That Time Someone Wanted a 10-Story Building on Stewart Avenue

30 07 2014

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In keeping with the history theme that is another facet of this blog, here’s a historical construction project to go with all the Collegetown news in the past week. After all, one giant proposal deserves another, 50 years its senior.

I owe reader “Ex-Ithacan” for suggesting this one, as he remembered the proposal when he was a kid, and inquired about it on the website Skyscraperpage.com. Although his source was the Ithaca Journal, I had a hunch the Cornell Sun would have also run a feature about such a large project, so I checked the Sun archives.

Oh hey, I was right. An article about the project, from February 16, 1965, can be found here, sandwiching some extraordinarily sexist advertisements. First, let’s try and put ourselves in the 1965 timeframe. Cornell was rapidly expanding, Collegetown was even more of a ghetto than it is now (let’s not forget old Ctown’s heroin sales and murder), and the big theme for cities was Urban Renewal, where cities desperately tore down their inner cores in an effort to draw in suburban-style development that might bring people back into the cities (retrospectively, this was by and large a failure). Anyone looking back at this time as idyllic in Ithaca is blowing smoke.

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The site in question is 403-415 Stewart Avenue. The site was home to a luxurious house belonging to Zeta Psi until WWII; after they moved out, it burnt down a few years later, and the site was reclaimed as it is now – a parking lot used by Cornell.

The parking lot was to be developed by a private group called “State and Aurora Corporation” into a 10-story building housing 70 luxury apartments. The intended clientele were Cornell faculty, Cornell retirees, and deep-pocketed locals. The building would have had a construction cost of $1 million (about $7.57 million today). Even at this time, zoning of the site allowed only 4 floors, so it needed a variance. Cornell placed a high value on the property, and since they owned the lot, one of the sale stipulations was that their staff would have had first dibs on 3/4ths pf the units, similar to what we’re seeing with the Greenways project off of Honness Lane.

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The design itself is a dated melange of modernism and brutalism, created by Sherwood Holt (no relation to Ithaca-based HOLT Architects). The 70 units ran the gamut from studios to 3 bedrooms, and the top two floors were designed to be larger “penthouse” units. There would have been 67 feet of frontage on Stewart Avenue, and 109 feet on Williams Street. I wouldn’t call it much in the way of frontage though, it looks to be built onto a podium. Zoning at the time required two parking spaces per unit, so this project would have needed 140 spaces. 70 were surface spaces on the south side of the lot, and 70 were in the pedestrian-unfriendly podium (an ordinance at the time required half of all new parking spaces to be “indoor” spaces).

Also like now, proponents and opponents had similar arguments to today’s debates. Mayor Hunna Johns promoted the revenue it would bring (which would pay for the city’s investment in sewer lines to the site), and because Cornell had expressed interest in building on the site, local officials feared another tax-exempt property if the private developer wasn’t granted approval. On the other end of the spectrum, about 50 local residents signed a petition against the proposal, saying it would burden utilities and cause congestion. It looks like the planning board had only minor suggestions for the development, so it’s hard to imagine it didn’t get ZBA approval.

So why wasn’t it built? My guess is that Cornell did an assessment of its needs, and decided that it wasn’t a high priority to sell to the developer; and when the Ithaca real estate market crashed in the late 1960s, it probably killed the proposal for good. Cornell still owns the site, but zoning rules permit only a 4-story 40′ building (as they did in 1965). It’s outside of the Collegetown zoning, and if it ever gets developed is anyone’s guess.

The more things change, the more things stay the same.

 

 





“Collegetown Dryden” Project Proposed

28 07 2014

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The Manhattanization of Collegetown continues. I’ve been waiting to post this one because the city was taking its time with uploading the supporting documentation; given that they had about eleven different projects at the six-hour marathon Planning Board meeting last Tuesday, I’m not going to fault them for taking a breather.

Anyway, this project, called “Collegetown Dryden”, is yet another addition to the Collegetown Boom. Located primarily in an MU-2 zone (i.e. the densest Collegetown zone, where no parking spaces are required), this project seeks to redevelop the Palms Block, a collection of four run-down structures that includes the brick building on the corner, the old Palms building, and the old Collegetown Candy and Nuts building on the corner of Dryden and Linden (the Kraftee’s Building is not included in this count; it is being redeveloped separately). The Palms building was recommended for historic preservation several years ago, but never gained significant traction. In January 2012, the recently-closed Palms and its two eastern neighbors (213 and 215 Dryden) sold for $3.75 million to local real estate development firm Novarr-Mackesey, the company responsible for Collegetown Terrace on East State Street. The old Tompkins Trust Bank on the corner was sold to Novarr-Mackesey in July 2011 for $1.65 million. Lastly, an adjacent house on Linden (240) that was bought for $475k in 2010 will be torn down and replaced. In sum, the firm has been collecting properties on this block for years and has been biding its time, waiting for the Collegetown zoning issue to sort itself out.

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Onto the proposal itself. Speaking professionally, I’d say it’s something different and visually distinct from Jagat Sharma’s ubiquitous Collegetown designs. Speaking informally, someone referred to it as the “Tron Building“, and I’m inclined to agree. If they changed up the odd window setup, I might like it. The design is by the same firm that did Collegetown Terrace, ikon.5 out of Princeton.

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The design as proposed has three unique structures, referred to as buildings “A”, “B”, and “C”, totaling 107,302 sq ft. Building “A” is the six-story structure at the corner of College Avenue and Dryden Road, and will have 2,000 sq ft of retail on the first floor. “B” is the six-story building fronting Dryden with a 9,000 sq ft “cellar” and 7,800 sq ft of retail space, and “C” is a three story residential building built over a one-story, 11-space parking garage fronting Linden Avenue. Together, they provide 141 units, all studios. This is unusual, but it has merit. Studios are going to be less expensive than units with bedrooms, and will be more accessible to students with less affluent income levels. I’m not saying it’s going to be cheap, definitely not with the high land values here. But it will be cheaper to rent than some of the other properties in inner Collegetown.

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Compared to Jason Fane’s 330 College juggernaut, this one is right at the very edge of legal zoning. It totals six floors and 80′ in the MU zoning sections (Buildings “A” and “B”) and four floors in the CR-4 (Building “C”). It’s all legal, no ZBA required. I’d also say that in comparison to some other developers, John Novarr seems a little more neighborly, which certainly helps in the approvals process. This was the type of development envisioned when the form guidelines were passed, so it should be feasible, unlike the non-starter proposed across the street. Look for this one to go through revisions and discussion, with possible approval by the end of the year. A multi-phased 2015-2017 construction time frame is likely.

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The Elephant in the Room: 330 College Avenue

23 07 2014

Note: After Jeff Stein of the Ithaca Voice sent me a photo of the rendering last night, I quickly wrote up and published this entry. Shortly after that, he mentioned that he wished to have the “scoop“, and since it was his photo, I obliged and rescheduled this for noon today. This updated version has the uploaded render from the city website. So if you saw this last night, then saw it was gone, you’re not going crazy. -BC

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Let’s be clear: this will not happen. What Jason Fane was thinking in proposing a 12-story building for the Green Cafe site has everything to do with seeing what he can get away with. The calculating businessman as always, shocking the board and meeting attendees with a massive proposal…my only guess is that he is willing to negotiate down. The likely goal is to end up with something still above the 80′ 6-story limit for that site, and apparently the way to do that is shock and awe.

A copy of sketch plan can be found here. Mostly site photos, but we can see the first floor layout (6,000 sq ft in three retail units, and some apartment space; the building also shares a rear corridor with Fane’s Collegetown Center next door) and a render from the angle of the third floor of the Ciaschi Block, but set too far back from the street to actually exist.

I mean just look at it, it overwhelms the large 312 College and Collegetown Center buildings next to it. This thing is a goddamned behemoth of a building, as Ithaca standards go. It’s a lovely design, I think, I’d love to see this downtown on the old Tetra Tech/Rothschild’s property. Of course, that’s like saying a Mercedes SLS is the car you’d like to buy, but you make only 30K/yr. It’s not reasonable.

For the record, the never-to-be-built design is by Fane’s preferred architect, Jagat Sharma of local firm Sharma Architecture. The current site is that of the vacant Green Cafe, and before that short stint as a restaurant in 2009/2010, the one-story structure was used for meetings and storage by Bank of America. Built in 1998 and occupying 0.97 acres (including the apartment building attached), it has an assessed land value of $2.5 million, as it sits on what is probably the most expensive corner in the city. Everyone expected a redevelopment, just not this large.

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I can hardly believe I’m even writing about this. It’s so spectacularly overboard that it defies all common sense and logic.

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News Tidbits 7/17/14: It’s All About the Materials

17 07 2014

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Given the rate of development exposition and modification, this is becoming a sort of weekly digest. I’m perfectly okay with that.

1. First up, the omnipresent Carey Building addition by Travis-Hyde Properties. This one has been tweaked at least twice already (not counting the initial massing model), and here we have another update, though it looks to be mostly in the materials that the addition would be composed with. revised plans here. Depending on your definition of structural height, the addition would bring the Carey Building to 77’10” to the penthouse roof, 82’10” to the parapet, or 87’10” to the mechanical rooftop. To highlight some of the other changes, the roof-lines were tweaked, as were the windows on the east face. The west face is still blank, though the lighter color does make it seem a little less overbearing in the renders.

Also, contrary to the recent Times article, not all five additional floors are residential. The first floor of the addition (third floor from street level) is additional office space for the business incubator.

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2. Next up is 327 Eddy, owned by Stephen Fontana and designed by local firm Sharma Architecture. Cover letter here, application here, and drawings here. I remember thinking the sketch render looked a little weird with the brick above the courtyard, and the design has been tweaked as this proposal materializes out of the aether. We now have some dates and figures. This one would be starting in May 2015 and completed in August 2016. The estimated cost of construction is $5 million (like the other two Sharma applications for 205 Dryden and 307 College…they may just be making up a nice, round, semi-believable number). It will build up 68′ from the sidewalk of Eddy Street, and 60′ from the rear portion (the building steps up as it extends back into its steep lot). Still 28 units and 64 bedrooms, and it has 1,800 sq ft of ground-floor retail space.

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3. Greenways, the INHS affordable townhouse development off of Honness Lane (site shown in the lead photo), has been approved. Good.

4. Cayuga Ridge, the Biggs Property proposal out on West Hill, is not so lucky. This one has been tied up for a while due to neighbors’ opposition to the site’s development – it’s also turned into a veritable sh*tshow, with those against the development using the standard traffic and sprawl arguments (the latter being a little weird since it’s right next to the hospital and across the street from the Overlook complex), while some of those for the project have played the race card. A neighbors group sued to have the county’s land sale stopped for not following SEQR environmental regulations, and the ruling was upheld. While not dead, the sale of the property to developer NRP/Better Housing for Tompkins County is on hold while the town of Ithaca reviews the project and the SEQR is conducted, with the county as an involved party. It’s not the best location, but on the other hand, the affordable housing issue is rearing its ugly head. On a side note, unlike its city counterpart (INHS), Better Housing has some of the worst luck of any non-profit developer in the county. The Lansing Preserve failure from a few years back comes to mind.

4. Residential tax assessments are up 6.17% (about $1.27 million) in the county year-over-year, about triple the usual 2% rate. The cost of housing is rising much faster than anticipated, which is contributing to the area’s affordability issues. Construction projects such as Collegetown Terrace also help; for instance, that project’s value went up from $19.1 to $26.64 million, which results in an additional $275,000 in tax revenue (the tax revenue at $19.1 million was about $700,000). Don’t expect taxes on existing homes to go down with the increased revenue though, because rising healthcare costs eat away most of the gains.

 

 





Odds and Ends Construction Updates, June 2014

6 07 2014

Random odds and ends. First off are the Lehigh Valley House condos, which will take the century-old Lehigh Valley House and renovate it into ground-floor commercial space and six condominium units on the upper floors. The project is being developed by Tim Ciaschi; the Ciaschi family has a long history of work in Ithaca. I note that my photo is a few days before IB’s latest update, given the progress of the siding installation.

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A couple blocks away on 13 is Magnolia House, a $2.7 million project that provides a 14-person shelter for homeless women. It took a while to open, but it looks like that it’s occupied, if the furniture in the second photo is any clue. I liked this better when the copper was fresh.

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Here’s a project that’s flown under the radar. Downtown at 144 the Commons (Mockingbird Paperie/Ithacards building), local developer Jim Merod is building seven apartments into renovated space on the second and third floors, three each on the second and third floors and a new penthouse suite in an expansion of the top floor. This one will probably be available for renting by late fall.

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I figured I could use a couple photos of the completed Breckenridge Place. The affordable housing project by INHS brings 50 units of moderate-income units to downtown, and as Jason has covered, the lack of affordable housing in Ithaca is a major, major issue. Recently, there’s been some drama with the Old Library site since the projects have been more focused on apartments rather than condos. Condos would be nice, but from the county’s perspective, there’s a problem – condos require someone to have considerably greater financial assets than an apartment; you buy a condo, you rent an apartment. This pushes a project out of the affordable range, and the DPI proposal has already said it’s geared towards middle-to-high end incomes. I’m sure a project like that would be financially profitable (see the Danter study for evidence), but that’s not the point. If the county gets to choose the developer, and is seeking affordable housing as a way to provide the greatest community benefit with its assets, why would they choose a project that benefits only the wealthier portions of the community? I realize I might be stepping into s–t on this one, but this has been nagging me for a while. Condos are a great idea, but these are the wrong circumstances.

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The site of College Crossings, just south of Ithaca College. The land is cleared and some construction equipment is on site, but it’s hard to tell if this is one is actually under construction. A friend who lives nearby explained that in her perspective, “they spend all day in the bulldozer pushing dirt back and forth, but not actually doing anything”. This project has dragged for years, so I wouldn’t be surprised. The website claims two of the six retail spaces are rented and a third space is pending, and the sign on the property indicated a Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts were future tenants. The upper floor will have two apartments with four and five bedrooms respectively.

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Cayuga Place Photo Update, June 2014

3 07 2014

As previously shown by Jason at IB a couple weeks ago, foundation work continues at the Cayuga Place condominium project along Six Mile Creek in Downtown Ithaca. In the couple weeks between his last photo set and this set, work continued with the foundation pouring, and more rebar was laid in place (IB offers a much more through level of foundation construction here). The top down view from the garage gives a pretty strong idea of the footprint of the building, which will be seven stories. Cayuga Place will add 39 residences when complete, contributing to downtown’s rapidly growing residential market. The project is by Cincinnati-based Bloomfield/Schon, and the foundation work by Turnbull-Wahlert Construction, also out of Cincinnati.

By the way, going up to the top of the garage required going the long way up the ramp – a homeless man was sleeping next to the door on the top landing of the west stairwell, and hornets were having a field day in the southeast stairwell.

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Belle Sherman Cottages Update, June 2014

1 07 2014

Work continues on the Belle Sherman Cottages on the east end of the city (technically, just over the city line in the town of Ithaca). Homes have sold at a rapid pace this year, going from just six lots/homes in the first two years, to at least eleven more lots/homes sold in the past six months (this count includes at least one townhome that was sold). Only 3 of the 19 single-family home lots are still for sale – lots 9, 11 and 12, on the southwest side of the parcel. Lot 9 will be used to showcase a new “cottage” design that has not yet been built. I don’t know why there’s been a sudden uptick, but at this point, I would not be surprised if the last lots sell before the end of the year (along with several more homes completed before winter arrives).

Since I last came through in late April, lot 13 was completed, and two more are under construction – lot 6, a “craftsman farmhouse”, is the first home built in that style. Lot 4, also underway, is a “classic farmhouse”, recently assembled from its modular pieces. There was no indication of site prep or construction for the townhomes.

 

 

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Boiceville Cottages Update, June 2014

30 06 2014

Decided to pay these a visit while on my way to a Sage Chapel wedding. Also, to prove to myself that I could take pleasant-looking photos of this complex.

Several buildings were underway, and two were a new style – five-unit gatehouse structures. They appear similar to the three-unit gatehouse structures already built, but the first hint that these were different comes from the dormers being positioned further out. My guess would be they they are one-bedroom units on the end and studios in the middle three units. A set of three houses, the ones with the orange trim below, appeared to be in the last stages of construction. The pink-trimmed and blue-trimmed homes next to them have only just received landscaping, and appear to have tenants.

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News Tidbits 6/26: The Carey Building’s Addition, Revealed

26 06 2014

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Okay, so technically, the previous renders shown on this blog were massing studies for the addition proposed for the Carey Building. The newly-released design is here. The design comes courtesy of local firm John Snyder Architects, working with local development firm Travis Hyde Properties.

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Based off the attached floor plans, it looks like there will be 18 apartments, 16 studios (most in the 250-350 SF range), and 2 2-bedrooms. Floors 4 and 5 will have 7 studios each, and 6 and 7 will have one studio and one 2-bedroom each. The “micro-apartments” are definitely small but will allow for more modest rents, tapping into some of the need for affordable housing in the city.

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More Housing for Collegetown: 327 Eddy

25 06 2014

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Cover letter with brief description here, renders and site photos here. The site is currently home to the “Fontana Apartments”, although Cornell students might better recognize it as the home of Club Sudz and Pixel in the rear. The Fontanas are famous for their 107-year old shoe store, they’ve been long-time landlords on Eddy street and developed the apartment buildings north of the site in 1985/86. The project would tear Club Sudz and Pixel down and replace them with a 28-unit, 64-bedroom building, designed by local firm Jagat Sharma (which I have no problems with, but seeing as Sharma Architecture has designed almost every large building in Collegetown, including the two on the left in the rendering, I would love to see something different). Retail space will be on the first floor, which is required in the Collegetown MU-2 zone. MU-2 also has no parking requirements – we’re following a theme here with the MU properties; now that the parking requirement is gone, it’s been nothing short a development bonanza.

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The building is six floors – things look a little weird because it’s built on a hill, and it steps back. I wouldn’t begrudge a passerby on Eddy for thinking it’s nine floors.

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It’s just a sketch plan, but given the size, it would not be off to suggest that the developers want this building to welcome its first tenants in August 2015, assuming approvals are granted this summer. If approved, that would mean 5 projects would be underway in Collegetown next spring, with 223 bedrooms. I’m certain there will be more proposals for inner Collegetown in the meanwhile.








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