The 160-foot Hurdle at 815 South Aurora Street

23 09 2015


Developer Todd Fox has big plans brewing for Ithaca’s South Hill, but a cell phone tower stands in the way.

Fox, one of the owners of local rental company Modern Living Rentals (MLR), shared preliminary plans for an 87-unit apartment building at 815 South Aurora Street at the Planning and Development Board meeting Tuesday evening.

Fox’s plans call for a multi-story apartment building built into the hillside, a block from Ithaca College and near Rogan’s Corner. The design, created by Ithaca-based architecture firm STREAM Collaborative, is reminiscent of nearby Emerson Power Transmission, with design cues from the former factory incorporated into the new apartment building. All 87 units would be studio apartments (i.e. no formal bedroom space). 87 parking spaces are also planned.

The building site at 815 South Aurora Street is currently a sloping grass field on the north side of a 2.5 acre lot. Two other buildings on the same property would be unaffected.

Compared to other projects that have come before the board in the past couple of years, 815 South Aurora has a unique obstacle. A cell phone tower, and a city law by extension.


The current city ordinance states that buildings can’t be built within a radius equal to double the height of a communications tower. In this particular case, the tower stands 170 feet tall, meaning nothing can be built within 340 feet of the tower. Two apartment buildings in the Hudson Heights Studio Apartments complex, and the current buildings on site are grandfathered in; they were built before the law was enacted.

To help make his case, Fox hired two private engineering companies (Ithaca’s TAITEM Engineering and Groton’s Spec Consulting) to analyze the case, and their findings determined that an appropriate fall zone is the height of the tower plus 10 feet for a little wind/bounce – so 180 feet total. With this info in hand, Fox is trying to get the city to refine the zoning to allow the decrease in fall zone and therefore permit the land to be used for the proposed apartment building.

Previously in June, Fox had approached the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) asking for a modification from the law. However, the BZA said it would not consider the application. The city attorney advised the BZA that they can’t override a council-approved law outright. However, the BZA could make a consideration on a case-by-case basis, which meant that Fox and architect Noah Demarest would have to present a firm plan for the site, and then apply for a code variance before any decision could be made. Which leads us to the present; a project on the table, with a 160-foot hurdle.

In an email, Fox wrote “[a] fall zone of twice the height is an arbitrary safety distance. The ordinance was created at a time when Cell towers first began being constructed and there was not much knowledge about them at that time. We also contacted as many municipalities in Central New York that we could and everyone that we talked to had the fall zone being just the height of the cell tower plus several feet, give or take for debris throw off. ”


When asked how his project would be compatible with the rest of the neighborhood, Fox replied “[w]e feel like our project helps serve as a gateway into Ithaca. One of the things that we found very enticing about this project was the opportunity to pull Ithaca College students out of the South Hill neighborhood.”

“One of the constant complaints and desires of long-term residents is to try and see a shift away from the growing student population in the neighborhood. I don’t see the multifamily properties getting converted back to owner occupied anytime soon. But I do see the ability of single-family homes that are currently rentals, being sold back to families. The only way this is going to happen is if new developments are built that can support this transition. We need space for the students and we need space for families, and we think that our development helps create an opportunity for both of those demographics.”

Demographics or not, the project still doesn’t conform with the law. It will be up to the planning board and the BZA to decide whether or not the project site is safe, and if the proposed apartment building is a good fit with the South Hill community.

Fast Facts: Ithaca College Employee Headcounts

12 05 2015

All facts come from Ithaca College’s Office of Institutional Research. All enrollment values are for the fall semester of a given year, i.e. 2001 means fall 2001.

Since the blog has previously taken a look at Cornell’s faculty and staff headcounts, it seems only fair to take a look at Ithaca College’s as well.


Over the past decade or so, Ithaca College’s employment has grown. Since 2002, headcount has increased by 302 people/20.1%, about 1.68% per year on average. During the recession, employment at the school actually increased at a faster pace than the average, a stark contrast to the hundreds of jobs that were cut at Cornell.


Breaking the numbers down into faculty and admin/staff components, faculty employment has grown by 155/26.96% since 2002, somewhat faster than the 147 person/15.86% growth in staff employment.

For the sake of comparison, Cornell employed 7,075 non-academic staff in 2002 and 7,018 in 2014, a 57 person/0.8% decrease. The Big Red also employed 2,756 faculty/academic staff in 2002, and 2,763 profs and lecturers in 2014, a 7 person/0.3% increase. (note, Cornell numbers are for the Ithaca campus only).

In other words, we have over the past decade or so, one school that has seen only small enrollment growth but large employment growth, while the other has seen large enrollment growth and no employment growth. I can’t vouch for whether one school’s grasp of their situation is better than the other, but the differences between the two make for an engaging conversation piece.


Here’s something more apropos to current events – the split between full-time and part-time faculty at IC. In 2002, 18.41% of male faculty and 26.92% of female faculty were part-time. In 2014, 28.42% of male faculty and 33.71% of female faculty were part-time. Although Ithaca College has added 155 faculty over 12 years, only 57 of those positions are full-time. Part of the the growth in part-time faculty can be attributed to the growth in graduate students, who are considered part-time faculty at IC if they are teaching. But regardless, it’s clear that Ithaca has become more reliant on part-time staff to meet its teaching needs.

Not to take an official stance on any union-organizing, but double-checking with some previous Voice write-ups, the graph above means that there were 226 Ithaca College faculty that were earning no more than about $16,000/year.

Cornell doesn’t have part-time faculty listed in their data, but I assume grad students with TA assignments fill that role. As of 2014, 6.6% of non-academic staff at Cornell (468 of 7047) are considered part time, while 25% of non-academic IC staff (268 of 1074) are part time. So maybe that’s another piece in the conversation comparing schools.

Fast Facts: Ithaca College Enrollment Figures

5 05 2015

All facts come from Ithaca College’s Office of Institutional Research. All enrollment values are for the fall semester of a given year, i.e. 2001 means fall 2001.

I give what’s probably an unfair amount of attention to Cornell. Part of it is because that’s the campus I know. But Ithaca College has its impacts and influences on the local community as well. Today will take a look at Ithaca College’s enrollment over the years.


One thing that is clear looking at Ithaca College’s recent enrollment totals is that on the whole, there has only been a modest increase in enrollment in recent years. Enrollment was fairly flat during most of the 2000s, grew a few hundred students during the Great Recession, and has been dropping in recent years. You put a best fit line on this and you get a best-fit line of the equation (student population = 30.374(years out from 2001)+ 6368.5). But the best-fit line is by no means a good predictor in this case.

IC strives to be all residential college, and these fluxes have put a strain on its resources and ability to “run lean”. The college offered students $1500 incentives to live off-campus during fall 2005, as they were forced to convert lounges into dorms. The skyrocketing enrollment in 2009 forced the college to construct a temporary dorm at a cost of $2.5 million, and even offer a few incoming freshmen $10,000 to defer matriculation.

As a general observation of Ithaca’s housing issues, the spotlight can be shined directly on Cornell, whose enrollment has increased by nearly 2500 students since 2005. There hasn’t been much private housing built for IC students in recent years (perhaps a few dozen units), and barring the occasional over-enrolled year, there hasn’t been as much need for private student housing on South Hill.


Recent trends noted, historically Ithaca College has grown by leaps and bounds. Apart from a small drop in enrollment when the school was moving into its new South Hill digs in the early 1960s, enrollment continued to swell all the up to about 1991. when it enrolled 6,443 students. Enrollment fell 12% to 5,688 in 1994, before slowly rising back up in the late 1990s and early 2000s.


Looking at graduate student enrollment, there was a substantial increase during the 2000s, climbing from 230 in 2004 to 507 in 2010. Since then, however, the number of grad students enrolled on South Hill has tapered down to 463.


One thing that has stayed fairly consistent over the past decade is the proportion of gender on the Ithaca College campus. The gender split is typically 42-44% male, 56-58% female, with this year having the highest female proportion in recent years, just like Cornell.

News Tidbits 4/18/15: Where Will Ithaca Grow From Here

18 04 2015


1. Leading off this week’s news round-up, here’s a thorough piece by the Ithaca Journal’s David Hill looking at the boom in local construction. Many developers had good things to say about the city’s even hand on the market, but then there’s this gem from Jason Fane:

The new Collegetown zoning isn’t universally praised in all aspects. Major Collegetown and downtown landlord and developer Jason Fane welcomed the removal of parking-space minimums from much of the neighborhood. But he said the rezoning added other rules that run up costs, such as requirements for high ceilings and adding “further retail space to a market that already has too much retail space.”

Hmm. Too much retail space, or a notoriously poor landlord to retail tenants?

From the IJ article, we also learned that Jason Fane’s 12-story 330 College project has been mothballed, Travis Hyde’s Ithaca Gun redevelopment will be called “Falls Park”, and Frost Travis himself isn’t optimistic about condos in Ithaca:

No owner-occupied units are in the plans for the gun-factory site. It’s a challenging site, Travis said. “I have not found a way to support condominiums in Ithaca yet,” Travis said. “But I’m not going to stop trying.”

Mayor Myrick expresses optimism that some of the more far-flung outer Collegetown housing might revert back to family housing, but with Cornell’s rapidly growing student population, don’t count on it.

2. Following up my January post, it looks like Cornell’s AAP school is releasing the first rendering of the new Fine Arts Library. At a glance, it looks like the form of Rand Hall will be kept the same as it is now, although there’s no real indication at this point what the exterior will look like after the new library is built.

The architect is a Cornell alum, Vienna-based Wolfgang Tschapeller M.A. ’87. Herr Tschapeller has made some pretty wild looking staircases before (definitely not for the faint-of-heart), so this avant-garde design seems well within his normal repertoire.


One concern I have is that Rand’s windows are reduced to single panes in the rendering. It may be an intention of the design or it might be because the windows aren’t the focus of the render, but I always thought one of the charms of Rand Hall was the many-paned windows are a characteristic of the early 20th “daylight factory” industrial style that Rand (built 1911) is representative of. I am surprised that Rand Hall is not a part of the Arts Quad Historic District as designated by the city, but at this point I wish it was.

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3. On a brighter note for historic structures, some work is finally getting done on the forlorn house at 102 East Court Street, just north of downtown Ithaca. Unfortunately, it’s not because the owner suddenly had a change of heart about the decaying 187-year old house, which sits in the DeWitt Park Historic District. It’s because the city finally had enough of this crap and fined the owner, Ithaca lawyer Aaron Pichel, $5,000 last month, with threats to fine him another $15,000 if he didn’t bring the house up to code within six months.

I first wrote about this house in April 2012. Quoting that entry:

“Historically, the house is the “Judd House“. The house was built in 1828 – the same year Ezra Cornell had arrived in the budding town of Ithaca, which has hardly twenty years old. An estimate establishes the house as having about 3,100 sq ft, 4 bedrooms and 1.5 bathrooms. Furthermore, the assessed value of the house is $190,000, although given its condition the land it sits on is probably worth more then the physical plant itself.

A casual online search reveals a photo from Cornell’s A.D. White Collection, which shows the house in a much better state of affairs in what the vehicle to the left suggests is the 1920s. Furthering searching indicates the house was most likely designed by Ira Tillotson, the same architect for the Clinton House, which is a contemporary to this home. The once-stately residence was built for Capt. Charles Humphrey, a veteran of the War of 1812, on what was then the corner of Cayuga and Mill Streets. The house and a long-removed barn were constructed for a cost of $2,105.56, which places the cost of construction likely somewhere in the upper six digits to $1 million-plus today. The name Judd House comes from long-time owners of the house in the 1900s, who apparently took great pains to keep the house in good shape. Sadly, that is not the case today.”

Plans filed with the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC) by local company McPherson Builders indicate plans to restore the front porch to an “acceptable condition”, with new roofing and rafters, cornice reconstruction, replacement of the semicircle window above the porch columns, porch column stabilization and repaint, and restoration the northwest chimney to its original configuration (full length with capping, as seen with the other two chimneys in the above photo).

Yes, please and thank you. It’s a shame it had to come to this to get the needed repairs addressed, but at least the historic home won’t be at risk of destruction. The plans underwent review at the ILPC’s April 14th meeting.

4. Touching real quick on this week’s Chapter House disaster – it’s hard to say what will happen with the site moving forward. It and 406 Stewart Avenue were contributing members to the East Hill Historic District. Probably the best solution at this point would be a sympathetic new build, like the one happening with 202 Eddy Street a few blocks away. But there’s no guarantee that will occur.

Notably, the two buildings exchanged hands only a couple weeks ago. On April 2nd, two sales for $615k and $835k were recorded for two tax parcels consisting of the Chapter House and the apartment buildings on either side (the tax parcel for the Chapter House building is combined with 406 Stewart, the apartment building that burned down). An LLC in suburban Orlando sold them to an LLC in suburban Philadelphia. I doubt there’s anything nefarious here, but the new owner is probably feeling a bit shell-shocked at the moment.


5. Nothing big going on at Ithaca College, but there will be a small project to keep an eye on this summer: a small addition to house an elevator between Textor Hall and Friends Hall. Being a small project without significant impacts, the town is prepared to waive certain requirements for preliminary and site plan approval – this should be a pretty quick approvals process.The planning board will review the project next Tuesday the 21st. Comments on the project can be made here.


Poking At the Jobs Numbers, Again

9 03 2015

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Talk about doom and gloom. One look at the Journal’s webpage and the pessimists are in for a treat. It’s no secret that Binghamton, Elmira and to a lesser extent Syracuse and Utica-Rome have suffering, declining economies. Upstate was the factory of the nation a hundred years ago. Now, for a number of reasons, manufacturing has shifted to the south, or more commonly, overseas. Ithaca’s neighboring metros are suffering.

I’m personally not a fan of the way the article is presented. It’s the highlighted piece of the Journal. But the title doesn’t really apply to Ithaca, and they acknowledge that if one reads the article. A lot of folks will only glance at the title, think it applies to Ithaca, and think that the Ithaca economy is tanking. Question dear reader, how many times have you read an article online, scrolled down to the comments and clearly see the comment of someone who read only part of the article, if any of it at all?

Here’s the Ithaca excerpt, which they title the “Ithaca Oasis”:

“Ithaca is the sole economic oasis in central New York. Since the recession, Ithaca’s private-sector jobs have grown by 10 percent. Only New York City has done better in the state, with nearly 15 percent more private-sector jobs in the same period.

“We have come back in terms of jobs in this most recent recovery,” said Elia Kacaypyr, who follows Tompkins County conditions as an economics professor at Ithaca College. “Things are better here than many of our neighbors.”

The reason for Ithaca’s resilience: an economy heavily dependent on education services and far less reliant on manufacturing. Education and health services alone added 6,800 jobs in the Ithaca region over the past 10 years, with 4,600 of those since the recession in 2008.

But that belies some underlying weakness, Kacaypyr said, notably in housing and retail sales.

Median home prices in Ithaca declined slightly in 2014 compared to 2013, and 2014 retail sales increased just slightly ahead of a 1.6 percent inflation rate. Also, the pace of Ithaca’s job growth is slowing.”

I guess if it was me, I’d have pushed for “Ithaca An Economic Oasis in Sputtering Upstate Economy”, or “Upstate Economy Suffers, Ithaca Rare Exception”. But what do I know; I’m a blogger, not a professional journalist.

Anyway, that last paragraph stands out to me – the IJ ran an article about that a couple of days ago, here. The report, prepared by Elia Kacapyr of Ithaca College, is mostly disappointing news, 0% growth in the local economy with most indicators staying steady with inflation. But I do want to make a couple of contrasting points to some of the data.

The jobs number stated in the article, which seems to be a major swaying factor in the ecnomic report, is a net gain of 100 jobs in 2014 (a 2013 annual average of 69,000, and a 2014 annual average of 69,150, which is rounded down). The data comes from the Federal BLS website here. I don’t fault working with the data in it current form, but I will note that the numbers are suspect.

All of the year-over-year job losses are in a period of February to May 2014. I’ve written about this before. This was covered on the Voice. You can darn well bet that a loss of 1300 jobs like the one reported last May would make the news. Then the Voice ran reaction articles from city officials and county officials.

The BLS numbers are up for revision. And because the numbers are generated via random sampling, that for a small community like Ithaca, may not be statistically significant, and the potential for misleading data is large. In Spring 2012, initial reports of a 4,100 job loss were revised to a gain of 1,100, a nearly 10 percent change to the overall total (I made note of the steep drop that time as well). Revisions to the 2014 data haven’t been fully implemented yet, and there’s still no evidence of large layoffs in the education and healthcare sector. Latest numbers from Cornell’s factbook show the university added 73 faculty and staff from November 2013 to November 2014 (1% growth), and Ithaca College’s headcount decreased by 18 (1% loss). No large layoffs in the Ithaca area were noted in the state’s WARN act database.

My honest expectation is that when the numbers are completely final, the number of jobs averaged out over 2014 will come out between 69,600 and 70,100. It still won’t be as much growth as 2012-13, but it’s a roughly 1% increase for the year. I could be wrong, but we’ll see.

The report suggests 400 jobs will be gain in 2015, and economic growth of 0.3%. I think that with Cornell’s recent budget issues, and the resulting slowdown in hiring it may cause, that’s a fair estimate.

More Student Housing for South Hill?

31 12 2014

Polite observation – South Hill has two types of housing being built these days: luxury single-family housing (Westview, Southwoods), and student housing. Most of the student housing tends to be concentrated close to Ithaca College, in the vicinity of Pennsylvania and Kendall Avenues. There have been a number of new, small apartment buildings built in recent years, many of them by local company Heritage Builders. I’d estimate offhand that in the past three years, Heritage has added about 60 bedrooms to the neighborhood, and while they aren’t explicitly student housing, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that’s their purpose.

20141227_134402 20141227_134549 20141227_135531 20141227_135604

I initially photographed these buildings as part of another post planned for some construction updated for South Hill. But then I noticed something earlier this week that changed my mind.


According to the county records for the 29th, someone bought an unusually high number of building lots. All but 2 of the 9 tax parcels (totaling 14 lots) are undeveloped, the remainder being a house and swimming pool. All of the sales were registered to an entity called “Kendall Avenue Corporation”. Kendall Avenue Corporation was created in November, according to the Ithaca Journal, with a registered address at 680 Ridge Road in Lansing – an address used by Heritage Builders. The undeveloped lots sold for $5,000-$9,000 each because they’re small and lack road access. But lots can be consolidated per zoning board approval, and new roads can be built by a developer and deeded to the town, which the town board typically accepts so long as they meet certain requirements.

I’m going to take a stab at this and say that Heritage is planning a lot more student housing over the next few years, at least enough to fill several small apartment buildings. Given previous complaints, I don’t think the permanent residents of South Hill will be pleased about the new neighbors.

News Tidbits 12/20/2014: Many Homes, One Community

20 12 2014

5-8-2012 347

1. Starting things off, here’s an update on Ithaca College’s Master Plan-in-progress, courtesy of the Ithacan. According to a presentation given by representatives of lead planning firm Perkins Eastman, the master plan will include a climate-controlled walkway connecting several buildings from the Gannett Library through the Center for Health Sciences, the removal of the upper and lower dorm quads and replacing them with academic lab/research space, an amphitheater just below the Dillingham Center fountain and a new entrance on Danby Road closer to Ithaca’s downtown.

Now, before residents in South Hill begin to panic that their neighborhood is about to be invaded by students displaced by IC’s decreased housing, I’d like to point out that master plans are rarely built out as designed, but are great for identifying academic needs. I don’t imagine that IC will start tearing down 11 buildings and 1,235 beds unless they really feel like getting into a fight with the town, or throwing up temp housing, neither of which ranks high on the to-do list. At least I get something to write about for a week or two when the new plan comes out this Spring.

2. What is known about Manos Diner’s future occupant: They’re leasing the space from Bill Manos, not buying. It’s a restaurant with owners who already own several restaurants, all outside NYS. It’s not necessarily a chain. It’s apparently a family operation and the food will be Mexican. And whoever it is must have really, really wanted to pry their way into the Ithaca market. I don’t see why they wouldn’t have chosen any number of other sites they could renovate…it seems really strange that an offer so fortuitous would come up that Manos would close his diner with hardly a notice to his employees (which is completely tasteless, for the record). New restaurants in Ithaca aren’t usually big news-makers by themselves, but the entry of this Manos replacement draws more questions than answers.



3. Looks like New Earth Living LLC has released some updated site plans and sketches of their approved Amabel project just southwest of the Ithaca city-town line. The houses on the northern two-thirds have been rearranged from the previous site plan, and if it’s still 31 units, then the center buildings must be two-family houses. I’ve been told that there will be six different house designs available, so don’t expect all the houses to look the same as in the concept sketch. One thing that the all designs will share are roof configurations that will allow enough solar panels to result in net zero energy use for each home. The city has approved the sale of its surplus land to the developer, and this project is due to start marketing in summer 2015.

4. Here’s a map, courtesy of real estate website Zillow, that prices out how much it would take to afford the median rent in a given metropolitan area, if paying no more than 30% of monthly income to rent (the federal affordable housing standard). Ithaca/Tompkins County comes in at $32.74 an hour, assuming a 40-hour week and 50-weeks working in a year. In other words, $65,480 ($1,637/month average rent). The number is skewed high from the number of expensive multi-bedroom units in Collegetown, but it’s still high when compared to Elmira ($28.08) or Syracuse ($27.74). For comparison’s sake to Ithaca-type communities, Boulder ($41.72) and Ann Arbor ($34.28) are higher, Charlottesville ($29.24), Madison ($27.54) and Asheville ($22.98) are lower.



5. Would you believe this is actually the first render I’ve ever seen for the Village Solars project in Lansing? This comes courtesy of their Craigslist ads. The Village Solars take their name from being designed with passive solar design with large amounts of natural light; I don’t know if they will have solar panels. For being a large project, this one has sailed under just about everyone’s radar, partially because it was approved 18 months before construction started. Since there has been so little news about this project, info comes in the form of government and business memos. Depending on the source, final build-out is between 292 and 320 units, which is enormous for the Ithaca area.

Rent’s not cheap with these new units – the minimum is $1235 for a first-floor 2-bedroom, going up to $1369 for a “penthouse” third floor 2-bedroom unit. The Craigslist ad says the first units (36 of them) will be ready for occupancy by March 1st 2015.

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6. Updated doc and drawings for INHS’s 402 South Cayuga Street have been filed with the city. Application, FEAF and project description here, drawings here. According to the docs, the cost of construction will be $740,000 for the four units, and go from Spring 2015 to Spring 2016 (March 2016 in the FEAF). Some slight metal pollution from Emerson/Morse Chain has been noted in soil tests from below the foundation area, due to the Morse Chain subterranean pollution plume (metals, VOCs) that affects much of South Hill. Although the DEC requires no further action at this time, there will be an active sub-slab depressurization system in place as a safeguard. In other words, a fan blows air into the basement, and it gets vented back out.

The design of the townhomes has been revised by architect Claudia Brenner to include more architectural detail – bay windows on the north and south ends, and larger/full porches vs. the stoops of the previous design. The siding has also been changed to all earth-tones. It’s an improvement, but I’d rather see two separate windows above the porches. This project will be presented at the January Planning Board meeting.


7. Here are some drawings for 707 E. Seneca. Readers might remember this is the 6-unit building proposed by Todd Fox for a derelict playground recently sold off by the city. The 18-bedroom design by local firm Schickel Architecture has already been critiqued thoroughly by the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council, since the site is within a historic district and needs to look the part. I’d say that they’ve done well, it’s a bit bulky but otherwise a tasteful addition. An area variance will be required from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Construction is expected to cost $220,000 and run from April to July 2015. For more info, the application is here, drawings here.

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8. Since we’re talking about East Hill housing, here‘s the project application and here are the drawings for the duplexes proposed for the parking lot at 112 Blair Street. The Blair Street site will be combined with 804 East State Street, and the duplexes will have State Street addresses. The spartan design of these buildings is also by Schickel Architecture, and will add 12 bedrooms in 4 units. Cost is estimated at $213,000 and construction will start in April for a summer completion. The developer is Matthew Nestopoulos.



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