News Tidbits 11/30/15: It’s like the 1990s All Over Again

30 11 2015


1. I want to start this oddly-timed roundup with a big thanks to the readers and commenters who encouraged me to write last Monday’s op-ed. If it wasn’t for you guys, I would have held off. I’m not looking to make waves, but there is a significant, valid concern over Cornell’s housing shortage, and it merited a rebuke.

I also want to thank you guys because the emails I received (about 10 separate readers) were pretty much offloading on how much they hate Cornell, which completely missed the point the article. Worse still, one went into a rant on not only students, but on how much they hate racial minorities, and a second went off into a density rant (followed by stomach-churning quote “if nurses, police and teachers can’t afford to live here, they shouldn’t be living here”). If I thought they were representative of Ithaca for even a moment, I’d hang up my keyboard. But I know that there are good people like the readers here, who are more thoughtful, knowledgeable and arguably less crazy.

So, with all that noted, here’s the actual news – someone familiar with the Cornell Campus Planning Committee wrote in to say that the Maplewood replacement is expected to have 600-700 beds, and that the committee is still hopeful for an August 2017 opening, which would mean it would have to presented fairly soon (that would still leave a year-long gap in housing, but better late than never). They also acknowledged that “Cornell didn’t do such a good job” with planning for a possible housing shortage, which although not an official statement, seems as good of a justification for Monday’s piece as any.


2. Then there was the other piece that dovetailed the affordable housing setbacks last week – Greenways, INHS’s 46-unit affordable owner-occupied townhouse project in the East Ithaca neighborhood, is being abandoned. A part two article with some hard data is being planned. There’s no real silver lining here. It’s Cornell land and the university could potentially revive it, but there’s no indication that will ever happen.

It’s just been a crappy week for housing affordability in Ithaca.

3. Over in Collegetown, several rental homes are being offloaded at once. The properties, 120-134 Linden Avenue, consist of six student apartment houses, with a listed price of $6.5 million. A check of the county website indicates the properties are assessed at $2.75 million, and a cross-check of the Collegetown Form Zoning shows most of these properties are CR-1 (the southern two homes) and CR-3 (the four northernmost homes). CR-1 is the least dense zoning, and CR-3 is a little denser, but mostly maxed out by the existing properties. In short, the code suggests significant redevelopment is unlikely, so the price seems to be based off of potential rental income.

The Halkiopoulos family currently owns the properties, which make up a sizable portion of their multi-million dollar Collegetown portfolio (they’re one of the medium-sized landlords). The Halkiopouloses’ M.O. has been to buy single-family homes and convert the property to student rentals, rather than building their own apartment buildings. It seems likely that the high price indicates they’ll go to one of the other big landlords, or to someone with really deep pockets looking to break into the Collegetown market.

4. A couple folks might be concerned this week after Jason Tillberg’s latest piece about Ithaca’s deflating economy. But there’s a caution light before this data is taken to be hard truth. Frankly, the BLS estimates suck.

A lot.

The numbers are subject to big revisions. Case in point, here are the pre-revision and post-revision 2013 and 2014 data:

ith_initial_1314 ith_revised_1314

It’s not uncommon for the numbers to be changed by thousands, because it’s based on a random sampling of non-government multi-person employers. 500,000 are sampled over the whole country each month, but only about 55 of the 3,300 or so orgs in Tompkins and Cortland Counties are included in the Ithaca metro sample (Cortland’s jobs numbers are included with Ithaca’s because jobs are measured by Combined Statistical Area [CSAs]. However, Ithaca is considered a separate metropolitan area [MSA] from the Cortland micropolitan area [µSA], so population stats are always distinct). The overall trend of the selected orgs is then applied to a base number. For places like Ithaca where the local economy is dominated by a few employers, random sampling isn’t the best approach because it misses crucial components of the local economic picture. But the BLS sticks with its current approach for consistency’s sake across regions and time periods.

During the first quarter of each year, the BLS conducts a full analysis and re-analysis of data going back the last three years. The general rule is, the data from three years ago is very good, the data from two years ago is okay, and the data from the previous year is…very, very preliminary. Tompkins County hasn’t had any large layoffs reported the state’s WARN database this year, and the only major retail closings recently have been A.C. Moore and Tim Horton’s.

In short, don’t let it keep you up at night, and wait until March before passing judgement on the 2015 economy.


5. Over in Dryden town, the townhouse project proposed by local firm Modern Living Rentals (MLR) at 902 Dryden Road in Varna is a little smaller – 13 units and 40 bedrooms, versus the previous 15 units and 42 bedrooms; these numbers include the duplex with 6 bedrooms that currently exists on the site. Meanwhile, the procession of hate continued at the latest town meeting. The arguments are the same as before. To the earlier, larger proposal, some town councilpersons had given a tentative positive response, while at least one was opposed to the original proposal (in Dryden, the Town Board votes on projects rather than the Planning Board). MLR hopes to request approval at the town’s December 17th meeting – if approved, the construction period is planned for January-August 2016.

For those interested, the Stormwater Plan (SWPPP) is here, revised Full Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here, revised site plan here, project description courtesy of STREAM Collaborative here. No new renders, but presumably it still looks the same in terms of materials and colors.


6. Next up on the suburban tour, the fighting over the Biggs Parcel in the town of Ithaca. The Indian Creek Neighborhood Association (ICNA) presented a plan for the property – and the plan is, maybe we can find a way to force the county to keep it, but if not please don’t sell the land to anyone who will build on it. All the county wants is to sell the land so it pays taxes, and the ICNA plan seems to have failed to really address that point. Tompkins officials countered by saying that they’re not keeping it and that if the ICNA cares about this parcel of land so much, buy it. There was then some back and forth about doing a new assessment to account for the developmentally-prohibitive wetlands on site – in other words, decreasing its current $340,000 assessment, with the exact amount to be determined by the county assessment department. At 25.52 acres, of which some is still developable, the price will likely stay above six figures.

So the county’s doing its new assessment, because all it wants is to sell the land so that someone is paying taxes on it. Meanwhile, the ICNA has taken to venting on their web page, angry that the county still plans to sell, and that they may have to actually buy the land in order to dictate its future use.


7. To wrap up a thoroughly depressing week, a couple of demolitions by neglect. 327 West State Street and 404 West Green Street will both be demolished by the end of the year, according to the Ithaca Times. Both are older, likely century-old structures, but too far gone to be salvageable. According to county records, the City Health Club, which abuts and owns both properties, purchased 404 West Green in 1987, and 327 West State Street in 1993. The porch on 404 came down sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s, and the only change since then was painting the plywood on the boarded-up door and windows. County photos suggest 327 was in bad shape but possibly occupied up until 2000 or so, and steadily fell grew worse from there. Offhand, the procedure is to bill the owner for the demo. 404 West Green is B-2d zoning, 327 West State is CBD-60. But don’t expect any redevelopment anytime soon.

Hmmm…bad economic news, projects being cancelled, decay and demolitions in the city and fighting over suburban projects. For Ithaca and Tompkins County, it’s like the 1990s recession all over again.

News Tidbits 11/21/15: Building and Rebuilding

21 11 2015

inhs_pride_design_v5_2 inhs_pride_design_v5_3

1. Starting off this week with some eye candy, here are some updates renders of the townhouses proposed for INHS’s 210 Hancock project in the city’s North Side neighborhood. Details and project status here. 210 Hancock has been approved by the Planning Board, and Cornell, the city and county do have dedicated funds ($200,000 total) going towards the affordable housing units, but still needs to be seventeen conditions prior to receiving a construction permit, one of which required revised townhouses to better reflect the neighborhood. The Common Council also need to vote to discontinue using the sections of Lake Avenue and Adams Street on which the new greenways and playground will be constructed, which apart from the time needed and paperwork generated, isn’t expected to encounter any obstacles, with formal conveyance to INHS anticipated by March 2016. INHS is shooting for a May construction start.

The Planning Board will be voting on “satisfaction of site plan approval” at its meeting next Tuesday, which should be a fairly smooth procedure, if the paperwork’s all correct.

Personal opinion, the townhouses, with more color and variation in style, appear to be an improvement over the previous version. These five will be rentals, while the other seven will be for-sale units, and built in a later phase (government funding for affordable rentals is easier to obtain than it is for affordable owner-occupied units, so it could take a year or two for those seven to get the necessary funding). The apartments have not had any substantial design changes since approval.


For what it’s worth, here’s the final site plan. The rental townhomes will be on the north corner of the parcel, furthest from Hancock.

2. Turning attention to the suburbs, someone’s put up some sizable chunks of land for sale in Lansing village. The properties consist of four parcels – 16.87 acres (the western parcel) for $500,000, right next to a previously-listed threesome of 28.07 acres (the eastern parcels) for $650,000. The eastern parcel also comes with a house, which the listing pretty much ignores. Lansing has it zoned as low-density residential, and given the prices (the western parcel is assessed at $397,600, the eastern parcels at $561,100 (1, 2, and 3)) and being surrounded by development on three sides, these seem likely to become suburban housing developments, possibly one big 30-lot development if the parcels are merged. For the suburbanites out there, it’s something to monitor.

20151108_133542 20151108_133710


3. House of the week – or in this case, tiny house of the week. The 1-bedroom, 650 SF carriage house underway at 201 West Clinton Street draws inspiration from 19th century carriage houses, which makes sense given that it’s in Henry St. John Historic District. It and the main house are owned by former Planning Board member Isabel Fernández and her partner, TWMLA architect Zac Boggs. The two of them did a major and meticulous restoration of the main house, which used to house the local Red Cross chapter, a couple of years ago (more info on that here).

Anyway, the framing is underway and some ZIP System sheathing has been applied to the exterior plywood. No roof yet and probably not much in the way of interior rough-ins, but give it a couple of months and that 1960s garage will be given a new life as a tiny house.


4. Time to take a look at the Planning and Development Board agenda for next Tuesday. For reference, here’s what a typical project guideline looks like:

PDB (Sketch Plan) -> PDB (Declaration of Lead Agency) -> PDB (Determination of Env’tal Signif., PDB BZA reccomendation if necessary) -> BZA (if necessary) -> PDB (prelim/final approval).

Here’s the meat of the agenda:

A. 210 Hancock – Satisfaction of Conditions of Site Plan Approval (see above)
B. 215-221 Spencer St. – Consideration of Prelim/Final Site Plan Approval  – this one was first presented as sketch plan in March, to give an idea of how long this has been in front of the boards
C. 416-418 East State Street – Determination of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the BZA – “The Printing Press” jazz bar is a proposed re-use for a former printshop and warehouse that has seen heavy neighbor opposition. The bar has changed its emphasis, redesigned the landscape and moved itself to a more internal location to mitigate concerns, but the opposition is still strong, mostly focusing on noise and traffic. The board has simply and succinctly recommended that the BZA grant a zoning variance.
D. 327 Elmira Road – Determination of Environmental Significance and Recommendation to the BZA – The Herson Wagner Funeral Home project. This one’s had pretty smooth sailing so far, only a couple complaints that Elmira Road isn’t appropriate for a funeral home. The Planning Board, however, applauds the proposal, which replaces a construction equipment storage yard, for better interfacing with the residential neighbors at the back of its property. It has been recommended for BZA approval.
E. Simeon’s on the Commons Rebuild – Presentation & Design Review Meeting – Before anyone throws up their arms, this is only to talk about the materials and design of the reconstruction, and to get the planning board’s comment and recommendations.
F. The Chapter House Rebuild – Sketch Plan – The Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission (ILPC) must have come to some kind of acceptance on the proposed rebuild if the Chapter House is finally at the sketch plan stage. the Planning Board will have their own recommendations, which will have to be coordinated to some degree with the ILPC (the ILPC is arguably the much stricter of the two). We’ll see how it looks next week.
G. Hughes Hall Renovations – Sketch Plan – more on that in a moment
H. DeWitt House (Old Library Site) – Sketch Plan – originally slated to be seen a couple months ago, but pulled from the agenda. The 60-unit project is not only subject to Planning Board review, but ILPC review since it’s in the DeWitt Park Historic District.

5. So, Hughes Hall. Hughes Hall, built in 1963, has dorm housing and dining facilities for Cornell students attending the law school, but those 47 students will need to find alternative housing once the hall closes in May 2016 (yes, with Maplewood closing as well, Cornell is putting 527 graduate and professional students out on the open market next year…it’s gonna be rough). However, this has kinda been known for a while. Cornell has intended to renovate Hughes Hall since at least 2011, as Phase III of its law school expansion and renovation. The building was used as swing space while Phase I was underway, and then the phases were flipped and Phase II became Hughes Hall’s renovation, while Phase III became Myron Taylor Hall’s renovation. According to Boston-based Ann Beha Architects, who designed the law school addition (Phase I), the Hughes Hall renovation will “house offices, administrative support spaces, academic programs and meeting spaces.” Well see how the renovated digs look at Tuesday’s meeting.

News Tidbits 11/14/15: To Plan or Not to Plan

14 11 2015

It’s another slow week. There was no PEDC meeting in Ithaca city, and no new projects hit the airwaves. But there might be some interesting things moving forward.

1. The Lansing Star has an insightful interview this week with newly elected Lansing town supervisor Ed LaVigne, who unseated incumbent Kathy Miller for the seat. From a development standpoint, it’s very interesting. From the interview, it sounds as if, given the possible loss of their biggest taxpayer, the $60 million Cayuga Power Plant, he kinda wants to throw the door open to developers in an attempt to soften the blow of its closure. In Lansing, there was a political divide when it came to planning – the Democrats wanted a full-time planner, but the Republicans wanted a part-time planner. The budget item for a full-time planner was eliminated along town board party lines, 3-2, and Lansing is currently served by part-time planner Michael Long.


“That’s why it’s so critical to start moving some dirt, getting things built.  One of the things I’ve already told developers is that Lansing is in business.  How can we make you more prosperous?  We believe in prosperity.  And if you’re prosperous we all will benefit.  I don’t care how much money they make.  I hope they make more money than they ever dreamed of, because if they put their money in Lansing, Lansing wins.”

If I didn’t know where the quote was coming from, I wouldn’t believe it was from an elected official in Tompkins County. Most local officials are very measured in their comments on growth, if they welcome newcomers at all.

Just as a thought exercise, Lansing builds about 25 houses per year per HUD SOCDS, and a variable number of apartments, which right now is a few dozen per year thanks to the Village Solars project off Warren Road. Take about $300k per house, and $6 million for each major phase of the Village Solars, and one gets $13.5 million in new development. Not factoring in additional infrastructure or service costs or taxes from commercial/industrial construction, it would take four and a half years to make up the tax revenue lost from the closure of the power plant.


Of course, development in Lansing is tricky – without sewer, houses have to be on at least one acre of land. After all the busted dreams with the town center proposal, the town will be more likely to stick with conventional suburban development and rural homesteads. On the one hand, Lansing has given a yes to development. On the other hand, the question of “smart” growth is still up in the air, and it’s not looking good.

By the way, the photos, which are a few weeks old, are of homes underway on Lansing’s Oakwood Drive. Cardamone Homes is the builder. The top one is for sale for $670,000.


college_crossing_2 plan-1

2. There’s nothing too exciting in the agenda for the Ithaca town planning board meeting next Tuesday. There’s a couple of legal clarifications required, one for a single-family home subdivision, the other to let Brookdale (formerly Clare Bridge / Sterling House) move forward with their 32-unit expansion project. The town planning board will also be reviewing some solar panels and changes to the sign law. Really, about the only noteworthy thing on the agenda is an open, informal discussion on College Crossings. After have a few months to take a deep breath, the developer, Evan Monkemeyer of Ithaca Estates Realty, would like to discuss what needs to be done in order to make the project fit with the town’s comprehensive plan, while keeping his plans economically feasible. A copy of the letter is below:


This is potentially a major opportunity for the town to show good stewardship. Ideally, the two sides will find a common ground that meets the town’s goal for a less auto-centric, mixed-use South Hill, while allowing the developer to move forward. A tax abatement isn’t going to fly with the IDA let alone the planning board, but there are other options that can be considered – density, height, and setbacks come to mind. The town’s comprehensive plan considers the site “TND [Traditional New Development] High Density” – one of the few high density spots in the town. The plan recommends 8-16 units per acre as an average (it’s a 3.75 acre site, so picture 30-60 units), and 10-20% open space. A project in a TND-HD area should be dense, transit-oriented, porous and walkable. The door is open, not only to the town, but members of the public interested in helping find that common ground (looking at you, Form Ithaca). It should be an interesting chat.


3. Local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative held an open house last Friday, and for those unable to attend, they shared photos online.

Look closely and you’ll find a copy of a conceptual build-out of the Chain Works District, which is still going through environmental site assessment (the ESA document is said to be tens of thousands of pages). The South Hill Business Campus is to the upper right, so the top of the image is directed south. Note that there’s nothing formal, and even the renovation of buildings 21, 24, 33 and 34 has yet to reach the boards (rumor mill says the renovations might start in 2017). But it’s great eye candy.

20151011_134013 20151011_134031

4. House of the week. Since I hit this house a couple of times while it was underway, I figured I would include a couple shots of the finished 3-bedroom, 1,276 SF home at 203 Pearl Street in Ithaca’s Belle Sherman neighborhood. Oddly enough, the builders, Gil and Naama Menda of 201 Pearl, used the same exterior trim colors as on the Belle Sherman Cottages a block away.

The lot is the result of a subdivision approved by the city during the spring; 203 Pearl had previously been combined with 201 Pearl and used as an in-ground swimming pool, which was filled in at some point.

1325 Taughannock Boulevard Construction Update, 11/2015

11 11 2015

Single-family homes tend to be more of a featurette on Ithacating, rather then full-fledged posts of their own. Then again, most homes aren’t multi-million dollar lakeside mansions.

Looking at the house underway at 1325 Taughannock Boulevard in the town of Ulysses (pulling off of the road is a bit harrowing, given that it’s a 55 MPH zone on a narrow road with marginal visibility), the roof has been sheathed but not shingled, and Kingspan Green Guard Raindrop 3D housewrap drapes the exterior of the building. The black material on the roof looks like felt paper (also known as tar paper), which helps protect the roof from water that may get under the shingles form ice melt of gusty winds, and protects the asphalt shingles from resins in the wood decking. Felt paper also increases a roof’s fire rating and helps keep the house dry in case of rain during the construction period. Windows have been fitted, and masonry work on the chimney is underway. The timber frames stand out against the housewrap, but the actual finishing materials (wood, with wood and concrete or stone trim) should complement the timber frames nicely.

As previously reported, a construction loan for $2.25 million was filed on August 13th, with Tompkins Trust Company providing the financing. The property was previously home to two smaller lakeside cottages. the two small houses once on the properties have been demolished. The homeowner is a New York senior investment banker with ties to Cornell. The house is expected to be completed by May 2016.

New Energy Works, the project architect, specializes in timber frame structure, with offices in suburban Rochester and Portland, Oregon (the Pacific Northwest and the Appalachians are two of the most popular parts of the country for timber frame homes; in New York, it’s often coterminous with “Adirondack Style“). Locally, New Energy Works designed the Namgyal Buddhist monastery on South Hill, and the Ithaca Foreign Car (Ithaca Volvo) building on West State Street.

20151108_144426 20151108_144456  20151108_144530


Boiceville Cottages Construction Update, 11/2015

9 11 2015

It looks like construction has started in earnest on the last phase of the Boiceville Cottages. All the concrete slab-on-grade foundations have been poured, with the blue exterior insulation to be covered later by a little backfill. Atop the foundations are utility connections and wood sill plates, which is where the wood stud walls will go. From a quick walk-through, it looks like rough framing and sheathing has begun on at least three of the cottages, and that all the units to be built in this final phse will be stand-along cottages. According to the Boiceville Cottages facebook page, the last septic tank was installed last week.

Without knowing too much about Caroline’s tax base, this is arguably the largest residential tax-contributor to the town, if not the largest tax-contributor to Caroline period. The current phase calls for 17 units at a cost of $2.2 million, $2,098,479 of which goes towards hard construction costs (materials/labor). The cottages are part of the 75 unit addition approved by the town of Caroline back in 2012. Altogether, those 75 units have hard construction costs of $7,477,671, according to construction loan documents filed with the county. The 2015 assessed value for the property was $10.3 million for 122 units in 2015, and that number is likely to climb a couple million higher in the next year or so.

The Boiceville Cottages began with a first phase of 24 units in 1996/1997, with a second phase of 36 units ten years later. Now, a few things have been tweaked along the way, because the build-out no longer matches the 2012 construction documents – some triplet cottage clusters on the engineer’s map have been replaced with “gatehouses” and quadruplet cottage clusters during build-out. For the longest time, I’ve been using 135 units as the total (24+36+75), but given this statement from their facebook page, it looks like the final count will actually be 140 units. The Boiceville Cottages expansion will finally wrap up its years of construction next summer.

Apart from some early concerns about site drainage, there haven’t been too many objective issues with the project. Subjectively, some love the bright colors, others can’t stand them. Heck, even Simon St. Laurent gives them a little appreciation on the “Living in Dryden” blog.

For those interested in visiting the cottages, they sit on 37.7 acres on either side of 300-334 Boiceville Road, just west of the hamlet of Slaterville Springs. Rents range from $1,050 for a studio to $1,750 for a three-bedroom gatehouse unit. Most of the units are 1 and 2-bedroom cottages, built in clusters of three, with a few “gatehouse” rowhouses that offer studios and 3-bedroom units. The cottages fall in the 850-1050 SF range.

Schickel Construction is headed by Bruno Schickel of Dryden, following in the footsteps of generations of Schickels living and building in Ithaca. In some circles, Bruno Schickel is better known as the husband of the famous columnist Amy Dickinson.

20151108_115800 20151108_115832 20151108_115849 20151108_115928 20151108_120036 20151108_120046 20151108_120056 20151108_120131 20151108_120156 20151108_120223 20151108_120232 20151108_120411 20151108_120421

News Tidbits 11/7/15: All the Small Things

7 11 2015


1. The Chapter House project is finally beginning the first stages of design review with the ever-stringent (or picky, pending your view) Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council. As seen in the render above, gone is the fourth floor, and gone for now are plans to build a new structure at 408 Stewart, after some members of the ILPC expressed opposition to a tear-down, even though the exterior has been butchered and the architect called it a “fire trap”.

The committee also had disagreements over which version of the Chapter House is more historic, the original ca. 1903 design evoked above, or the 1920s renovation that everyone remembers. The September minutes showed intent towards the four story design seen previously, but the design shown above is three floors – whether that be to the committee’s persuasion, or concerns over a zoning variance isn’t clear. It might be in October’s minutes, but those haven’t been approved, and are therefore not available yet.

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the committee is planning “Property Condition Review and Potential Action” for the decayed carriage house at 312 West State Street. The board was also set to provide “Early Design Review” for a project at 315 North Cayuga Street, probably some kind of renovation/restoration of the First Presbyterian Church, but the item has since been pulled.

11-24-2012 171

2. Wait long enough and history repeats itself. In March 2009, I did a post called “Warren Real Estate Tries to Sell a Frat House“. It looked at 210 Thurston Avenue in Cornell Heights, when it was on the market for $950,000. The house has historically been a Cornell fraternity house, built around 1900, re-purposed not long thereafter for the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity until WWII, when the brothers left for service and the chapter never reopened. It was then used by other GLOs over the decades (Alpha Omicron Pi in the 1940s, Sigma Alpha Mu from the late 1940s to early 2000s, and Phi Delta Theta’s annex in the late 2000s).

After sitting on the market for a couple of years, the house sold in December 2011 for $677,500 to an LLC representing the wealthy parent of a Cornell wrestler, who had the house renovated for the team in 2011/12. The legal occupancy increased from 33 to 40 persons as a result of the reno.

So now it’s on the market again, this time for $2,750,000. That must have been quite a renovation. An open house will be held 1-3 PM this Sunday.

I’d recommend it to the Phi Mu ladies given their recent rejection by Cayuga Heights’ zoning board, but the asking price is almost four times the house they were looking at 520 Wyckoff. The house on Wyckoff was also intended for 16 occupants rather than 40. Oh, and I suppose those urinals the owners installed would be a bit out of place.

We’ll see what happens. This one could be on the market for a while. Again.

3. Also new to the market this week, two parcels in the town of Ithaca that have the potential for development.

The first, 1564 Slaterville Road. The sale includes four parcels – 1564 Slaterville Road itself, a 19th century home on 1.52 acres, and the other three are vacant parcels with frontage on Slaterville Road and Park Lane, which serves as an entrance to the Eastern Heights neighborhood, and has seen a number of higher-end single-family homes in the past several years (there have been plans for a 16-lot housing development on the adjacent land to the north, but nothing has been approved). Altogether, the sale comprises 9.2 acres of land, on the market for $995,000. The properties are valued at $297,300 total, so if the owner is asking such a high price, either they’re delusional, or purposely going after developers. The land currently falls under Ithaca town’s Medium-Density Residential (MDR) zoning, which is single-family homes and duplexes only. The Comprehensive Plan calls for “Established Neighborhood” use, with an average of 2-4 units/acre, either homes, townhomes or apartments (sensitive to neighboring uses), and the possibility of low-intensity commercial (home office). Expect any potential form-based code to accommodate those details.

The other parcel up for sale is 969 East Shore Road, one of the few properties in the town’s lakeshore exclave. This one is also asking a huge premium, $1.45 million for a 2.09-acre property assessed at $300,000. The property was used as the headquarters for the John C. Lowery construction company until they moved to Freeville; it had been built in the 1960s for a chemical company. The seller, the CEO of a local manufacturer, picked up the property for $300,000 in December 2013.

Although it falls under the town’s Lakefront Commercial (LC) zoning, which in itself says only marinas and wind turbines are okay, special use permits allow for mixed-use, hotel, and other non-water options. Like the Slaterville parcel, this one also falls under the “Established Neighborhood” use guidelines.

If they sell, and it bears mentioning, it’ll be mentioned in a later news roundup.

20151011_142719 20151011_142734 20151011_142746


4. It’s house of the week. This week, 319 Oak Avenue in Collegetown. The lot was created by a subdivision of the existing lot, 424 Dryden Road, in February of this year. What was once a parking lot is now the foundation for a duplex with 3-bedrooms each. Foundation and stem walls have been poured and cured, and given that this photo is a couple weeks old, the foundation has probably been backfilled already, and rough framing may even be underway.

The site falls into the CR-2 Zone of the Collegetown Form District, meaning 2-3 floors, and pitched roofs and porches are required. The architect is Daniel Hirtler of Ithaca, and the developers are William and Angie Chen, also of Ithaca.

5. It’s a quiet week. The city of Ithaca’s projects memo has absolutely nothing new (not even new attachments to the three projects subject to review), and the town of Lansing has nothing interesting either. So we’ll wrap this up with some economic news:

A Lansing technology firm will be seeking sales tax abatements this month as part of a planned expansion project.

Advanced Design Consulting USA (ADC), located in a 15,000 SF facility at 126 Ridge Road in the town of Lansing, has submitted an application to the Tompkins County Industrial Development Authority (TCIDA) for review at their November 12th meeting.

The company is applying for a one-time sales tax abatement on the cost of construction materials, and is valued at $54,880.

ADC specializes in the design and manufacture of high-precision scientific instruments, especially those used in physics research. The firm states in their IDA application that their small size has limited their ability to gain large contracts, and it is necessary for them to expand in order to expand their business. The 5,000 SF expansion is valued at $910,000, and would retain 14 jobs and create 7 additional jobs in their Lansing facility, with a median salary of $40,000. If approved, the expansion project would be completed by June 2016. With the expansion, ADC’s revenues are predicted to increase from the current $2 million, to $2.7 million in three years. The company did not commit to local construction labor in their application.

In an interview in 2014, ADC President Alexander Deyhim explained that the company declined a business incentive to move to Oak Ridge, Tennessee because of Tompkins County’s high quality of life, and proximity to Cornell’s nano-fabrication facilities.

For ADC, which was founded in Tompkins County in 1995, it will be the third expansion in twelve years. The company had previously applied for and received tax abatement approvals for a larger, 20,000 SF expansion project, but according to the current application, the firm reassessed its needs and decided to go with a smaller plan for the time being. The original abatement was never utilized. Supplemental documents indicate the town of Lansing has approved the physical plans for the expansion.

So does one force the company to use local labor, or does one risk turning the company down and sending the whole operation to Tennessee? Tax abatements are hardly ever a black-and-white decision.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

3 11 2015


A little less fact and a little more opinion with this week’s Tuesday post.

I postponed what I originally had planned because of a few things coming together at once. One, a post from Kathy Zahler at the Dryden Daily Kaz alleging ageism at work in the 4th District county legislature race, and this piece on the ever-evolving character of New York’s East Village from the Sunday New York Times.

In the 4th District race, you have a 19 year-old candidate, and a 56 year-old candidate, both Ithaca natives. Reading their views on the issues, one can’t find a whole lot of differences, but the “he’s just a kid” type of comment raises its ugly head. I don’t claim to know why people vote the way they do, nor do I feel it appropriate to do endorsements. People will vote how they want. But it would be a real disappointment if age were being used as the deciding factor.

It reminds me a lot of an Ithaca adage that people want Ithaca to look and feel exactly as it did when they moved here, or felt most in their element here. Which ties in pretty well to this NYT piece from last Sunday.

“When I asked nostalgic people to name the street’s golden era, they cited a range of years — often falling between 1960 and 1982, but sometimes 1945, or 1958, or 2012.”

Likewise, everyone has their own idea of Ithaca’s “Golden Era”, and when it ended. For many of the city’s oldest or most conservative residents, and for many older folks in the surrounding towns, it was when the Commons opened in 1974/75. It has just as much to do with the Commons itself as what the Commons represents – when Ithaca turned leftist. Up until the early 1970s, the city and county were run by Republicans. But, due mostly to the large influx of largely singleminded faculty at IC and Cornell in the late 1960s and 1970s, and a trend towards rentals in the city (then as now, students/young voters tend to be more liberal), the area started voting more and more Democrats into office. The last Republican mayor of Ithaca (Bill Shaw) left office in 1983. The last alderperson (Bob Romanowski), 1993. The national trend towards the right didn’t help, as Northeast Republicans generally trend to the moderate side. The Commons was a product of Democrat Ed Conley’s administration, and it’s often seen as a congregation site for social activists and crunchy boutique stores – head shops, organic specialty items, and the like. So it’s not hard to imagine why the Commons receives so much criticism, because for those who saw Ithaca’s best days as Republican ones, its opening signified the beginning of the end.

You could go down any street and get a variety of numbers – for the more blue-collar folks, the end of the Golden Era might be 1983 (when Smith-Corona shut down most operations and BorgWarner Morse moved to Lansing), 1986/87 (when Ithaca Gun moved out), or 2011 (when Emerson Power laid off its last local staff). For those who have clung to the misguided image of Ithaca as a small town where nothing bad happens, the Ellis Hollow murders in 1989, or the stabbing death of IPD Officer Padula in the line of duty in 1996, might be when Ithaca’s Golden Age came to a close, and it became to them an alien, dangerous place. Still others will say Ithaca’s Golden Age closed when Wal-Mart opened (2005), when Cornell turned to the lake for its cooling needs (2000), or this year, when Moosewood decided to go national.

The point is, Ithaca’s “Golden Era” ended at a different time for everyone; for some it’s still going.  That’s because the community is always changing, evolving, remaking itself into something different from what it was.

“If you’re complaining about the East Village, or New York in general, being dead, I think it’s worth considering the possibility that, yes, it is over — for you. But for plenty of others, the city is as full of potential and magic as it was in 1977. Or 1964. Or 1992. Or whenever you last walked down the street and felt like it belonged only to you.”

One of the things that I find bothersome is when one prefaces a comment with “I was born here in 1953/I moved here in 1977/I bought my house in Fall Creek in 1983…”. It doesn’t make one more “correct”, it doesn’t mean one’s opinion should have extra weight. For a community that prides itself on being so cosmopolitan for its size, bragging about the decades one has been in one place suggests insularity and close-mindedness. It’s like saying the community isn’t allowed to change without one’s explicit permission.

My exposure to it is mostly from the perspective of development. Almost always, it’s how they’ve lived here for decades, and something will ruin the character of a neighborhood. People don’t like anything that impacts the feel of a place, which can be something major like the physical appearance of a new house or apartment building, or something more subtle, like the type of resident moving in. But as communities go, character was never intended to be a static object. That’s why you’ll have a building built in 1926, next to a pair of houses built in 1880, just west of an office built in 1972, and across the street from a building built in 2005.

The average Tompkins County legislator is well into their 50s; the county’s average age is 30. Some might see a 19 year-old too young for office, I see a kid with a lot of potential and desire to work for his community.

“Walking along St. Marks Place now, I see young New Yorkers having their moment, living their own Technicolor years. To afford to be here in 2015, they may have trust funds or three jobs or their bedroom may be a friend’s brother’s couch in Ridgewood. Yet here they are at midnight, breaking up with their first boyfriend on the same corner where ’50s poets went to jazz concerts, ’60s radicals handed out fliers, ’70s punk rockers skulked on stoops, ’80s artists plotted their assault on the art world and ’90s skateboarders did kick-flips….Who understands the soul of any place? Who deserves to be here? Who is the interloper and who the interloped-upon?”

Ithaca is always transforming. People are born, they grow up, they age, they die, they move in, they move out. New thoughts awaken and old ways of thinking fade to the background. Change will happen, welcomed or otherwise. But at least if it’s welcomed, there’s the opportunity to guide it.





Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 187 other followers