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I’ve been unable to find another copy of the first revision, not that it specially matters since the plan was accepted, repealed in 2011 after a potential lawsuit from landowners, and has been revised seemingly a dozen times since, debating everything from the necessity of porches in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.
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.
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.