Short set this week. Things are relatively quiet for this week’s round-up.
1. Leading off this week, Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services’ (INHS) 210 Hancock development has finally received initial approvals, after a months-long, contentious debate. With the zoning variances granted, it was up to the planning board to issue preliminary approval, and compared to previous meetings, the discussion and decision was brief and uncontested. The plan is to have the project start construction in its phase (the commercial space, 53 apartments and the five rental townhouses) next May, wrapping up the following year. Initially, the time-frame was next fall, but getting approvals now has allowed INHS to move up the time-frame a few months. The seven for-sale townhouses will be built at a later date, with funding separate from the rental units.
The project isn’t necessarily a 100% sealed deal (and really, no project is until it’s complete). INHS has to submit an application for low-income tax credits as part of its financing package, and those are due in by October 6th. Only about 30% of applications receive funding (recipients will be announced in January 2016), but INHS has a pretty strong track record to go on.
After the feud over the Stone Quarry Apartments, INHS made an effort to be transparent about the planning process with the Hancock project and openly engage with the community. Unfortunately, it backfired. It’s looking like INHS’s next major proposal will end up out in Freeville, so apart from one or two houses that may end up in the pipeline over the next year or so, INHS isn’t likely to propose any further affordable housing development in Ithaca for a while.
2. One controversy subsides, another heats up. The Planning Board was not amused with State Street Triangle at the latest meeting. Now, given the wide spectrum of opinions that runs through the area, the folks that serve on the board tend to be fair and even-keeled. Not gung-ho about all projects, but definitely not a part of the “I oppose anything that makes Ithaca look different” commentary that comes out of some quarters. So this week’s comments tend to be about as harsh as it gets without saying no outright.
I personally don’t like the “It doesn’t look like Ithaca” comment used for the Ithaca Voice headline, because a city isn’t a static object – buildings are built or replaced, homes are painted and renovated, and retailers change. The Ithaca of 50 years ago, or even 20 years ago, isn’t like the Ithaca of today or 20 years from now. Subjective comments are prone to pitfalls.
But that doesn’t change the fact that the size of this proposal makes a lot of people uncomfortable. The building can be built as-of-right (but board approval is still required before permits can be issued), but there might be a substantial benefit if Campus Advantage were accommodating of the concerns, especially with the tax abatement being pursued. For the sake of example, INHS was very receptive to incorporating suggestions in its 210 Hancock project, which really helped during the approvals process. A little more flexibility on CA’s part could make all the difference, assuming they can still make a decent return on investment. I’ve heard that there are further design revisions underway (whether they’re minor tweaks or major changes is not clear), and hopefully those will be put forth for review sometime soon.
3. Here’s a detail worth noting from the County’s last Legislature meeting – the following is a line from Herb Engman, the town supervisor of Ithaca, addressing the legilslature as he announced his intent to retire at the end of the year:
“Cornell is moving on its consultant to plan the first phase of redevelopment of the East Hill area”.
The wording is a little odd, but my impression is that the consultant is moving forward with planning the first phase of the “East Hill Village“, or whatever Cornell’s planning staff are calling it these days. Actual plans are probably still several months or a year out, not to mention the months of trying to get approval, and then financing/construction. But given the rapid rise in enrollment at the university, any movement towards accommodating more students and reducing the strain on municipalities is welcome.
4. There will be a full-fledged article on this in the Voice next week, but for those looking to kill time, here’s a “family budget calculator” from the Economic Policy Institute think-tank. There are several ways to calculate affordable housing, but many don’t take childcare into account, so it’s worth seeing just how much affordability changes when children enter the picture.
Word to the wise though – EPI’s data has some flaws. If you compare this to AFCU’s living wage calculation for adults with and without children, you’ll find some sizable differences.