News Tidbits 7/9/16: Land Ho

9 07 2016

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1. Starting off this week, a couple of new pieces regarding Ithaca’s waterfront. First, the city’s chances of picking up some prime waterfront real estate at a low, low price are gone, though not any fault of their own. Readers might recall that back in late May, the properties were about to be foreclosed on for unpaid taxes, and the county was discussing selling the parcels, worth over $630,000, to the city if the city paid off the $42,844 tax bill. Pretty sweet deal for the city, right?

But the owner, an LLC that has held the parcels since the late 1990s, managed to pay off the tax bill and an attached penalty fee, which means they get to keep the land. So, if the city had any plans for those parcels, they’ll be filing those away for a long while.

2. However, it looks like several properties are being put up for the sale in the city’s West End near the Waterfront. Local realtor Brent Katzmann has four properties listed – 321 N Fulton, a duplex on 0.11 acres for $144,800; 319 N Fulton, a single family on 0.04 acres for $109,875; 626 W Buffalo, a single family on a narrow and deep 0.15 acre lot, for $124,999; and 622 W Buffalo, a duplex on a narrow and deep 0.19 acre lot, for $134,800. The prices generally run at or up to 10% over the tax-assessed value ($130,000/$100,000/$125,000/$125,000). The currently owner is a Long Island-based LLC, led by a pair of New York City real estate lawyers, who acquired the properties from 2010-2012. Prior to them, many of the properties have been through a merry-go-round of owners over the past 10-15 years.

The properties are in fair to rough shape, and the marketing tactic being used isn’t renovation, but rather development potential. The four properties all fall within WEDZ-1a zoning, which is the city’s attempt at encouraging development on the West End. WEDZ-1a permits residential, commercial and mixed-use 2-5 story buildings, 90% lot coverage (100% if less than 50 feet on two sides – the Buffalo parcels and 319 N Fulton), and no parking requirement. The properties are not affected by the city’s TM-PUD.

The West Buffalo lots could be tough since the house in-between is owned by someone else, but deep lots and the corner of North Fulton and West Court offer some potential. Worth keeping an eye on, if only to see who they sell to.

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3. One less homebuilder around. Avalon Homes is closing up shop. The Ithaca-based company is selling off its lots and trying to wrap up the homes they have underway. Rumors abound as to why, but if firm, verifiable information can be obtained, there will be more to follow.

Avalon made its name doing stick-built built, with a focus on affordability and green construction. Avalon, a certified Living Wage employer, was the general contractor for INHS’s Holly Creek townhomes (shown above), and employed at least a dozen back in 2010.

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4. The Planning Board and the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission will be conducting another joint meeting on Tuesday the 12th at 5:30 regarding the Travis Hyde Properties’ proposal for the Old Library. HOLT Architects responded to comments from the ILPC at its last meeting that the design needed to be “quiet” by submitting the revised elevations seen below.

Mission accomplished? Armchair architect comment here, but the revised design is too far the other way. There’s a joke about the color beige, coincidentally similar to the new brick, being an adjective for “dull, boring, indistinctive“. I like the previous design with its wood-like fiber cement and characterful roofline, and I wonder if perhaps a revised color palette of that design, with maybe a few less full-sized balconies, would be a happy medium.

5. As announced on city of Ithaca Mayor Svante Myrick’s Facebook page, the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies will be the site of a library and museum of the Dalai Lamas, the first of its kind outside of Tibet. The facility would be located on the 28 acres Namgyal owns on South Hill at its Du Khor Choe Ling monastery complex. Architectural plans and costs are still being determined, but a quote from Ngawang Dhondup, administrator for Namgyal’s facility, says that it will be larger than Namgyal, which has been underway since 2007 and will be about 14,500 SF when completed.

All in all it’s a great feather in Ithaca’s cap, but two things to be a bit wary of moving forward are the reactions and possible opposition from neighbors to what will be a very high profile religious facility, and given geopolitical issues, the reception to the Library of the Dalai Lamas may not be so warm from some denizens of cosmopolitan Ithaca.

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6. Way back in 2010 and early 2011, when the BJ’s Wholesale club was proposed in Lansing, one of the components of the proposal was to build 12 units of senior housing on land north of the then-proposed store. The project also called for wetlands, walking trails and a bird sanctuary on the undeveloped portion of the 11-acre property. Developer Eric Goetzmann (Arrowhead Ventures/Triax Group) faced considerable opposition to the plan since it involved big box retail and was housing outside of the density corridor, but after the IDA initially voted the project down in December 2010, a revised application calling for a smaller PILOT was passed by the IDA in April 2011 (some of the logic being that the county was in a financial bind during the recession, and some increase in taxable property was better than none).

Well, the BJ’s was built and opened the following year, but the wetlands and housing have had a much longer slog. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in in charge of new wetland permits, and the process is a complex, arduous one (man-made wetlands are difficult to build, and the Army Corps would rather they be done right than done fast). Goetzmann teamed up with The Upper Susquehanna Coalition and The Wetland Trust to design the “Inland Salt Marsh Bank”, which was just approved by the Army Corps, and the final permits expected shortly. With the wetlands taken care of, Arrowhead can begin to look towards the housing component, which they plan to put forward later this year for a 2017 construction date. As part of these plans, they want a one-year extension on the legal construction start for the housing from the IDA. Given that Arrowhead has met the other criteria and can demonstrate proof of progress on the wetlands, this probably won’t face much opposition. But eventually, it looks as if the village of Lansing will finally get those 12 units of senior housing.

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7 It looks like the Biggs Parcel is officially listed for sale. Local realtor CJ DelVecchio was selected by the county to manage the listing for the 25.52 acres near Cayuga Medical Center. The asking price is $275,000. The land comes with a conservation easement on the northwest side due to its proximity to a stream, and the wetlands near the center would be tricky to work with, because wetlands typically can’t be developed unless new wetlands are created, which is not cheap or easy to do.

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Readers might remember that this parcel has quite a history behind it. Declared surplus land by Tompkins County, the county had set up a tentative deal for a 58-unit affordable housing complex on the property, but the deal fell through after the wetlands were discovered to cover more area than previously thought.

Neighbors, via the Indian Creek Neighborhood Association (ICNA), have tried to force the county to hold onto the land to keep it from being developed. One of the big sticking points had been whether or not the 25.5 acres would be taxable – the county isn’t especially concerned at this point if the land gets developed or not, but they have made it clear that they want to sell it to a private owner that will pay taxes. The problem is, proposals to preserve the land often dovetailed with plans to donate it to an organization like Finger Lakes Land Trust, which would render the property tax-exempt. The ICNA did end up making a closed bid for the property, but the offer was rejected.

A neighbor to the south did propose reconfiguring the property to preserve the woods and build cottages on his back lot – by adding the Biggs land, he could have built more units under the regulations of the cluster zoning. But the plan fell through due to “size and complexity”, according to the ICNA’s Linda Grace-Kobas.

The land had been valued at $340,000 before the discovery of the additional wetlands, and the revised 2016 assessment brings that down to $240,000.





News Tidbits 6/4/16: A Stormy Summer Start

4 06 2016

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1. We’ll start this week off with a follow-up on the 201 College Avenue debate. All discussions of planning philosophy noted, one solid request, as reported by Josh Brokaw at the Ithaca Times, was to try and reduce the bulk from the College Avenue side, if not necessarily the building footprint. The above drawing was submitted by STREAM Collaborative’s Rob Morache earlier this week, with a cover letter describing the changes here. The modification reduces the building by 2 bedrooms, to 74, which to go by Todd Fox’s comment in the Times article, puts the project at the borderline of financial feasibility. The middle still pops out a little because that’s where the fire stairs are located. Some minor details were changed with the accent panels, and recessing the windows slightly on the south and west facades. For the record, the panels are Nichiha and Allura fiber cement, with painted metalwork and fiberglass window sashes.

Although now outdated, a shadow study for the previous design has since been uploaded by the city. There are two versions, with and without neighboring building shadows, here and here respectively.

Expect further detail refinements; the building is set to go in front of the Design Review Committee Tuesday morning.

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2. WSKG did a segment earlier this week on micro-apartments, with an interview with Frost Travis and the Carey Building project wrapping up on East State Street. A few details worth noting from the segment – 5 of the 20 rental units (which range from $1,225/month for the microunits to $2,699/month for a high-end penthouse 2-bedroom) are already spoken for and the building’s not even finished yet. For some reason, Monica Sandreczki says there will be about 35 residents at full occupancy, which is a big stretch since there are 16 micro-units and 4 two-bedroom units – going one person per micro-unit and bedroom, a better estimate would be 24.

The news piece also notes that the 201 College project contains micro-apartments – which is true, given that the building is 44 units and 74 bedrooms, and at least the early plans had a number of split-level 410-670 SF studio units.

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3. And 401 Lake Street will bite the dust. The Common Council voted 8-1 last Wednesday night to have structure demolished and the tax-foreclosed properties be designated as parkland. Cynthia Brock (D-1st) voted against the measure and preferred a sale for tax reasons, and her ward counterpart George McGonigal (D-1st) argued that the city was destroying historic working-class housing, though he ultimately supported the measure. Brock did take a whack at new affordable housing in the city, commenting that INHS is getting $75,000 for each townhouse, and Habitat for Humanity getting $75,000 for a duplex even with its volunteer labor, when there was a potential, cost-efficient opportunity for affordable housing designation with this unit. Josephine Martell (D-5th) seemed to be the strongest proponent for demo, stating that the unique potential to enhance the Ithaca Falls Natural Area should be taken every opportunity of. The city bought the tax-foreclosed property from the county; the background on that is on the Voice here.

The funds for the demolition, estimated at $25,000, will come from the sale of IURA land to the Hilton Canopy project. That measure was approved 6-3, with Brock, McGonigal and Graham Kerslick (D-4th) opposed. With work on the Lake Street Bridge currently underway, demolition is not expected for at least a few months.

There was a thought exercise regarding the selling the falls’ parking lot to INHS for development of 3-9 units of affordable housing; it’s an interesting idea, since 401 and the adjacent are right next to the Falls, but the 0.55 acres of city property adjacent to the Lake and Lincoln Streets intersection is still over 200 feet away at its closest point.

4. The rare bit of news out of Enfield. A $612,000 building loan was issued by the Bank of Greene County to provide funds for renovating and expanding the volunteer fire station at 172 Enfield Main Road.

Give that Enfield issues no more than a handful of new construction permits each year, it’s about the only other thing going on apart from the Black Oak Wind Farm debate. One would think that arguments like “the wind does not blow as much as it used to” would be easily shot down and things would move forward, but instead it’s Marguerite Wells, the project manager for BOWF, getting raked over the coals. I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I do feel bad for her.

5. In case anyone was wondering – county planner Megan McDonald says the Denter housing study will be publicly available by late July.

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6. Here’s something intriguing from the county’s Facilities and Infrastructure Committee agenda – a proposal to “Prepare airport land for future development“, seeking $500,000. None of the money comes from the county; it appears to be dependent on grants, or an interested developer. Which, given the fact that this shows up in budget docs going back to 2014, doesn’t exactly seem to be generating many queries.

The parcels are described as the “Cherry Road and Agway parcels”, which must be owned by the county since they want to lease out the land – but checking the deed records of parcels adjacent to the airport, there’s no record of an Agway in any of the deed histories. The parcels may be related to the properties in the airport business park feasibility study, shown above and awarded to the team of Clark Patterson Lee and Camoin Associates this past winter.

7. It’s unusual to see Cornell buying property these days, but this Friday, the university purchased the house at 1250 Trumansburg Road on Ithaca’s West Hill for $157,000. The house is a 19th century fixer-upper on 1.21 acres – Cornell owns the land surrounding it, some of which is being subdivided off to build the Cayuga Meadows affordable senior housing project. The house is assessed at $215,000, but the real estate listing notes it needs some work, and it’s been off and on the market for five years.

Several years ago, Cornell expressed intent to develop the 35 acres it owns into a mixed-use complex with a hotel institute, housing, offices and medical services, but the only part of the plan that ever really moved forward was Conifer’s project. I haven’t seen the plans in years, but I remember the early plans (there were a couple versions) were very sprawly; six, eight years ago, walkability was not as valued as it is now.

By buying the house, Cornell reduces its need to work around a neighbor and can incorporate the property into potential plans. This purchase would seem to suggest that Cornell still has strong interest in developing the rest of the West Hill property at some point. In the meanwhile, Cornell might rent it out while the school figures out what it wants to do with the acreage.

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8. House of the week. From the outside, 228 West Spencer Street is almost done, and the interior is fairly far along as well, with finishing work underway. Architect Noah Demarest says the house will be put up for sale in a few weeks, if everything goes as planned.





Gannett Health Center Construction Update, 5/2016

29 05 2016

Work on the exterior of the new wing of the Gannett Health Center is in the final stretch. The bluestone veneer is being attached, and the rails (also called “continuous anchors“) are on for the limestone veneer. It looks like insulation panels are still being installed on the upper levels of the west stairwell. When the insulation is attached, the rails are screwed on, the limestone panels are slid into place, and then they’re mortared or caulked into place with silicone.

Most of the work has shifted towards the completion of rough-ins and interior finishing, and the new wing should open for occupancy sometime later this summer (July/August). All operations will shift over into the new wing so that the next phase, renovation of the existing wings, can begin in earnest. The whole $55 million project will wrap up by October 2017.
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News Tidbits 5/21/16: Building Bridges, or Burning Bridges

21 05 2016

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1. 209-215 Dryden Road has a name: the Breazzano Family Center for Business Education. Let’s just call it the Breazzano Center for short. The name comes as part of a $25 million donation from Cornell MBA alum David Brezzano ’80, and is named in honor of him and his three sons, all recent Johnson School graduates. According to the Cornell Chronicle, the donation will “substantially support” the building’s construction, which construction loans on file with the county have pegged at $15.9 million. Breazzano is the president of money management and investment firm DDJ Capital Management, and did his undergrad at Union College in Schenectady, where he serves as trustee.

John Novarr is the developer for the 6-story, 76,200 sq ft building, and Cornell will occupy 100% of the structure on a 50-year lease.

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2. So, something weird is going on. The city BPW is set to discuss an encroachment for the Chapter House reconstruction at their meeting on the 23rd. However, all the paperwork included in the agenda dates from before the sale and refers to the previous owner. So either the new owner is pursuing the encroachment and the information hasn’t been updated, or this is outdated/no longer being pursued and no one’s updated the BPW paperwork. I tried calling the project architect (Jason Demarest) but he’s out of town until Saturday, and this publishes Friday night, so…dunno. Hopefully someone can provide some insight. For the record, the encroachment is for the first-floor roof overhang over the sidewalk, and will cost the developer $33,812.28.

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Open question, would a brick-for-brick rebuild had to have paid for this encroachment as well? It existed with the original structure, this was designed with heavy ILPC input, and given that project costs seem to be why this is in jeopardy…it just seems like an unnecessary obstacle. I know it’s a new build, but it’s replicating a previous encroachment for the sake of character. It seems like the project is being financially punished for that.

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3. For this week’s eye candy, the above image appears to be the city’s proposed redesign for the Brindley Street Bridge over on the West End. Pretty similar to existing newer or renovated bridges in the city (Clinton Street, South Aurora Street), with older-style lamp posts and stylized concrete railings.

Alternative 2 calls for a pedestrian bridge to replace the existing Brindley Street Bridge, which was last renovated in 1952. A new bridge for vehicle traffic would be built south from the intersection of Taughannock and West State Streets, over the inlet, and intersecting with Taber Street. The project is expected to go out to bid next year, and completed in 2018.

4. Per the Ithaca Times, the Taughannock Farms Inn out in Ulysses has some expansions and renovations planned since new ownership purchased the property back in February. Along with a bistro for lighter fare, an electric car charging station and a dock, the Times introduced plans for a 2-story, 200-person event center that would be built on the Inn’s property. The purpose of the event center is to provide additional space for events like weddings and formals, and to capture a bit of the mid-week business meeting and convention crowd. The inn itself has 22 guest rooms in five buildings.

The original inn building dates from 1873, when it was a “summer cottage” for John and Molly Jones of Philadelphia. The Joneses also owned Taughannock Falls at the time, though they would eventually deed it over to the state in the mid 1930s to create the park. The current owners are only the fourth in the 143-year history of the property.

5. A couple of big sales in Tompkins County this week. The first one was 308 Eddy Street, a 12-bedroom apartment house in Collegetown. The Lambrou family, one of Collegetown’s medium-sized landlords at ~400 beds, sold the property to the O’Connor family (a smaller landlord family) for $1,225,000 on the 18th. The O’Connor don’t tend to develop their own properties, and 308 Eddy was receently re-roofed anyway, so don’t expect any changes here, but take it as a demonstration of what a captive rental market, high land values and high taxes will do.

The other big sale was outside of Ithaca, at 1038-40 Comfort Road in Danby. A purchaser bought several land and cabin properties being touted as a high end B&B for $1,300,000. The purchases are a couple from Florida, one of which founded the Finger Lakes School of Massage in the 1990s and now heads an aromatherapy institute.

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6. According to a report from the Dryden town board liaison to their planning board, the Varna Community Association’s reception to “Tiny Timbers” at the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads has been mostly positive, apart from minor traffic concerns to the 16-house project. More lukewarm was the reception to the 36-unit Evergreen Townhouses proposal at 1061 Dryden, where concerns were raised about having enough green space, and whether it was too far outside Varna to be an appropriate location.

The neighbor two doors down has already started to fight the project, and this is probably going to play out like 902 Dryden did over the past several months. Here’s a pro tip when you’re writing up that angry screed – please stop arguing that renters are second class citizens. Just stop.

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7. Therm Incorporated will be presented plans for a stand-alone 20,000 SF manufacturing facility to the town board next week. The addition will be located at their property at 1000 Hudson Street Extension, between its main building and the quonset huts. In a rarity, the industrial-zoned property won’t need to heard to a zoning board – no variances required. The new building will replaces a 3,434 SF ceramics studio. As previously reported on the Voice, Therm expects to create 10 jobs with the expansion. Therm, located at its current facility since its founding in 1935, specializes in custom machining, primarily for the aerospace and industrial turbine industries.

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8. Not a very exciting agenda for the Ithaca city planning board this month.

1. Agenda review
2. Floor Privilege
3. Special Order of Business: Incentive Zoning & Site Plan Review Discussion (Lynn Truame)

4. Subdivision Review
A. Minor Subdivision, 312-314 Spencer Road, Charlie O’Connor (MLR)

5. Site Plan Review
A. Sketch Plan, Two Duplexes at 312-314 Spencer Road

This came up back in March – Charlie O’Connor plans on re-configuring vacant street-facing property behind two houses to build two duplexes near Lucatelli’s. STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

Originally, this was at the end of the agenda as sketch plans usually are, but the agenda was revised so that the sketch plan would be allowed to go first.

B. 201 College Avenue – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, recommendation to the BZA

C. Elmira Savings Bank, 602 West State Street – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance, recommendation to the BZA

D. Brindley Street Bridge, seen above – revised FEAF review (parts 2 and 3), recommendations to lead agency (BPW).

6. Umpteen million zoning appeals, none especially contentious
7. Chain Works DGEIS Review, Update Schedule and Special Meeting Schedule.





New Tidbits 5/14/16: A Land Subdivided

14 05 2016

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1. This week, the city rolled out a strategy memo for “Design Guidelines” for Collegetown and Downtown. The city held focus meetings back in March with Winter & Company, a Boulder-based urban design and planning firm with experience in cities and college towns from coast to coast. No specific individuals are mentioned as being part of the focus groups, but the focus group meetings consisted of “residents, property owners, developers, architects, design professionals, Planning and Development Board members, Common Council members, and City staff.” The memo is meant to help guide continued discussion of design standards, and to identify key issues in each area that could arise with planning and implementation.

The feedback from the focus groups shouldn’t come as a surprise – use high quality materials, respect historic character but don’t emulate it, recognize that development costs in Ithaca are very high, promote walkability and active street use, encourage parking lot infill, define transition areas between smaller-scale neighborhoods and denser cores, and so forth.

One of the major components being reviewed is whether design guidelines should be mandatory or just a set of recommendations. The city has a design review process that comes into play for certain projects like those on the Commons, but otherwise it’s non-binding unless the BZA or planning board mandates it as part of approval. Regardless, more meetings are expected as the guidelines are fleshed out.

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2. The Ithaca Times is checking in with the Al-Huda Islamic Center plan for Graham Road in Lansing. Fundraising is still underway for the 4,828 SF mosque, which according to a member of the Al-Huda board of Trustees, is expected to cost between $650,000 and $1 million, per contractor estimates.

Fun fact of the day, Islamic law prohibits mosques being paid for with funds that collect interest (tainted by usury). Everything must be paid for up-front and in full.

The village of Lansing has already signed off on the mosque plans, and the vacant land at 112 Graham Road is bought and paid for. Pretty sure the above drawing is outdated, but I haven’t seen an image of the latest plan available online. The Times has an interior shot of the current plan to accompany their story.

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3. The town of Ithaca passed the nine-month moratorium on two-family dwellings by unanimous vote at its meeting this week. Anyone seeking to build a duplex in the town of Ithaca will now have to wait until February 2017 for a building permit, unless “unnecessary hardship” is demonstrated by the law’s imposition. The law was driven by the construction of multiple 2-6 unit student-oriented structures east of Ithaca College in the Kendall/Pennsylvania avenue area, which they felt was undermining the neighborhood’s character. Earlier versions of the law called for a year’s length, but the town received numerous complaints that a year would actually hit two construction seasons, 2016’s and 2017’s.

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4. Also in lawmaking, the bike lanes proposed for the 300 and 400 blocks of Tioga Street in downtown have been shot down in favor of sharrows, 3-2. This comes after strong advocacy by city bicyclists and some planning and sustainability groups, and strong opposition from some elderly and disabled advocacy groups, suburban neighborhood residents and the town of Ithaca’s town board.

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5. One of the many issues that faces large-scale planning and development in Tompkins County is that, over the many decades, land has been heavily subdivided and sold off between many different owners, with the properties often passed down or even traded, leaving records piecemeal. With so many owners, some untraceable, it can become logistically difficult, especially if not everyone is on board with a plan.

In front of Moe’s down in big box land, the county owns a 0.3 acre parcel of land previously a part of the flood relief channel. Since 2005, Benderson Development has rented the land as part of its shopping complex – now they just want to simplify things and buy the land from the county. With an offer of $112,500, which is $17,500 over the county’s assessment, and with the county’s 2005 confirmation and 2016 re-affirmation that they have no public use for that slice of land anymore (much of the channel’s land has already been incorporated into other parcels), they’re planning to finalize the sale at the Legislature’s meeting next week.

6. If you glanced at the Voice, you know there’s a plan cooking for 36 townhouse units east of Varna. But according to Dryden’s town planner, that’s not the only project that’s been brought forth to the town. A different applicant brought forth a plan for 20 single-family homes on 9 acres near the intersection of Route 13 and Mineah Road, a rural stretch between Varna and the village of Dryden. The units, expected to be rentals, are allowed as of right in Dryden’s mixed-use zoning – if it’s under 4 units/acre, it doesn’t need a special use permit, or even site plan review. A check of property records reveals several parcels owned by Ryszard Wawak, a Lansing businessman who picked up the land a number of years ago and has already built a duplex (2-bedrooms each) and a 5-bedroom house on subdivided parcels.

If you happen to start seeing houses popping up between Dryden and Varna, it’s probably this project slipping under the radar.

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7. Taking a glance at the Ithaca Projects Review committee meeting agenda, the Elmira Savings Bank and 201 College Avenue projects will be undergoing review before heading to the planning board meeting later this month, and the subdivision/reconfiguration to build two two-family houses at 312-314 Old Elmira Road will also be reviewed. There are also a boatload of zoning variances being sought for various projects – Marriott signage, an apartment reconfiguration on Farm Street, a basement home salon on Center Street, a home addition on Cobb Street, parking variances for 121 West Court and a area variance for an existing carport on Grandview Avenue that was apparently never approved by the city when built in 1973. In total, there are nine. It’s times like this that the city would benefit from a simplified zoning code.





News Tidbits 5/7/16: Everything’s Political

7 05 2016

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1. Let’s start with government. The city of Ithaca passed revisions to its cell phone tower law reducing the no-build fall radius from 200% of height, to 120% of height. The 120% was decided upon after a check of other municipalities, where it was generally the most common figure.

The change allows development to proceed on the grassy field at 815 South Aurora Street on South Hill, although as mentioned last week, the fall zone revision isn’t as much as developers Todd Fox and Charlie O’Connor had hoped for. But it’s still enough to work with; according to Josh Brokaw at the Times, a revised plan that meets the new guidelines could be going to the planning board for sketch plan review in June, possibly with more units than the 87 studio units initially planned. It was also reported that the local neighborhood group (South Hill Civic Association, SHCA) is comfortable with the initial plan, so this might be a relatively smooth process when the project is ready for review.

2. Meanwhile, while one thing moves forward, Dryden’s been hit with a major setback. The Pinckney Road parcel sale in Dryden was foiled when voters, in a 1188-936 vote, rejected the town’s plans to use recreation reserve funds to purchase the 15 acre property. The town would have spent about $56,800 of a fund that has over $300,000, and the county would have contributed $15,000, so that the town could have turned it into park space in the long-term. The town was prepared to buy the property, but residents opposed to the sale managed to get enough signatures on a petition to force to to go up for a vote.

It sounded like a worthy and reasonable plan. But I get the feeling that there were a lot of folks who figured it would pass by a wide margin, so they just didn’t vote. In a marketing course a while back in college, I remember the professor sharing an interesting statistic – versus feeling neutral, the general public is three times more likely to support an initiative when they really like something, and nine times more likely to vote or speak out when they’re really opposed. People are more driven by aversion than reward, and that’s probably what happened here.

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3. Sticking with local governments, the town of Ithaca is set to vote on a moratorium on duplexes, but with some modifications from the initial proposal. For one, given construction seasons revolving around the warm season, and the time it takes to plan and get permits, it was decided to make it only nine months (January 2017) instead of one year, so that they could limit the possibility of dragging it through two construction seasons. And although the town planning committee chair wasn’t on board with it, an exemption is in place if one of the units will be owner-occupied. If their goal is to revise the approach to student housing, then at least these amendments fix or lessen some of the bigger issues a moratorium would produce.

4. Just a wee bit more info on the “Tim Timbers” planned for the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads in Varna. The tiny houses are small though not micro-sized – they’re expected to be about 800 square feet. Local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is working with businessman Nick Bellisario on the 16-lot subdivision and home development.

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5. So the full 206-page, $78,000 NYS DOT waterfront redevelopment study by Fisher Associates is on the city’s website. The initial results were shared here back in October, but the final product has some additional, very interesting details.

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One of those additions is a potential timeline for development. It calls for getting official support and commitments over the next several months, issuing an RFP later this year for the new DOT facility in Dryden, and issue an RFP for the NYSDOT waterfront site later this year, with review in Q1 2017 and developer selection in Q2 2017, assuming this doesn’t end up like the Old Library debate. The DOT would move to Dryden in Q3 2018, and the excess state land would be transferred to the county, sold in Q1 2019, and ready for occupancy by mid-2020.

The other really interesting new section is Appendix 5, stakeholder outreach. This consists of interviews with city officials and nearby property owners – Cornell (who say they have no plans for their waterfront properties), the Farmer’s Market, and some smaller businesses and organizations. The gist of the comments had more to do with Farmer’s Market than the DOT – namely, heavy traffic issues, needs more parking, and needs to physically expand to accommodate a waiting list of vendors and cool-season operations. There are early plans incubating for a nearby indoor market facility, if memory serves right. As for the DOT site, the mixed-use plan was deemed most favorable, and the stakeholders agreed that the site had great potential for redevelopment.

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6. Looks like marketing has started for a proposed new medical office building in the village of Lansing. The new one-story building, which appears to be designed by Binghamton-based Keystone Associates, would be off of Warren Road, although it looks like the building would be accessed from a driveway coming off of Uptown Road. The 2.71 acre property is zoned “Human Health Services District” by the village, and borders undeveloped land owned by Cornell, and several other suburban medical office buildings built over the past few decades. The resolution on the attached site plan is too low to determine the square footage, though it looks to be in the low tens of thousands.

The property was purchased by Arleo Real Estate from Cornell for $378,600 in October 2014. Arleo Eye Associates owns and occupies the neighboring building to the south. Arleo built their 7,119 SF optometry office in 2007.





Eight Views on Ithaca’s Development

5 05 2016

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The Ithaca Times, in partnership with Sustainable Tompkins, ran an op-ed series about development issues in Ithaca. Seven writers, plus the Times’ commentary for a total of eight. I have my reactions below, separate from the links in Italics; so one can read the article and jump back with limited interference from yours truly. Please feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments section.

1. Opinion piece one, also the intro, came from Gay Nicholson, the President of Sustainable Tompkins.

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I have profound concerns with Nicholson’s commentary, for a couple reasons. For one, it implies there will never be enough supply. That’s not true. The problems today stem from year after year, for well over a decade, of failing to meet the needs of the community’s economic and overall population growth, creating a deep, sustained deficit. It’s now at the point where it’s creating major hardship for thousands of people – adopting the attitude that they just can’t be helped is wrong.

Issue number two is the “carrying capacity” argument. That might work in ecology, but here, the argument’s a potential minefield because it carries the implication of “this area’s full, move somewhere else” – fine enough if you’ve lived in the area for a couple decades, you’re retirement age and with substantial assets, not so much if you don’t check those boxes. If one looks at it in the context of the area’s evolving socioeconomic and racial composition, it becomes an even more perilous statement. I think that, as an area with 3.3% growth so far this decade, in a region with decreasing populations otherwise, that’s it not a strong argument at this point in time, especially when there are real opportunities for improvement.

In an attempt to put into context, Nicholson does live in Lansing, the only community with large-scale development with limited planning and regulation, contributing to a major partisan divide. She ran for its town board in 2013, but lost. Lansing’s relatively laissez-faire approach may stem from the town’s fear of property taxes skyrocketing once the power plant closes, but whatever the reasoning, it improving some issues while exacerbating others, and consequently has its proponents and opponents.

2. Opinion two is written by Frost Travis, the developer leading Travis Hyde Properties.

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Travis Hyde is behind the Carey Building project, or the Old Library site, both of which are THP’s work. One thing I like about the piece is that it sheds some light on the real estate development, and that a lot of time, money and effort go into plans. No one wants their efforts wasted.

That being said, some plans are good, and some are bad. Some deserve a negative reaction, some don’t. I’d argue State Street Triangle is an example of the former, and 130 East Clinton is an example of the latter. 130 East Clinton was fine as a project, and probably would have received the tax abatement and been built, if it had been proposed by anyone but Jason Fane. The Times acknowledged this, and the whole thing ended up being a political mess. Not saying Fane’s a sterling citizen, but the county is fortunate Fane never pursued an Article 78 lawsuit, because he would have a strong case.

State Street Triangle…well, one comment I’ve heard a lot was that their initial approach was pretty awful. They tried to make up for it, but that’s hard to do when so many controversial aspects (big, tall, students, tax abatement) are rolled into one project. The rumor on the new incarnation is that it’s not student-oriented (and not Campus Advantage), so that could make enough of a difference.

Although it might be scorned in some corners, it’s crucial that public groups and private developers work together – government studies have shown that there are lower levels of displacement when more market-rate housing is built as a complement to affordable housing efforts.

3. The third installment comes from county legislator Anna Kelles.

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I didn’t take a whole lot away from Anna Kelles’ submission. Her county district, which contains Ithaca’s Fall Creek neighborhood, is the epicenter of gentrification. Historically, Fall Creek was a lower-middle class, blue-collar neighborhood, but given housing valuations increasing 5%, 10%, even 15% a year, very few long-time residents are able to keep up with the corresponding increase in property tax amounts. For homeowners who plan on moving elsewhere in the next couple of years, this has been nothing short of a windfall because the sales prices continue to skyrocket. For anyone who planned on being in Fall Creek long-term, and especially those of modest means, it’s a much more uncomfortable situation.

As a result, two different views come out – one, limit affordability efforts as much as possible for maximum benefit to those selling; and two, those who would prefer the market to moderate in some form. Anna Kelles was deeply involved in the condo effort for the Old Library project. Although that wasn’t the affordable housing proposal, it was the one most similar to Fall Creek’s older, increasingly upper-middle class constituents, who are increasingly at odds with their neighbors.

Fall Creek has mixed views on its rapid gentrification. Maybe that’s why I don’t pick up any strong opinions from its legislator.

4. The fourth piece was written by Kirby Edmonds, Coordinator of Building Bridges, on addressing and combating displacement.

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This is a thoughful piece, it’s just a shame some of the suggested solutions aren’t as easy as they sound. For instance, the land trusts, assuming its something like INHS’s Community Housing Trust, run into an issue at the state level – they’re not recognized, and the state, via the county assessor, taxes at the full amount. Until someone changes the rules in Albany, an odyssey in itself, there’s not a whole lot that can be done. Also, I’m not 100% confident in a county legislature that turned a $583,000 windfall from the state into a free-for-all for pet projects; there would need to be some extremely strong safeguards to ensure the county’s not going to plead hardship if the state were to recognize a trust program.

The Times complained that Edmonds had a negative view of 210 Hancock, but I don’t quite get that, it sounds more neutral, about maintaining clear, frank communication. But given the multiple community meetings during the planning stage, it’s not clear how much more open and transparent the process can be before one to break out those “frank conversations about privilege”.

5. Article number five, focusing on affordable housing, came courtesy of Paul Mazzarella, Executive director of INHS.

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It was great that Paul touched on the income aspect to the housing issue – Tompkins County’s average income isn’t much higher than surrounding counties, but the cost of housing is much greater. Students are the obvious part of that because they pool incomes on units, but they only make up about one-third of the housing deficit. Also playing a role are incoming retirees who’ve made their dollars elsewhere, and the growing economy draws in those advancing their careers and already have some assets to their name. Add it all together, and it’s quite difficult for supply to try and keep up with demand.

The title also touches on the “missing middle” of housing – luxury/premium housing is easier to build, because as long as the market is demonstrated to exist, the return on investment is higher, and therefore more likely gain financing from the regional banks and credit unions that loan money to build new housing. Lower income units have the opportunity to obtain government grants, even if they are highly competitive. But for the middle market, where grants are virtually non-existent and the desired profit margins aren’t there, it becomes a tough situation. Political bodies are faced with either making an environment conducive for new middle-market housing, or expecting to ride on the depreciation of premium units – which may not be feasible with prices are rising as they are.

6. Next up was City Councilman Seph Murtagh, and “Development and its Discontents”.

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My reaction to Seph’s was fairly positive, though he’s more optimistic about the incentive zoning than I am. The initial reaction is that people on both sides of the debate don’t like it, but until it goes into play, no one knows if it will be of any benefit. There don’t appear to be many options on the table that don’t piss people off, so, well, it seems worth a try, even if incentive zoning has its flaws. At least the city has taken and continues to take steps to identify where development can be promoted, the lynchpin is making it attractive for private entities to actually do so.

7. Planner Krys Cail was the seventh contributor, focusing on how development and especially density should be focused in the city and town, where infrastructure is in place and transportation expenses are lower, and can contribute to a more affordable setup even if housing costs a little more.

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I don’t always agree with Krys, but I thought this was fairly accurate and on the mark (excluding the off-the-cuff on the golf courses – Newman floods, the others would probably see intense opposition. But the town has recommendations if the Ithaca Country Club ever closes). For the record, when it comes to things like affordability, it’s not usually the case that affordable housing developers want to be in rural areas, it’s just that land is cheaper and the neighborhood opposition is not nearly so fierce. The key is overcoming those challenges.

8. And the last one, from the Ithaca Times’ Bill Chaisson.

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I kinda feel like form-based zoning is being presented as a panacea here. It would be helpful, definitely. Fewer plans would have to head to the the Board of Zoning Appeals, thus removing a layer of government and the uncertainty it throws in the financing process for all projects, and planners have pointed out that the city’s code has decades of numerous add-ons and revisions, yet still has substantial issues. But it’s just one part of the overall problem to address. The city has to push developers to get on board with plans and approaches, but given the expense and time it takes to create proposals, the city also has to make it worth the effort. Residents can stake claims to protecting neighborhood character, but also have to recognize that no significant change to address current affordability and supply/demand problems will result in a far worse situation as rapid price growth and displacement continue. Different decisions impact constituents in different ways – one person’s physical character preservation is another’s pricing out, damaging social-cultural preservation.

Here’s an example of how the bigger issues get lost on the individual level. In response to the Maplewood article I did for the Voice this week, I received an email from a nearby resident that said, “I would like there to be as few students on that property as possible.” That’s a “me-first” approach that does more harm than good – letting the overall affordability and supply issues worsen so this individual can avoid having grad students nearby. Saying “This is what Cornell wants to do, here’s what I’m concerned about, could X, Y, and Z ideas help mitigate” would be much more valuable to the conversation.

It’s a complex issue, and there is no silver bullet. Every action will have positive and negative reactions, and because someone will be upset every step of the way, there won’t be a fairy-tale happy ending. Local governments struggle to address development issues; just look at the post-fracking fight over large-scale solar and wind renewables in the towns, and opposition to nearly every affordable housing plan in the past several years.

People are much better at opposing than proposing. It’s time for a re-calibration.








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