The Swinging Pendulum of the CIITAP Program

17 11 2015


If I had seen this before the Friday news roundup, I’d have included it there. But since I have no Monday night post scheduled this week, discussing the latest changes to CIITAP will be a fair substitute.

So, background. CIITAP stands for Community Investment Incentive Tax Abatement Program, and it’s a property tax abatement program that gives developers the opportunity to apply for abatement for a portion of their property taxes for a period of up to 7 years, or for an enhanced abatement of up to ten years if they can demonstrate financial hardship (i.e. without the abatement, there’s no way the project will be cost-effective; if it’s not cost-effective, a bank won’t offer construction loans, and the project doesn’t happen). Basically, it’s a tool designed to promote development in certain parts of the city where density is expected and/or encouraged, rather than lose tax-generating and job opportunities to the suburbs. A more substantial description can be found in a write-up for the Voice that I did back in January here.

The first version, which went into effect in 2001 as the Downtown Density Program, led to five projects being built, six if you split Cayuga Green into its garage and mixed-use components. The projects were worth about $62 million, and the earliest ones are now paying full taxes. Then the city decided it wanted more from the density incentive, and it created the CIIP Program, which was created in 2006. Over the following six years (2006-2012), that led to just one project, the $3.5 million Ital Thai renovation on the Commons. Part of it was that from 2006-2007, there was a moratorium on abatements, and another part was the recession. But another part of that was that CIIP was really lengthy and burdensome it had 48 stipulations, and a project had to meet 15 for partial assistance, and 23 for full assistance. It was so much paperwork that developers were disinterested and opted for other parts of the county.


Onto round three, the current CIITAP – much more simplified, it initially had three stipulations – one, that it be in the density district; two, that it was a $500,000 investment in either a new building, or in the renovation of a historic building; and three, that if a new building, that it be at least three floors. A fourth was later added that said that all your other properties had to be up to code and have no outstanding violations, which arguably was a tacit response to Jason Fane’s application for 130 East Clinton while he let the Masonic Temple rot. However, in the past couple of years there have been complaints from various groups that the city wasn’t getting enough out of the bargain. You can kinda see how the pendulum swings – the political consensus is that the first version was too generous, the second version two burdensome, and the third version too generous.

The city put together a study group to examine revisions to CIITAP, chaired by a Common Council member (Ellen McCollister of the 3rd Ward), and consisting of City Planning and IURA staff, a representative from TCAD, a representative from a local labor union, a developer, and a representative from the Coalition for Sustainable Economic Development. In short, the city’s trying to get a broad spectrum of perspectives. The revised CIITAP is to presented at the PEDC meeting Tuesday night.
Here are the goals:

1. Retain the program as an effective tool to incentivize smart growth and discourage sprawl
2. Improve the program’s ability to deliver broad community benefits that may include:
*** An increased use of local labor
*** An increase in living wage job creation
*** More environmentally friendly building
*** Increased economic opportunities for people of all backgrounds

Note that given the previous versions, they’re easier said than done.


In addition the standard 7-year and 10-year abatement, there’s also a new very stringent “enhanced” 12-year abatement option. All the 7-year and 10-year stipulations carry over, but now there’s a few more requirements on the list in four categories – “Environmental Sustainability”, “Local Construction Labor”, “Diversity and Inclusion”, and “Living Wage” .

  • In the “Environmental Sustainability” category, the new rule on the standard 7-year abatement and 10-year abatement is one of two two choices. The first choice is an annual benchmarking of energy usage during the abatement period using free software from the EPA. The report would be given to the city, IDA and made public, to prove the building is using energy at the level designed. The second choice is that they could submit paperwork indicating they’re pursuing LEED Certification, and provide proof of certification upon completion.
  • The “Local Construction Labor” category defines “local” as tompkins or any of the counties it borders (Cayuga, Seneca, Schuyler, Chemung, Tioga, and Cortland Counties — so no Syracuse, Rochester or Binghamton). In order to be eligible for a tax abatement, an applicant must commit to the City in writing and submit to the IDA proof that the general contractor has solicited bids from local sub-contractors for all major trades required for the construction project, such as HVAC, electrical, plumbing, carpentry and masonry. Secondly, they must submit a copy of their monthly payroll monthly payroll reporting of all workers on site during construction with a summary of how many employees are “local”, using the address, zip-code, and total payroll amount per employee. I’m not sure if all this will be public info – privacy advocates might push for keeping the employee address and payroll information confidential to the city and IDA.
  • In the “Diversity and Inclusion” category, the new requirement for all applicants is a company or primary tenant’s workforce demographic analysis by gender, race/ethnicity, age, disability, job class with gender, and job class with race/Hispanic ethnicity; as well as acknowledgement they have read and understood the City’s Anti-Discrimination employment ordinance; and a statement of their company’s or the major tenant’s goals for workforce diversity.
  • The program does touch on an affordable housing fund or mandate, but it’s stated that members don’t feel CIITAP can adequately address affordable housing, and the committee recommends exploring inclusionary zoning.

Under this plan, the number of stipulations for the 7-year and 10-year abatements goes from four to seven. The rest of the procedure is as before – the city holds a public meeting, then decides whether or not to endorse the project, and it goes to the county (TCIDA) for their vote, which is typically in line with the city’s recommendation.

Now, a new option is the 12-year “super-abatement”. Along with the demonstrated financial need, a project must also commit to one of the following – 40% local labor, energy usage 20% less than NYS Energy Code Requirements, or living wages for single-use entities like hotels. This is in addition to the previous stipulations for 10-year abatements.

So now’s the magic question? Will it be acceptable to the broader community? The city’s HR director wrote in an email attached to the PEDC agenda that the program doesn’t do enough for diversity, and needs to mandate rather than encourage it. Without a doubt, this whole program, as we’ve seen in the past fifteen years, is a delicate balance between encouraging density while getting community benefits. Hopefully, the abatement pendulum stops swinging and it finally comes to rest in a comfortable middle ground.

A Long Voyage Ahead for The Waterfront

27 10 2015

The NYS DOT property is probably the next big, Old Library-type project facing the county in the upcoming couple of years. There’s a lot to consider in a possible move of the DOT to Dryden, and subsequent sale of the site to a chosen developer. For that, the county paid $78,000 to Fisher Associates to conduct a feasibility study, the results of which are shared below.

The feasibility study examined multiple angles – environmental, physical, market and financial factors. It has to, because without a through examination of the site, the county could under-price themselves, or vice-versa, there may be fewer or no offers, should buyers think the site’s a poisoned chalice.

But let’s start with the initial disclaimer – things are years out. The Old Library site issued an RFEI in November 2013, and a preferred developer was only named in August. Plus, everything is still dependent on a DOT move, which will have its own schedule if it happens. All things considered, although the county has generously offers 2017 as a construction start date, it’ll probably be the end of the decade if not the 2020s before any soil starts to turn, assuming there’s an interested developer.

So let’s start with a look at the site’s history and environmental concerns. According to Fisher Associates’ Environmental Site Assessment (ESA, link here), the property was virtually unused until the NYS DOT bought the land and starting building their facilities on it in 1958. There were petroleum tanks underground, but they were removed and the land re-mediated in 2004, and now the only tanks on-site are above ground, and in good condition. Some concerns still exist with salt brine tanks, debris in the inlet, and materials from when the DOT used a septic system, before it was hooked up to the city sewer. None of these appear to be potential deal breakers, just things worth noting.


Perhaps surprisingly for a waterfront property, the vast majority of the site isn’t in the 100 or 500-year flood zone. Most of the site is elevated just enough to avoid flood risk.

Empire GeoServices of Cortland conducted the geotechnical report and site soil analysis. Looking at the soil conditions, being next to the water poses some limitations. Most of the lower elevations of the city suffer from poor, water-logged soils, which are soft and compressible near the top – in a few cases, shallow spread foundations, typically the cheapest option, have been damaged by excessive soil settling, so those are not recommended. Deep, pile foundations, like the ones used at the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek (micro-piles), Marriott (caissons) or some of the big box stores, are a safe option because they go down to more solid soil layers, but they’re more expensive. Shallow mat foundations can also be used in place of shallow spread foundations, but they’re also more complex and expensive, and are really only suitable for “light buildings” with less pounds for square inch. A mat foundation was used for Cornell’s new rowing center.

Long story short on the soils, it means that whatever is built will need a complex foundation, and its likely that whatever gets built will be priced at a premium. The study tacks on an extra 10% to the cost for townhouses and mixed-use buildings.

In the study, there are three plans considered – a hotel plan, a multifamily/townhouse “preferred” plan, and a maximum density plan. The site plan PDF is here, for you kids following along at home.


The hotel plan imagines a 124-room hotel (midsize in the Ithaca market) with 6450 SF of commercial space. The plan includes 10 townhouses and 52 multi-family units in the 850-1200 SF range. There are 286 parking spaces, as required by zoning – 1 for each hotel room (124), 1 per 100 SF of commercial space (64), 2 for each townhouse (20) and 1.5 for each apartment-type unit (78). 1 Space for 100 SF commercial space is fairly generous to drivers – the ITE trip generation manual shows most commercial retail to be well below that threshold, with only service outlets like fast-food joints, coffee shops and bars exceeding the 1 space/100 SF value.

The market issues with this plan are focuses on the hotel. A hotel was envisioned for the waterfront for decades, but being off by itself with only few nearby attractions (the trail and farmer’s market, not much else), it’s not as desirable as downtown, nor is the land as cheap as the Southwest suburban corridor. The feasibility study notes the waterfront might be a draw in the summer, but the weather the rest of the year would limit its appeal. With increased interest in living in the city, the hotel idea has had less allure in recent years. Still, the option was included for the sake of comment and critique. The study says a hotel would need 120+ room to support fixed costs (taxes, maintenance), and recommends a brand not present in Ithaca, like Hyatt or Starwood (Westin/Sheraton).


The multi-family/townhouse plan does away with the hotel and instead focuses more on residential. The plan is composed of 14,160 SF of commercial space, 46 townhouses and 84 multi-family units (130 units total). 356 parking spaces are provided.


The maximum density plan is as it sounds – the maximum legally allowed by zoning. The plan calls for 13,950 SF of commercial space, 137 multi-family units and 378 parking spaces.

Note that all three plans have a new indoor farmer’s market building, but that’s a separate development being spearheaded by the market.


Renderings make for great eye candy, but the emphasis is definitely not on the architecture here, because it’s a bit like predicting what new cars will look like in 2020. You know it will probably have four wheels, lights and doors, but everything else is just for show. Whoever buys it will come in with their own idea of how things should look (see Form Ithaca’s waterfront study for their take). For the sake of reference, a copy of the aerial renders of each layout is here.

Now for a financial summary (link), the feasibility in its essence. HR&A Advisors, who partnered with Fish Associates for the study, notes that development can work with a potential buyer’s bottom line, but it’s going to be expensive and the developer will seek to minimize risk as much as possible – there’s not much padding in the profit. There are few comparable products in the county to the site, which makes determining the market size, rents and level or risk somewhat more difficult than usual. The study assumes a 3-year, single-phase build-out.


The study assumes about $2.15/SF for a residential unit – in other words, a 1,000 SF unit (like a larger 2 bedroom or smaller 3 bedroom unit) renting for $2,150/month, similar to the Lofts @ Six Mile Creek or Gateway Commons downtown, which were used as comparables. Luxury housing, without a doubt. The waterfront commands a price premium, but the disconnection to the rest of the city could hinder rentals. Some condos/owner-occupied units are possible, but rentals would be the majority. Development costs range from $165/SF for a townhouse, to $215/SF for a multi-family unit, to $287/SF for the hotel. The value of a project ranges from $39-$45 million depending on plan, and with development costs taken into count, the land could sell for something less than $1,000,000 to $2.5 million. Over time, the project may generate $13-$22 million in tax revenue over 20 years, depending on approach.


The land itself will not sell for the price required to cover the DOT’s cost of moving, which will have to be underway before any sale takes place. The move is estimated at $14 million. This means that the city and county may have to chip in on upfront costs in order to get a good project in that will pay itself off via tax revenue. HR&A notes that an RFP should be flexible in its options, and be open to zoning variances that might improve a project’s chance of success.



For what it’s worth, Fisher associates also did a conceptual layout for a new DOT facility here.

According to the county, here are the next steps in the process:

  • A financial plan for the redevelopment of the Cayuga Inlet site that reduces the risk for private developers and generates revenue to support the move of the existing NYS DOT facility.
  • An analysis of the project’s impacts on infrastructure and utilities, the natural environment, neighborhood and adjacent properties, and the surrounding road network.
  • An estimate of the land value of as well as the individual components of the plan. The result will be an order of magnitude valuation of the site to better understand the project’s ability to attract private investment, support debt, and support a purchase price and tax revenue stream that could be used to advance the NYS DOT facility’s relocation.
  • A draft Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit developers to redevelop the site.
  • An estimate of the ongoing direct fiscal benefits to accrue to the City of Ithaca and to Tompkins County, including real property taxes, personal property taxes, school taxes, sales tax, and other applicable taxes and fees.
  • A financial strategy for moving the DOT site with some combination of revenue from sale of the site, direct funding from NY State, and, possibly, a local contribution from anticipated tax revenues.

Expect that last one to be potentially controversial. The state might move slow but could be supportive, but the city will have to explain and hope that a possible initial investment in the DOT’s move to Dryden could pay off over subsequent years. Voters don’t always like long-term plans.

News Tidbits 10/24/15: Breckneck Builds and Market Slowdowns

24 10 2015


1. College Crossings is dead. But its passing opens up an interesting conversation.

According to Ithaca town planning board minutes uploaded earlier this week, developer Evan Monkemeyer withdrew his proposal after planning board members weren’t comfortable with approving the environmental assessment and mitigation plan for the proposal (technically called a “negative declaration” by the lead agency on the SEQR). While at least one was bothered by the 3-story, 54′ height, many board members had visions of the Form Ithaca charrette for the property, and this didn’t quite jibe with Monkemeyer’s plans for South Hill’s King Road and Route 96B/Danby Road intersection. Minutes for the July and August meetings can be found here.


plan-2 plan-1

Now, I will gladly admit that I was not a fan of this project, and I too wanted something more along the lines of Form Ithaca. I’m surprised, though, that it was enough to derail approvals of the project.

Now, the problem is, the town’s new comprehensive plan embraces form-based codes and “Smart Growth”, but the zoning is auto-centric, outdated, and doesn’t mesh with the plan. If you’re a developer or builder, big or small, and what’s legal and what the town wants are two very separate things…Houston, we have a problem.

At this point, there’s two questions that come to mind – one, given that the town planning board has cancelled most of its meetings lately due to a lack of proposals, is the disconnect between plan and zoning halting projects, and two, when will revised zoning be ready. For guidance and knowledge, I reached out to town of Ithaca assistant planning director Dan Tasman, because he’s pleasant, responsive and a pretty great guy.

As for question one, here’s his quote: “Seriously, I think it’s … complicated.” His thoughts were that there’s no indication whether the recent slowdown were caused by the planning/zoning disconnect, or natural ebb and flow related to lending and planning on the ends of home-builders and developers.

As for question two, the response was summed up as, “a lot of communities face the same issue after they adopt new comp plans. On the positive side, Ithaca’s not growing that fast, and the pace of development is slow. Still, there’s a sense of urgency.”

He’s right about the town not growing that fast. The permit records show that in September, the only new home-building permit was for a duplex at 214 Pennsylvania Avenue on South Hill (the Iacovellis building more student rentals for IC, probably). The previous month online, June, had four single-family homes, filling out lots in previous-approved subdivisions.


Traditionally, the town of Ithaca has made up a pretty sizable chunk of the new home permits in the county. But if they only issue 30-40 this year (still better than last year’s 14), then it falls on the rest of the communities to try and make up the housing deficit, at least in the short term. Ithaca city’s total, anticipated to be 247 new units to be permitted in 2015, is only about 84 units right now, because John Novarr has yet to start Collegetown Terrace’s Phase III, and Steve Flash’s 323 Taughannock on Inlet Island has yet to start either. To bring down the deficit in a decade, as well as keep up with annual economic growth, the county would need over 600 units per year; it’s not certain if the total will reach even half that in 2015.

On the one hand, the town of Ithaca is trying to be proactive and adopt a new approach to development in quick and good order. On the other hand, it’s not a great situation for trying to make a dent in the housing deficit, with its attendant affordability issues, and there’s the possibility things are going to get worse before it gets better. I don’t know if there’s a right or a wrong way of going about it, but it’s a stressful setup.

2. On the county level, officials are seeking legislature approval for launching a study into the feasibility of an airport business/industrial park in Lansing. 52 acres of vacant land along Warren and Cherry Roads are being considered for the study, which would include a conceptual site plan of potential buildings and parcels, and an assessment of the needs and characteristics of companies most likely to open in the potential business park. Utilities and green infrastructure will also be looked at in the study. The projected cost is less than $50,000, and being paid for by the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (TCIDA). The feasibility study would be awarded next month, with authorization and approvals on the staff level.


For what it’s worth, folks living up there are used to business traffic – Borg Warner’s 1,300 person plant is adjacent to the study site. The Warren Road Business Park lies a minute’s drive up the road, and the Cornell Business Park is about a minute’s drive south. The land also has municipal sewer, allowing for large-scale projects. A copy of the RFP states two that the two parcels shown above are the primary analysis area, with secondary areas closer to the airport runway and the resident land to the west separate from the park. They aren’t a part of the proposed business park, but the county asks that they be examined for development potential by the study.


3. Details, details – the Holiday Inn Express already under construction in big-box land at 371 Elmira Road will be going in front of the city planning board this month for some slight modifications. The developer, Rudra Management and Rosewood Hotels of Cheektowaga, wants to increase the number of rooms from 76 to 79, and add three parking spaces accordingly. Along with that comes the bevy of supporting docs – technical drawings here, landscape plan here, landscape schedule here, and elevation drawings here. Apart from a palette change on the exterior (the red-brown color is “Decorous Amber“, part of the new official Holiday Inn color scheme per the architects’ cover letter), there are no changes to the design, the 3 additional rooms are just an update to the interior configuration of the hotel, one more room on each of floors 2-4. Apart from tastes in color and making sure the three new parking spaces pose no issues, the board won’t have to debate much here, and the hotel is still very likely to open next summer.


4. In small but notable builds, Modern Living Rentals (MLR) is at it again. The relatively new Ithaca-based rental and development company is planning a triplex (3 units) at 1015 Dryden Road, just east of the hamlet of Varna. According to an email from MLR co-owner Todd Fox, the units, all 2-bedrooms, will start construction in the spring, and it’s a safe wager they’re shooting for an August 2016 completion, just in time for Cornell student renters. Judging from the renders on MLR’s site, each unit will be around 930 SF, so about 2,790 SF total. MLR teamed up once again with local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative for the design.

1015 Dryden is also home to a single-family home built in 1938, and a 4-unit apartment building from about 1980. The apartment building was badly damaged in a fire in 2011, renovated, and the site was sold to MLR for $425,000 in March 2014.

815_s_aurora_4 815_s_aurora_5 815_s_aurora_6

5. While on the topic of MLR, let’s throw in some eye candy. Along with the plans for 1015 Dryden, additional images for the proposed 87-unit project at 815 South Aurora Street on South Hill can be found on their website as well. I’ve included two perspective renderings and an aerial render, but more images can be found here. The 87 units will all be studio apartments. STREAM Collaborative is responsible for this design as well.

A detailed write-up of the project, including the related cell phone tower issue, can be found here.

6. Out in Lansing town, there are two attention-grabbing news pieces from Tuesday’s next planning board meeting. One is a plan for an LP gas / petroleum distribution facility on Town Barn Road (parcel address 3125 N. Triphammer Road). A 30,000 gallon storage tank and gravel drive are planned in the initial phase, with 5 15,000 gallon tanks, a garage/maintenance building, and an office planned in later phases. Now, normally a project like this is not a big deal, but there’s the outside possibility local contingents of the anti-Crestwood, anti-fossil fuel groups will go on the offensive to try and stop it. So the potential for political football is there.

The other detail isn’t up for discussion yet, but the town notes that 15 duplexes (30 units) are being planned by former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney for a site on Peruville Road (the county calls it 428 Scofield Road, but the land has frontage on both roads). The site already houses 4 duplexes built in 2011.


7. Instead of the the usual “House of the Week”, this week is more of a shout-out/advertisement. For those with cable, The DIY Network will be running a new episode of “Breckneck Builds” tonight at 11 PM (additional showings listed here), highlighting a just-finished home on Dryden’s Hollister Road. Quoting the promo write-up:

“Jordyn is ready to leave her rental behind and buy her first home, but what is most important to Jordyn is that her new home is eco friendly, so she is turning to the modular world to build a big house with a small carbon footprint.”

The modular home assembly was the work of local builder Carina Construction, who also tackled the modular units at the Belle Sherman Cottages site. Local builder, local resident, local project, so set your DVRs or TiVo.

8. Last but not least, here’s your Planning Board agenda for next Tuesday. Nothing new at this month’s meeting, but here’s the run-down:

A. Review of changes and revised approval for the Holiday Inn Express (see above)

B. Declaration of environmental significance and BZA reccomendations for 215-221 West Spencer Street– Pocket Neighborhood, 12 units w/ 26 bedrooms, Ed Cope/PPM Homes is the developer, Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

C. Environmental Review Discussion for the bar/lounge proposed for the renovation of 416 E. State – cover letter here, description here, letters of opposition in the agenda.

D. Public hearing and re-approval, Hotel Ithaca renovations, 222 S. Cayuga – Site Plan Review drawings here, renders here and here. Not sure there’s enough of a difference from the first time around, but at least the cross-catching on the exterior is gone.

E. Herson/Wagner Funeral Home renovation, 327 Elmira – Declaration of Lead Agency and Public Hearing – I wrote about that in the Voice here. Fun fact, the original proposed title was “Funeral home hopes to being new life to Elmira Road property”. It was rejected.

News Tidbits 10/3/15: Lying in Wait

3 10 2015

1.We’ll start with a news piece out of the ‘burbs. Over in Lansing town, wealthy homeowners are accusing the town board and the town planning board of disenfranchising and ignoring them over concerns about the proposed Novalane housing development. Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star gives a very thorough rundown here.

Quick summary, Novalane is a 19-lot high-end housing development slated for farmland between two other high end housing developments, the mostly-built Lakewatch and Eastlake subdivisions, the first phase of which is comprised of seven lots on the west side of the parcel. The sticking point has to do with access roads for the new homes. The developer proposes to connect the two developments via the Smuggler’s Path cul-de-sac, which would extend down through an undeveloped lot in Eastlake and connect with Eastlake Road.

According to the town, the intent has always been to connect the two developments – but apparently, no one ever had a good idea where. Neighbors on Reach Run are incensed because they’re afraid of additional traffic on their road if the connector isn’t extended all the way, but if connected, Eastlake residents are opposed to cross-traffic they suspect will cut through to get to East Shore Drive. Aside from that conundrum, some neighbors have suggested being okay with the road if it went all the way from Smuggler’s Path to form an intersection with Waterwagon Road, but that doesn’t seem possible given the property lines of the Rec Club. At the very least, it would be a big burden in the development costs.

So on the one hand, here is a town that has struggled with planning issues. On the other, you have wealthy residents angry about construction vehicles accessing the one house currently under construction in Lakewatch, and prepared to sue the town over the potential of seven more houses. There’s also this gem of a line:

“We’re large taxpayers.  It’s an autocracy.  To be treated like that by our own representatives is incorrect and not acceptable.  Who are they working for?”

Maybe all taxpayers and not just the large ones? Just saying.

2. Switching over to another ‘burb, the proprietors of Storage Squad made their pitch to the town of Dryden, per the Ithaca Times. Storage Squad, a Cornell startup that has expanded to twenty cities, seems to have a rather unique take on the appearance of self-storage. For their facility planned at 1401 Dryden Road, the company wants to build 79,600 SF of space, 70,000 SF of which would be in five buildings consisting of 400 storage units. 315 units may join 3-4 years down the line. According to the presentation, there would be a Cornell-inspired clock tower, brick and ivy growing on the side walls. Paved entries, gated, and split-face concrete masonry units. Apparently, it was enough to win the town supervisor over. A special zoning permit will be required, but approval is expected later this fall. No word on whether they’ll keep the 150-year old house on-site.

3.  Must be a good week for Dryden. The eyesore at 76 West Main Street has been sold and has a construction loan approved to finish renovations. The Ithaca Voice article I did on the reno is here. I toyed with the idea of calling Dryden mayor Reba Taylor for a quote, but I figured I’d get a very generic statement it any at all, and in the interest of time the idea was shelved. I might get a response to one-third of the calls I make regarding development/real estate stuff, which can be frustrating but I’ve gotten used to it.


4. The Times’ Josh Brokaw brings out an update on the latest State Street Triangle news. The important details:

– CTB has agreed to take one of the commercial spaces. No word on how that would affect the North Aurora Street location a couple blocks away.

– The planning board didn’t have many words; One member suggested the curve portion was “too flat” and an arcade on the first floor (not the video game kind, but the archways over a walkway kind). A second brought up affordable housing, which the developers have given consideration, but isn’t in the current plan.

– In favor: the director of Cinemapolis, other developers, CTB’s owner and students. Not in favor – the head of Historic Ithaca, and councilman George McGonigal – who opposed the Stone Quarry Apartments, the waterfront rezoning, 210 Hancock and thinks the city can make Cornell build dorms. The Times has called him out as “anti-urban”. If a councilperson outside the first ward speaks out, it’ll get a lot more credence on this blog.



5. The city and Cornell gave an interesting presentation about development to the Collegetown Neighborhood Council this week. City planning director JoAnn Cornish gave a rundown of what’s planned, included the 102 apartments 302-306 College Avenue (phases one and two shown above). This one might still be in the hopper, but don’t expect it to move forward anytime soon – the developers (the Avramis family) have rented out the houses to be demolished through May 2017. It also seems like that one building would be in the 2017-2018 time frame, the second 2018-2019. So these two mid-rises are quite a ways out, assuming they’re still in the works. Also, Fane’s 12-story proposal for 330 College is still dead, but something more modest may come forward someday.

On another interesting note, Cornell’s lead planner, Leslie Schill, said the university may be looking into turning Eddy Gate and the Sheldon Court plaza into green spaces to offset the lack of parks in the neighborhood. Cornell might also renovate the Ag Quad into a richer pedestrian experience.

6. The Carpenter Business Park purchaser continues to intrigue. A company called Carpenter Business Park LLC, using a P.O. Box ties to the Miller Mayer law firm, has bought two more parcels after buying the four unused land parcels in the Carpenter Business Park for $2.4 million last August. This time around, the LLC purchased a nondescript one-story commercial building at 742 Cascadilla Street, and a nearby tiny silver of land between the Palisades Corporation and Cornell U. Press buildings for $304,000. It’s not clear what the buyer is intended to do with all these properties (we know it’s not a big box store), but it’s definitely curious. If something comes up, it’ll be shared here.


News Tidbits 9/12/15: Some Projects Lose Mass, and Some Hold Mass

12 09 2015

1. We’ll start this week off with a little bit of economic development news. According to paperwork filed with the Tompkins County IDA, CBORD, a Lansing-based software company, wants to move out of its digs in the Cornell office park by the airport, and into a new larger facility in renovated space in the South Hill Business Campus next to Ithaca College. CBORD would lease 41,000 SF of space with five year options to renew. All 245 local employees would be moved into the renovated space, which would be finished by the end of May 2016 and designed by local architect John Snyder.

The project is expected to cost about $3.7 million. No new jobs are stated in the application.

Assuming SHBC’s website is up-to-date, no contiguous spaces are currently large enough for the tenant, so either the internal space will be split up, or some other tenants will be jostled around to make room for CBORD.

As for the abatement itself, CBORD is requesting a sales tax abatement, one year in length, with a value of $296,000, about 8% of the project cost. It doesn’t appear to have made any waves at Thursday night’s meeting, so what;s likely to be a low-key public hearing and approval vote will be coming in the pipeline.

Also at the IDA meeting, final approvals were granted for tax abatements on the 209-215 Dryden project by John Novarr in conjunction with Cornell. and for INHS’s 210 Hancock affordable housing development in the city’s Northside neighborhood.

2. Another small infill project seeks approval from the city’s planning board and the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). 525 West Green Street, located on the edge of the South Side neighborhood, is currently home to a 4-unit apartment house. Local developer Todd Fox of Modern Living Rentals (MLR) is seeking to build a 4-unit, 4-bedroom apartment house at the rear of the property, where a clapped-out garage currently stands. The units would be rentals, but this far from Cornell and Ithaca College, the target market is likely to be permanent Ithaca residents – single professionals would be a good guess.


Plans drawn up by prolific local firm STREAM Collaborative call for a 2-story, 2,360 SF “carriage house” building designed to fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, although quite honestly no one would be able to see the new building unless one were looking down the driveway. A landscaped rear parking area for 8 vehicles would replace the current 4-car lot behind the existing building.

According to Site Plan Review documents, construction cost is estimated at $300,000, and construction would take place from November 2015 to July 2016. Area variances are required from the BZA since this building partially occupied space reserved for the rear setback, but according to the SPR the variance has already been granted.

Readers might recall that MLR has been a very busy company as of late – although relatively new to the Ithaca scene (MLR was established in 2010 by then-recent college graduates Charlie O’Connor and Todd Fox), the company has developed the 6-unit 707 East Seneca apartment building, a duplex at 605 South Aurora, and is currently going through the approvals process for solar-powered townhomes out in Varna. The duo also partnered with local real estate businessman Bryan Warren to purchase the Collegetown Bagels at 201-207 North Aurora Street.

As for the project itself, 525 West Green Street is perhaps the largest example of the carriage house trend Ithaca has been seeing lately, where old garages or unused rear lot spaces are being developed into small, detached apartments, typically no more than studio or 1-bedroom size. Other examples include 201 West Clinton, 607 Utica,  and new this month, a studio apartment proposed for a former workshop/garage at 701 North Aurora. Arguably, one could throw New Earth Living/Sue Cosentini’s Aurora Street pocket neighborhood in there as well.

Given that these properties are modestly-sized, rarely visible from the street, and provide rental income to property owners who in most cases live on the same lot, they seem like an appropriate way to increase density without upsetting Ithaca’s character balance.


3. Briefly in blurbs – according to the agenda for Ithaca town’s Public Works Committee (PWC), the town will be looking at sanitary sewer access for a potential development along Troy Road. Now, before anyone gets their blood pressure raised, this most likely has nothing to do with the 130-unit project that was mothballed a few months ago. But, there have been rumors of smaller-scale plans for one of the parcels that comprised the now-subdivided property. The development radar has been turned on, and if anything shows up, you’ll see it shared here.

4. Staying in Ithaca town for the time being, the town’s planning board has but one project on their agenda for next Tuesday – a new parish center for St. Catherine of Siena Church in the Northeast Ithaca neighborhood.

Yes, even in Ithaca, one of the least religious metros in the country, famously home to a school that pastors derided in fiery philippics 150 years ago for daring to not affiliate itself with a Christian denomination or enforce mandatory church attendance, churches can hold their own.


Plans call for a new 10,811 SF parish center at 302 St. Catherine Circle, on what is currently part of the church parking lot. Once built, the current parish center, a one-story, 10,275 SF jumble of boxes and corridors, would be demolished and replaced with parking spaces. Richard McElhiney Architects of NYC is the project architect, and a bit of an unusual choice since the firm doesn’t have a presence or previous work up here.

In an assessment by Ithaca town planner Christine Balestra, concerns were noted about a phased parking plan for the church while construction is underway, and minor requests for landscaping details (plans call for two fountains). Other than that, it doesn’t look like this is going to make any waves during the approvals process.

5. Over in the town of Danby, plans are underway to convert a former clothing design and warehouse facility into a mixed-tenant business center. Docs filed by STREAM Collaborative’s Noah Demarest on behalf of owner David Hall call for modifications of a Planned Development Zone for the property at 297-303 Gunderman Road. Danby’s PDZ is not unlike the city’s PUD and town of Ithaca’s PDZ, where the form and layout is regulated rather than the use. The original PDZ for the property dates from the mid-1990s.


The “Summit Enterprise Center” would be anchored by National Book Auctions currently on Danby Road, Blue Sky Center for Learning (a company that provides support and therapy for autistic individuals and their families), and New Moon Harvest, a food and beverage maker. Additional office, warehouse and industrial/food production space would be available to potential tenants. The existing 21,000 SF building and landscape would not be significantly changed, although future plans for a 4,147 SF addition and parking lot are noted.


6. Speaking of PDZs and PUDs, I did take the opportunity when I spoke to David Lubin last week to ask how things were going with the Chain Works District development. Here’s what he said:

“Chain Works District is continuing. We’re working with the state and Emerson, investigating the site and making sure all the remediation plans are readied and approved. There will be public hearings. It’s a slow process. We will need DEC approval for the residential uses. We hope to obtain city approvals [for the draft environmental impact statement] this year.”

There’s no doubt the project will take time. With complicated topography, environmental issues, 800,000 SF of planned development space and two municipalities, it’s arguably the most complicated tax parcel in all of the county, if not the region. Readers may stretch their memories back and remember that the first phase will consist of the renovation of buildings 21, 24, 33 and 34 into mixed-use and manufacturing space. Ithaca Builds (come back Jason, Ithacans need someone with your knowledge) provides a detailed run-down here.


7. Courtesy of Maria Livingston at HOLT Architects, here’s a render of the renovation HOLT is undertaking for its new headquarters at 619 West State Street. Gone are the rather dated-looking decorative parapets, and in comes a clean, modern design with a mix of wood, brick and steel facade materials. HOLT’s 30 employees will occupy most of the new space in the  net-zero energy structure, but there will be space for two other tenants (one of which has already been claimed).

HOLT is spending about $900k on the renovation, which is due to be complete next March. Tompkins Trust Company is providing the financing, and local company McPherson Builders is in charge of general construction.

A copy of the official press release, and an interior render, can be found on HOLT’s blog here.


8. We’ll wrap up this work with a topic at the tip of everyone’s tongue – State Street Triangle. Architects Kelly Grossman of Austin, Texas and Noah Demarest of STREAM have worked to redesign the project so that its massing is less imposing and its design a little more varied. Specifically, it now looks more like several buildings built next to each other with varying setbacks and heights, rather than one continuous mass – the change is especially prominent on the 300 Block of East State, where the most concern was raised.

The developers held a community meeting Thursday night (pro tip for Campus Advantage – next time, give more than 30 hours’ notice), which has been covered by the Journal here and the Voice here. That the developers scheduled their own community meeting outside of the confines of city hall is laudable.

As part of the redesign, the number of bedrooms has been reduced from 620 to 582. Recent estimates have now priced the project at $70 million. The developer has expressed interest in designated some of the units as affordable housing, in what would be an example of the inclusive zoning that some city staff are currently looking into.


The project is seeking a tax abatement, though the formal details have yet to be released. Rents would be between $980-$1,600 per month per person, and would include utilities, gym and other “all-inclusive services”. I suspect that a parking space in the Cayuga Garage is an added cost.

Speaking strictly for myself, the design is an improvement, though I have subjective quibbles – for instance, would a lighter color material make the north wall of 11-story middle section less visible from a distance, and would it be possible to give the blank walls more character. Balancing pros and cons, I also think the design of the Commons-facing corner looks tasteful and classy. The prospect of affordable units in the building is intriguing. If I was a planning board member, I’d ask to see material samples to make sure the building doesn’t end up looking cheap.


Additional images of the updated design can be found on the city’s website here, and a written summary of the changes from project consultant Scott Whitham of can be found here.

Hotel Ithaca Plans New 5-Story Wing in First Phase

10 09 2015


The Hotel Ithaca is once again seeking to expand its offerings.

In what’s being billed as a “modernization”, owner David Hart of Buffalo-based Hart Hotels is proposing a $9.5 million project that includes a new 5-story addition to the hotel, located at 222 S. Cayuga Street in downtown Ithaca. The 2-story north and west wings of the Hotel Ithaca would be demolished. Site Plan Review documents filed with the city (link here) call for a November 2015 construction start, with the new wing opening in April 2017. NH Architecture of Rochester will be designing the new hotel wing (additional drawings of the new wings can be found here).

The construction would be the first phase of a multi-year project. Once the new wing is opened, the south wing of the hotel would be decommissioned and eventually demolished. Sketch plans presented presented at a Planning Board meeting earlier this summer indicated a second, later phase that adds three more floors on the hotel wing (bringing the new wing to eight stories), with a two-story convention center sitting on the corner of South Cayuga and West Clinton Streets.


Because of the demolitions and decommission of the south wing in favor of later construction plans, the net increase of hotel rooms is actually a decrease – from 180 down to 170 rooms.

Like several other Hart Hotels properties throughout the Northeast, the hotel has no chain affiliation, although the property was a Holiday Inn until the end of 2013. The 180-room hotel initially opened as a Ramada Inn in 1972, and the 10-story “Executive Tower” was completed in 1984.

Zoning at the site is CBD-100 (Central Business District), meaning that a proposed structure can be up to 100 feet (two floors at the least) with minimal required setbacks and no required on-site parking.


Under plans previously presented three years ago, the Hotel Ithaca sought to demolish the two-story wings of the hotel, and in their place the hotel would would build a new 9-story, 115-room tower, a kitchen addition, and a 15,000 SF conference center.

The then-$18 million project had significant local support from business owners, because Ithaca lacks the ability to host mid-size conferences and conventions (midsize meaning about 500 attendees), which sends conventioneers elsewhere. Currently, the lack of meeting space limits conferences to about 250 guests. The addition of a convention facility is seen as a major benefit to downtown retail, as well as other hotels that would handle overflow guest traffic. Convention traffic typically happens during weekdays, when regular tourist traffic is lowest.

However, the project, which was initially slated to start in November 2012, has failed to obtain financing for construction. The project applied for and received a property tax abatement for the new construction, and the Ithaca Urban Renewal Agency (IURA) even offered the possibility of a $250,000 loan if it would create a financial package that would allow the convention center to be built. But until this summer, there had been no indication of any plans moving forward.

Due to the modifications of the original plan, the county IDA will need to re-approve the tax abatement incentive package previously offered to the hotel.

News Tidbits 9/5/15: Ithaca the Diva

5 09 2015


1. John Novarr’s project at 209-215 Dryden Road has been given the green light. The city of Ithaca’s Planning and Development Board approved the $12 million project at their August meeting. With approvals in hand, Novarr is free to start construction as soon as he has his construction loans, which should be no problem given that Cornell’s MBA program has agreed to occupy the whole building (though only about 70% of the space will actually be used at initial completion; the MBA program will fill out the building as their needs require). Conveniently, Novarr won’t have to worry about site demolition and asbestos removal because he cleared the site in May.

The 6-story, 73,000 SF building will begin construction in “four months” per the end-of-August Sun article, or November if the Site Plan Review (SPR) paperwork is still accurate. Completion of the building is anticipated for the second quarter of 2017. ikon.5 of Princeton, New Jersey is the project architect.

When filled out, the building will house 250 employees of the university, and 450 students of the Executive MBA program, who only attend classes in Ithaca during traditionally slow periods of the year (winter break and summer break; during the rest of the year, students attend weekend classes in the town of Palisades in Rockland County). To that effect, the project would go a long way in easing the strongly cyclical consumer traffic that makes it hard to do business in the largely-student neighborhood. Students also stay at the Statler while on campus, and staff and students will walk over from Cornell faculty/staff parking to get to the building.

Last month, the Tompkins County IDA approved a 50-year tax abatement for the project, in the form of a PILOT agreement. With the other option of Cornell buying the property and making it tax-exempt, the county has decided that something is better than nothing.

The project joins a slew of mostly residential projects under construction in the Collegetown neighborhood. 205 Dryden, 327 Eddy and 307 College are all underway, and several smaller projects were recently completed. The new investments total over $36 million, and with the exception of Novarr’s project, all the other projects will be taxed at full value.



2. Meanwhile, there have some mild hang-ups with another project. The solar-powered townhomes in Dryden are seeing some resistance, mostly from the nearby Cornell Plantations, and from neighbors opposed to rental housing in Varna. The Ithaca Times piece uses this dandy of a line:

“Resident Cheryl Humerez, whose family and in-laws both own homes that neighbor the proposed project, was disgusted by the thought of a rental development, which might attract college students, becoming her neighbor.”

Going beyond the “disgusted” comment, most of the students that would live this far from Cornell’s campus would be graduate and professional students. Undergrads are less likely to have cars and tend to live in the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to Cornell’s core (Collegetown, Cornell Heights and parts of East Hill). Graduate and professional students tend to be like any other 20 or 30-something living on modest wages. The chances of a “keggers on Tuesday” kinda place are virtually nil. Also worth pointing out, Dryden’s town supervisor called Humerez out on that comment, saying she was saddened that renters were being described as a problem.

Cornell Plantations, as represented by Todd Bittner, has more legitimate concerns about litter, the driveway location and stormwater drainage; but glancing at the town minutes, it looks like the “I know we need development, just not in this neighborhood” argument also makes an appearance.

The town board (in Dryden, it seems the town board oversees public hearings of the planning board’s agenda) is taking a more level approach; acknowledging that it’s a decent project, community input is important for good development, and by incorporating mitigation measures to assuage worried neighbors, this has the potential to be a worthy community asset. Expect this project to evolve as we go through the next couple of months.

Also noted in the town minutes are plans for a 78,000 SF storage facility next to NYSEG at 1401 Dryden Road. Plans from a Cornell startup named “Storage Squad” call for “high quality, attractive self-storage” with 400 storage units in the first phase. The project will need site plan review.


3. To anyone who’s passed by the vacant lot at 402 South Cayuga Street and wondered when INHS will start those for-sale townhomes: I’ve taken the liberty of checking. INHS director Paul Mazzarella stated in an email that “[t]he project is out to bid for a general contractor. The bids will be due next week. If the numbers are OK, we will start as soon as possible.” So barring any nasty shocks in the bids, the four-unit project (1 3-bedroom, 3 2-bedroom) will start in just a few weeks. As with other INHS projects, the units will be sold to qualified first-time homebuyers with modest incomes (anecdotally, that means the $40k-$50k range…it seems like half the buyers in the past year or so have been teachers in the ICSD).

4. In a rare bit of bad economic news in Ithaca, Ithaca College has announced its intent to slash about 40 staff positions from its workforce. This follows 47 job cuts in academic year 2014-2015, 39 of which were vacancies.

The cuts are part of an effort to bring tuition costs and help the college stabilize enrollment numbers, which have been sliding down lately. No faculty positions will be eliminated as part of the layoffs. IC currently has about 1,070 staff and 730 faculty, about 200 more than they employed a decade ago.


5. The rumor mill said that a reporter from the New York Times was in town last Friday, and apparently they liked what they saw; the piece in the NYT takes a very positive and gracious approach with Ithaca and its recent urban developments. If you haven’t read it already, the link is here.

[What follows is a spark-notes version of the Voice piece – I’ll update with links after the weekend holiday.]

More importantly are some useful details in the piece – one of which is that we now know the revised mix of uses for the 11-story Harold’s Square project calls for 86 apartments, up from 46 when it was first approved in 2013. The apartment units will be a mix of 1-bedroom and 2-bedrooms. Readers may recall that the project dropped two floors of office space in favor of two floors of apartments. The project also includes about 11,000 SF of retail on the Commons.

In a phone conversation with developer David Lubin, the current plan is to start construction of the $38 million project in early 2016:

“Rev will be out at the end of September. We’ll probably begin demolition after the first of the year, after the holiday shopping season, we don’t want to be a nuisance to Christmas shoppers. We’ll have pop-up store space available during the holidays. They’re not solid, but those are out plans. We’ll see how it goes”.

Also, the project will be going back to the planning board.

“The planning board re-approved the current design [last month]. However, there will be changes to the design, as we’ve changed the office space to apartments and they have different needs, window placement, things like that. When we’re ready, we’ll present those to the planning board. Not September and probably not the October meeting, but before the end of the year.”

The project was originally approved in August 2013, with a CIITAP tax abatement package approved two months later. However, putting a financial package together has been a task.

“These things take time,” Lubin stressed. “The Marriott, that needed 3 or 4 years before they started. It can be a slow process.”



6. For those keeping an eye on the Simeon’s reconstruction, expect to see some progress in the next couple of weeks. That’s according to an interview the Sun conducted with Simeon’s co-owner Rich Avery. The timeline has yet to be finalized, but the new restaurant space and luxury apartments are anticipated for completion by late next summer, with the resturant re-opening as early as February.


7. Gosh, it’s nice to have the Sun back in session. Also from the Sun, incoming Cornell president Elizabeth Garrett has formally announced plans for new student housing, among other graduate student initiatives. From the Sun:

“Following her discussion on maintaining and promoting diversity among graduate students, Garrett announced the creation of new graduate student housing.

“My team and I are committed to working with the GPSA to create an inclusive and rewarding [graduate and] professional student living environment,” she said. “Most immediately, I am working now with my team to work on critical housing needs.”

According to Garrett, since the University’s Maplewood Park Apartments — a graduate student housing facility located near the Veterinary School — is closing, the University is currently collaborating with private partners to create new graduate-student housing at the Maplewood site and to develop additional housing in the East Hill Village.”

Heads up folks, East Hill Village isn’t even a thing a yet, it’s just a concept from the master plan. Anyway, this goes along with Ithaca town supervisor Herb Engman’s comments to the county that Cornell is engaging with consultants to bring a plan forward. There’s nothing else known about the plans, and it’ll be a few years before any students start moving in to new Cornell-sponsored digs, but everything has to start somewhere, and Cornell’s created quite a deficit for itself when it comes to providing adequate amounts of graduate housing.

Also, note the “collaborating with private partners” bit – these may or may not be tax-exempt, we shall see what happens.


8. Here’s the latest update on State Street Triangle, courtesy of the Ithaca Times. I have to admit, although I technically compete for eyeballs via the Voice, I like Josh Brokaw’s writing, he tends to be a bit of a wiseass and it’s entertaining.

The big hang-up is massing. Not height, not tenant mix. A couple of ideas floated or suggested include height setbacks or overall reductions, and a redesign of the facade to make it appear more like separate buildings built next to each other.

According to Brokaw’s piece, some landlords are even questioning the need for new units, saying that all these new units could drive prices down.

Captain Obvious just arrived into port. By the way, given the recent growth in general and student populations and corresponding increase in demand for living space, if a landlord is having trouble filling their units right now, it’s probably not the city’s fault.

Campus Advantage has already spent $500,000 on the project, but it doesn’t seem like they’re going to throw in the towel just yet. They were probably hoping for an approvals process as easy as their Pittsburgh apartment tower, but…live and learn.



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