College Towns As Retirement Communities

5 04 2014

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Growing up in upstate New York, retiring and moving to south Florida was considered a rite of passage. You worked for forty years, you retired with your company or government pension, you moved to a gated condo community in Florida, and then you complained about how much worse everything is these days and how terrible drivers are in Florida for the rest of your days.

I imagine that still tends to be a big draw (considering the New York to Florida population pipeline is the largest in interstate migration), but an increasingly-popular alternative in recent years has been to retire to college towns, enough that mainstream publications like USA Today and the New York Times have devoted articles to the topic.  it’s usually ascribed to some combination of a modest cost of living with expansive cultural and recreational amenities. Without having any numbers directly in front of me, I imagine Ithaca in a sort of second-tier in this category, if only because of the climate, which is a little cooler and snowier than the most popular college town retirement destinations. Still, I’ve been thinking about this topic a little bit because a number of the projects in the Ithaca area are targeted towards the retirement crowd. The individual trigger for this article was a Lansing Star article discussing review of a ~$17 million, 110-unit senior apartment building proposed for the forever-discussed Lansing Town Center development. The more I think about it, the more I realized a number of local projects, both recently built and proposed, are explicitly geared towards the 55+ age group:
- Hawk’s Nest at Springwood (50 units)

-Cayuga Meadows (62 units)

-Longview Patio Homes (22 units)

-Conifer Village at Ithaca (72 units)

-The Kendal at Ithaca expansion (24 apartments and 13 “skilled care” units)

-The Old Tompkins County library site (likely)

Some of the news stories focus on collegiate affinity (i.e. living near the old alma mater) and offerings at the universities as a draw for retirees. To that end, Cornell offers summer courses for seniors and the local community college allows residents over 60 to audit courses (I don’t see anything described for IC). Those offerings along with the open lectures and Ithaca’s fairly active community engagement seem to provide some draw for those in their later years. I find college students and retirees an odd mix (even if they live in different neighborhoods for the most part), but if it works, I have nothing against it.





2013 Census Estimates: Say Hi to the New Neighbors

30 03 2014

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Every late March, the U.S. census releases their new population estimates for counties. So, I causally checked in to see how the Tompkins County numbers were doing. The county typically shows a modest addition of a few hundred each year – from 2010 to 2012, the estimated addition was 990 residents, from 101,564 to 102,554, which if carried out evenly, it would be an expected 4.9% increase for the decade (and roughly on par with the 5.2% in the 2000s).

I was a little taken aback when I saw the numbers for this year. For one thing, somewhere along the way, they revised 2012′s number up to 102,713. For another thing, this year’s number is a relative spike in the trajectory – 103,617.  In addition of 904 from the revised 2012 figure, and 1,063 from the original 2012 estimate. So, the change from 2012 to 2013 is about as much or more than the gain of the previous two years. Using the 2013 figure and extrapolating the three years’ estimates out to the end of the decade, the county would be projected to grow 6.74% to about 108,400 residents in the year 2020.

In many states, this would not seem an overly impressive figure. But it is worth noting that this is economically-depressed upstate New York. Last year, the only counties that were growing faster than Tompkins (as a percentage) were Jefferson County (Watertown, with the economic engine of Fort Drum) and Saratoga County (Saratoga Springs, with the massive Global Foundries computer chip plant in suburban Malta).  With the 2013 figures, Tompkins County moves into the second-place slot, behind Jefferson County (I note that the population estimates gave Jefferson a population decrease this year; the army base up there is expected to see a loss of 1500 to 2000 soldiers as it loses a brigade over the next few years, as part of army cutbacks). I’m also leaving out downstate counties/boroughs – Kings County/Brooklyn Borough is projected to have added 88,000 people for 3.5% growth since 2010. Almost all of Tompkins’s population, in three years. New York City gains ever-more reason to view it and its boroughs as the center of the world. On the other end of the scale, Schoharie (sko-hair-ee) County has the biggest estimated percent loss, at -2.8%. Schoharie is a rural county just west of Albany; it suffered a major hit from Hurricane Irene.

Echoing my comments from last year, estimates should be used with caution, as they don’t always reflect the true population. From the housing units perspective, using the number of 2.29 residents per unit estimated for 2008-2012, one gets justification for about 395 more units of housing for the past year, or about 897 units since 2010. I’m cautious about using these number as much more than curiosities, but they’re intriguing, and seem to bode well for the health of this county. Even when the jobs numbers aren’t.

 





Two Sides to an Argument

18 03 2014

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I generally try to stay on the sidelines when it comes to promoting or opposing for Ithaca projects. I’m not about to get involved in favor of the West Falls Street proposal, the Stone Quarry proposal, or Cayuga Meadows, or any other local project that neighboring residents want shot down. NIMBYism (NIMBY is short for “not in my backyard” , a reference to when people accept a community has a need for a project but they oppose it in their neighborhood) is ever-present, just about every project in the city and town has had some degree of opposition (the only exception I can think of offhand is the convention center/hotel planned for downtown). My own opposition arises when I feel a proposal threatens something of historic value. Regardless, the planning board is good at staying neutral. I may not always agree with the planning board, but I generally respect their judgement.

I’m going to make an exception to my non-partisan stance for 1 Ridgewood, thanks to Walter Hang.

As much as it bothers me to do it, to explain my issues, it is best if I provide a link to the petition and its partially-labelled map of square footages.  A large chunk of those appear to be people who have little or no connection to Ithaca. Token disclaimer: I’m not for or against his fracking work, my concern is focused squarely on this project. In an attempt to keep this project from being railroaded, I decided to examine the petition’s arguments.

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Here’s the area Mr. Hang wants his moratorium, Cornell Heights, split between the city and Cayuga Heights. For the record, the dark grey represents Cornell-affiliated properties, mostly GLOs and a few Co-Ops in the CHHD. Looking at the city section specifically:
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The red X is the Ridgewood apartment parcel, for three buildings between 5578, 5710 and 6662 square feet, with mostly below-grade parking. One of my issues is that some of Mr. Hang’s assertions are misleading. For example:

Due to recent development, the Historic District is clearly transitioning from its original turn-of-the-20th century “residential park” to a densely developed area that bears little resemblance to the community that warranted special historic district protection approximately 25 years ago.”

It’s hardly changed. There have been two three projects built since 1989. A single-family home at 116 Dearborn Place that was built in 2005, the Tudor house of the Bridges Cornell nursing home was built in 2005, and the new apartments currently going up on Thurston. If you want to push the envelope, Alpha Zeta (214 Thurston) replaced half of its original structure in 1992-1993 when it was renovated. A couple buildings (Kappa Delta, and 111 Heights Court) have received renovations, which were approved by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC).

 

Approval is being sought for an apartment complex proposed for 1 Ridgewood Road. Three buildings would be built on the largest undeveloped property in Cornell Heights, a spectacular forested setting enjoyed by hundreds of local residents who walk along and through it each day.

The proposed buildings would dwarf nearby structures. Figure One illustrates that the buildings would be 300% larger than the adjoining structure on Highland Avenue and at least 200% larger than all the immediately surrounding structures.

Out of a total of more than 200 structures in the Cornell Heights Historic District, only six are bigger than all three proposed buildings. Those six were built before the Historic District designation.

What’s not being told about that “spectacular forested property” is the abandoned swimming pool or dilapidated poolhouse. Also, as seen in at Mr. Hang’s map, the project is shifted to the west (left side) of the parcel, where many its nearby neighbors tend to be larger, ranging from 3000-8600 square feet (Westbourne to the north is a contiguous complex with 10,800 sq ft of space). To call this “dwarfing” is to take it out of its full context.

It concerns me that a petition with emotionally-charged language, gathering signatures from people that are not stakeholders in the Ithaca community, is being pushed by someone who has a history of aggressive tactics. It bothers me that an underutilized parcel with great public transit access in a highly populated area is going to have its zoning changed after the developer has been sensitive to planning board concerns and returned with a proposal within current regulations, which sets a terrible precedent for the community and opens up the possibility of legal action against the city. Lastly, in a period where Cornell continues its enrollment growth, I’m worried that if projects like this will be prohibited, it will only encourage more rental conversations of existing housing, more subpar housing situations, higher rents and increased sprawl.





ATO and Campus Living Are Awkward Partners

13 03 2014

When this blog started, I think Alpha Tau Omega (henceforth ATO) was the first renovation in progress that I had ever taken note of, in mid-summer 2008. Here was a before pic, which dates from July 3rd, 2008.

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Here’s an after pic, which dates from August 15th, 2008.
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The house had had structural issues that were fixed before this blog started, and the external renovations were finishing up when the first photo was taken. I assume the repaint was all that was left to do.

ATO was one of two fraternities that closed in the summer of 2013, the other being Zeta Beta Tau (ZBT). In both cases, the closing was called for by their nationals, who were displeased with the quality and conduct of their Cornell chapters. This article notes that ATO’s alumni group hoped to rent the house to graduate students while they wait for the chapter’s return (generally, that means that all the once-current members have graduated). ZBT is targeting a return in 2014/2015. The process isn’t new, Kappa Sigma did the same thing from 2010 to 2012. I’ll even go as far as to suggest that someday, another couple years from now, Sigma Alpha Epsilon will make a return to Cornell, though Hillcrest is being used as a dorm in the meanwhile (I dunno if they’ll ever be back in 122 McGraw, which is owned by Cornell; I tried checking Kappa Sig’s house for reference, and couldn’t find anything. But I do see that they liked my photo so much it’s on the front page of their website, guy standing on the roof and all).

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Anyway, reading the Cornell is leasing the house for the upcoming year is no big surprise. In fact, it brings back memories of my friends in 112 Edgemoor. Edgemoor was a fraternity house until 1985, when Triangle closed. Being purchased by Cornell some time earlier, it became a small dorm. The fact that most of my meteo friends even ended up in Edgemoor is kinda my fault. A bunch of my meteorology classmates wanted to go in together on a suite on West Campus. When I found out I would have to be on a Cornell meal plan, I balked; I wanted to be on my fraternity’s meal plan for dinners and manage my own (cheaper) lunches. When I caused that suite plan to fall through, a lot of them went into Edgemoor, and a couple others gravitated towards that group and moved in as well. I think meteorologists and their friends made up about half of Edgemoor’s residents, and there were about 21 at the time. I spent more time there than my own dorm (and Cascadilla and Edgemoor were close to each other at least). It was a nice house, but from my own observation, almost everyone else in Edgemoor saw it as just a place to sleep.  For the student in the article that hopes for more intimate social connections, I would set the expectations low but hope for the best. For the record, I don’t have high opinions of ATO either. Some years back, ATO thought it was a good idea to take my freshman roommate to Kuma Charmers as a rush activity. He came back with bruises on his legs from what he described as the worst lap dance ever. My roommate ended up joining a different house. Furthermore, I went there once to meet him after one of their events, and the inside of the house was in shambles, with a giant pile of wood furniture tossed helter-skelter in a corner, and broken glass everywhere. So someone describing the house as a health hazard is no surprise either.

I think that unless people already have connections to their housemates, that the intimacy of non-specialized small group housing is overrated; upperclassmen have generally built their social networks and have their coteries. I don’t imagine Cornell’s thrilled to have to clean house, nor ATO to have it occupied by someone that’s not an active membership. But this is better than an empty house, the cleanup is appreciated, and I suppose that at least a couple dozen fewer people won’t have to do the manic search for off-campus housing.





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. The  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.





A Revised, Resized Plan For Ridgewood

13 02 2014

Things are getting a little complex with the development planned at 1 Ridgewood, a Cornell Heights parcel squished between Ridgewood and Highland Avenues. First, the revised plans for the smaller project. While the original plan had 64 units in one large building, this proposal has shrunk it down to 45 in three buildings. Notably, even with the size change, the overall design is not all too different, materials and massing look to be the same as before. One floor has been removed, giving three floors over an underground parking garage (a small surface lot would also be built on the property).

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The focus is now more on the western side of the property facing Ridgewood, with less attention given to the Highland Avenue side of the property in this updated plan. Since the tendency with student-focused projects is to count the bedrooms, the 45 units contain 114 bedrooms for occupancy.

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One of the complicating factors in this project is the zoning change proposed for the property. Currently, it’s R-U, which is less restrictive than the R-3aa they are proposing to rezone the parcel to. At its best, it’s an attempt to mitigate increasing developer interest in the historic district; at its worst, its a heavy-handed attempt to stunt development. For the record, this and the Thurston Avenue Apartments project seem to be (have been?) the only two underutilized parcels in the affected area. The revised 1 Ridgewood project PDF goes out of its way to note that this project just barely meets the R-3aa requirements, so even with the zoning change, no variance would be required. This is important, because some neighbors are fiercely opposed to any development of the parcel whatsoever. They would be able to shut the project down much easier if it were seeking a variance, but since it doesn’t, it gets a lot harder. We’ll see what happens as this makes it through the bureaucratic rounds.

EDIT: Ha ha, silly me to think they might let this one go. The Common Council is voting on additional restrictions to the R-3aa zone that would effectively kill this project. The proposed language adds a special amendment for historic districts such as Cornell Heights that says that any new building can’t have a footprint more than 120% of the average footprint of the historic structures on a block. Cornell Heights historic structures are mostly mansions in the 1,500-2,000 sq ft footprint range, which these exceed. This amendment seems to be explicitly targeted to keep this project from happening.





News Tidbits 2/10/14: A Big Project Scouts Out South Hill

10 02 2014

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Well, I suppose if there’s demand, and a lack of easily developable to the north, west and east, suburban developers would have targeted South Hill for big projects sooner or later. Fresh from the press comes news of a proposed 216-unit development for the town of Ithaca, on two lots  just east of Troy Road, a little north from its intersection with King Road. The PDF of the plan is here, in the town agenda.

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The proposed project is virtually all residential, divided up into 26 single-family lots, 80-120 apartments, 60 garden homes, 30 patio homes, and a 5,000 sq ft clubhouse with your lease office and a few office spaces for rent. To me, it has the airs of a cut-and-paste suburban development. For the record, a garden home is a cute way of saying townhome,  and patio homes are (in this case) one-story duplexes. The architecture theme is “rural agricultural” style: the apartment buildings will look similar to barns, and the patio homes will resemble small farmhouses. The target markets are empty nesters, and twenty-and thirty somethings (grad students and young professionals).

As easy as it to poo-poo this, there is a worse alternative – that which is currently okay under the zoning, which is 70 to 90 lots of low-density residential sprawl. This project, if it gets to proceed as a Planned Development Zone (PDZ) a la Ecovillage, would only disturb about 22 of the 67 acres the two lots comprise.  The project is being developed by Rural Housing Preservation Associates, which looks to be an awkward corporate offspring of a few development companies in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, and has enlisted the help of local companies STREAM Collaborative, Whitham Planning & Design, and Hunt EAS. Honestly, the armchair architecture critic in me is okay with those choices.

Something like this will have a multi-year buildout, and there’s been considerable development on South Hill in the past several years. But not anything on this scale. It’ll be interesting to watch this project evolve as it moves through the bureaucratic process.

 

 





The New Gannett Student Health Center

31 01 2014

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Copy of the proposal, including description, renderings, and all the other bells and whistles here. Note that this isn’t a total teardown and replacement, but an addition onto the previous building. Perhaps the biggest change is the addition of a large, curved structure on what is current Gannett’s parking lot. The feeder road to Willard Straight will stay in place, going under the new addition, and the ambulance bays will also be located here.

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Note how it says Levels 1 and 2. The elevation changes allow for a partial below-grade section under the main level that connects with Ho Plaza’s walkway. Above the road will be three levels of offices and exam rooms, with a mechanical penthouse on top of the new structure. So 4/5 floors, depending on your viewpoint.

Although it looks like some of the original structure will be preserved, it gets a major facadectomy. Larger windows and and a more “contemporary” entrance will be built on the Ho Plaza side. About the only similarity to the current structure is the use of Llenroc stone for the outline.

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The current entrance gets replaced with a two-story addition (shown on the right), and the 70s addition also gets a revised facade (but remains mostly intact).

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Probably my biggest complaint is the subtle multi-hued glass panels. It looks cheesy. My armchair critic says to stick with one panel color, ideally the a neutral grey/smoke tone. Other than that, it’s standard Cornell fare for the 2010s – a hypermodern glassy box, with the use of stone to try and harmonize it with the surrounding plaza and structures. The architect of record is local architecture/alumni-filled firm Chiang O’Brien.

As previously noted, the addition will add about 38,000 sq ft to Gannett, for a total of 96,000 sq ft. The projected cost is $55 million, and the target completion date is October 2017.

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The Cornell Sesquicentennial Commemorative Grove

18 01 2014

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When Cornell celebrated its centennial in 1965, there was a week-long series of lectures, many congratulatory letters, and in proof that some things never change, plenty of solicitations to alumni to donate to the $73.2 million donation campaign (the commemorative Sun issue shows a different angle of the same 1960s era campus plan on page 20 that I featured on the blog a few years ago). Offhand, I’m not aware of anything was built in the name of the anniversary, but I guess for its 150th, Cornell has decided to give itself something for the occasion.

The project is a landscaped area, with the working name being the overly long “Cornell Sesquicentennial Commemorative Grove”. Taking full advantage of symbolism, the grove is strategically cited directly west and downslope of the statues of Ezra Cornell and A.D. White on the Arts Quad.

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The project itself, which as been briefed previously over at Ithaca Builds,  consists of stone benches inscribed with quotes by famous Cornellians, pavers will with a timeline of significant events in Cornell history, and a sort of mood lighting by rigging fixtures into the trees. The overall size of the installation is about 1,700 sq ft. The architects of this plan are campus favorites Weiss/Manfredi, the same people doing the Co-Location building at the Tech Campus, and the renovations and additions to the vet school. I imagine Cornell would like this project done in time for Alumni Weekend 2015, which would also mark my first true Cornell reunion (5-year).

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A full rundown is available here, but it reads like one long advertisement for the university. On the bright side, at least the university’s landscaped spaces then to look more visually pleasing than its constructions.  I have hogh hopes for this one, it could be a nice place to spend a June evening.





News Tidbits 1/11/2014: Unhappy Faces on Roosevelt Island

11 01 2014
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Image Property of Cornell University

Full disclaimer: I’ve never been a fan of the tech campus. I’ve also never been a fan of Morphosis/Thom Mayne’s work.

New York is a different creature when it comes to approvals. This isn’t Ithaca, where many folks feel that Cornell’s large presence makes the local community behooved to approve whatever the university wants to build. Here, people tend to be a lot more vocal, and perhaps a lot more negative. Folks in New York are especially wary of Thom Mayne because of his involvement with the 41 Cooper Square project, a building that has been seen as one of the underlying causes of the financial crisis experienced by local college Cooper Union, which has led to an end of their famous “free tuition” policy.

Last month, Cornell revealed the first phase of the tech campus, which Curbed NY has covered in extensive detail. The first phase has three components; 1) a 150,000 sq ft, 4-story building designed by Thom Mayne (the building lower left; the roof is covered with solar panels, or what Thom Mayne calls a “lily pad”) 2) A six-story, 200,000 sq ft “Colocation Building”, which is designed for corporate and school interaction. This is the building to the right, and is designed by another Cornell favorite, Weiss/Manfredi Architects, and 3) The residential building, represented by the tall featureless box. A design has not been finalized, but is being handled by developer Hudson Companies, in conjunction with Handel Architects. This build will house about 350 units, with larger units for faculty. Construction for the residential tower is proposed for a 2015 start. The campus is wrapped in green space by architect James Corner, who designed a campus without walls and to invite the public to check the school out, and all of this using an Skidmore, Owings and Merrill master plan.

Community groups are difficult to please, however. Although the net zero energy aspect was pleasing, complaints were raised about the large loss of trees, a lack of equipment for the hearing-impaired in the new academic building, and a lack of cohesiveness as the result of so many starchitects trying to compete with each other for attention. Regardless of the complaints, construction is supposed to be underway starting this month. New York and Bloomberg have previously stipulated that the first building must be open by 2017, or Cornell will face major penalties.

On the bright side, Cornell’s getting crap tons of money thrown at its New York investments. Following Chuck Fenney ’56′s $350 million donation to the tech campus, former Qualcomm Chairman Irwin Jacobs ’56 gave a $133 million donation last April, and total donations to the tech campus exceed $500 million. Weill Cornell has not been left out by all this tech campus attention; they were the recent recipients of a $75 million donation for cancer research, courtesy of former CEO of Grey Global Group Edward Mayer ’48 and his family.

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Image Property of Cornell University








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