects.

 

 

 





Collegetown Construction Photos, Spring 2013

9 04 2013

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The last time I rolled through around Thanksgiving, the Vine Street Cottages projects had two homes complete and a third underway. 4.5 months later, and the third home is complete, but the project has shown no further development. 3 homes of 29 is not a particularly auspicious sign, especially when all of the for sale signs nearby had no “sold” stickers slapped on. They’re nice homes, but it’s not easy justifying paying $300k+ when older homes of similar design are going for 100k less five minutes away.

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I still cannot get over how massive the Collegetown Terrace project is. It just dominates the terminating views along the State Street corridor. The work underway at the moment is for Phase II, set to be complete this summer. Phase III will not be as visible, as those buildings will be built closer to the gorge. One thing I did realize in taking photos was that it was extremely difficult to cross East State Street, a sentiment shared by a couple of residents who were cursing loudly while trying to cross the busy road. Thankfully, improvements to the road will be made to make it more pedestrian-friendly, including reworking the traffic lanes/island and adding crosswalks. The entire project will be complete in Summer 2014.

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Which by that time, I would not be surprised to see Novarr-Mackesey initiate plans for the former Palms property and its neighbors, all of which are owned by the development company.

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107 Cook looks to be complete.

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Maybe someday? Hopefully.

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604 East Buffalo Street. Not long ago, it was home to the Crossroads Life Center, a Christian Fellowship organization. Crossroads sold the property in December 2012, anticipating a move to a newly-constructed property that appears to be in substantial need of donations in order to actually happen. Meanwhile, WVBR bought the building for its new studio, moving out of its current digs near East Hill Plaza. In the same vein, the station is in the middle of a capital campaign to renovate the structure for their needs, to the tune of $935,000. The naming rights have been bought in full by left-wing gadfly Keith Olbermann’ 79, whose donation was partly in honor of deceased classmate Glenn Corneliess.  Hence, Olbermann-Corneliess Studios. the station expects to move in by the end of fall 2013.

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Apparently, Pontiac 1000s still exist in the Northeast. Growing up in a family with multiple mechanics, I knew as a child that owning this car, or more commonly its Chevette sibling, pretty much meant you gave up on life. Bravo to the person who’s kept one going this long, well after repairs would be worth more than the car itself.





Beating a Photo Limit

30 11 2012

So apparently, wordpress limits the number of images included in a post now; swell.

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This wooded plot of land at Thurston and Highland is slated to become another apartment complex, this one housing 36 units.

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First covered in one of my very first entries, and then again when Warren Real estate earned the (in my opinion, unenviable) task of selling it. A former Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity house, the building was more recently home to Phi Delt’s annex and Theta Xi’s failed colony. The structure has been renovated and appears to be a large apartment house at this point. Not too shabby.

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Collegetown Terrace. Perhaps the biggest visual change from the street was the stripping down of the historic Williams House, which is being renovated to its original dimensions and revitalized as part of the project. Further in, the foundation and parking garage facilities are being laid for the larger, more adventurous apartment buildings of Phase II. This section will be completed by next August, with phase III, with more shiny and overly modern apartments, completed  the following year.





End-of-Summer Construction Update, Part I

22 08 2012

I had the fortune this past weekend of being near Ithaca to attend a wedding. Deciding to kill two birds with one stone, I figured it was also a good opportunity to take photos of Ithaca’s ongoing construction. So I made the drive over and tackled as much as I could in three hours, all the while avoiding students, as if my aging is a contagious disease (mentally, this involved my brain screaming “Don’t look at me! I’m old! I was once like you, now I do quaint 20-something-year-old person things!”). Awkwardness aside, I was fairly successful in my photo tour.

The Belle Sherman Cottages project continues its prep work on the east side of on the edge of the city. The model house is complete and the roads have been laid. Despite the rather high prices, a casual inspection shows that at least two of the lots have been sold. In keeping with the theme of traditional streets, the street has been named “Walnut Street”, which is an interesting choice, since walnut trees can only grow in the moderated climate of the lake shore in these parts (same goes for peaches).

Phase II of the Coal Yard Apartments is complete. This phase brings to market 25 units, and ~40 beds.

Josh Lower’s Project (Collegetown Crossing) is tied up in red tape as it seeks a very generous parking variance. Meanwhile, the current building sits underutilized, and somewhat barren. Rather disturbingly, this was a trend around much of Collegetown, with many old storefronts, such as Mama T’s and CTP, having closed their doors. It gave the entire area a derelict, ghetto quality. Not to mention some of the houses and their treatment, which I’ll cover in a future entry.

The townhouses at 107 Cook have had their framework completed. As you might recall, 107 Cook was the site of a deadly house fire in May of 2011.

On a brighter note, 309 Eddy is complete. The building replaces a 3-story apartment house, and has 24 units with 41 beds. The building is tall enough to make an impact on the Collegetown skyline as seen from other parts of the city.

…and this image is a clue that Ithaca and the electrical authorities that be should consider burying the power lines under the street. Seriously.

The massive Collegetown Terrace project by Novarr-Mackesey. In Phase I, which was just completed, eight buildings were built (seven on East State, one on N. Quarry). This amounts to about 1/5th of the projects intended 1250 or so bedrooms. Parking is generally under the building on concrete stilts, which is bad in earthquake regions, but I suppose it works for seismically-inactive Ithaca. Some of the current buildings, such as the Delano House and the Valentine Apartments, are still standing and rented, waiting to be torn down in a later phase (III, I imagine). The Williams House is not yet renovated, serving as the site office while building continues. By my guess, building “3” from the development plans is Phase II, and is one of the long wavy buildings, specifically the one that sits closest to East State. Phase II is underway for a completion next summer, with phase III (the final phase) being completed in the summer of 2014. I suspect at that time, we’ll be hearing significant news about whatever N-M has proposed for all the properties they bought on the Palms block of Dryden Avenue – I expect something substantial, a la Collegetown Plaza.

Redevelopment of this mostly derelict and empty block would be a blessing at this point.

So, trying to break up my update into manageable chunks here (since the tech format here isn’t keen on photo-laden posts), I’ll post the rest of Ithaca and Cornell’s Campus later in the week.








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