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 So either the new owner is pursuing the encroachment and the information hasn’t been updated, or this is outdated/no longer being pursued and no one’s updated the BPW paperwork.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.





News Tidbits 4/30/16: Sticking to the Plan

30 04 2016

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1. So, let’s start off with the bad news. Chapter House might not be happening. Josh Brokaw at the Ithaca Times had the scoop, though not for a lack of trying on the Voice’s part – rumors had arrived in the inbox well before the Collegetown construction roundup article. I’ve reached out to Jerry Dietz, the building manager for the Chapter House project, four times over the past couple of weeks, without response. One of those was an in-person visit that went un-received. My Voice editor and colleague Jolene Almendarez has also been trying to do her share of contacting relevant parties, to no avail.

Anyway, personal discontent aside, The co-proprietor of the Chapter House (and the only one willing to say anything on record) says that he believes a sale of the 400-404 Stewart Avenue property is imminent, with the potential buyer being the next door neighbor of the also-destroyed 406 Stewart Avenue. The claim is that a more cost-efficient plan would be put forth, which could eliminate the Chapter House from its plans.

One thing to keep in mind is that the property is on the edge of the East Hill historic district – the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Commission can control just about every aspect of the exterior, but they don’t have say over use any more than zoning permits. They can stipulate the extra expense of appropriate material and image, but they can’t stipulate a bar (and a lot of commission members would be uncomfortable with that anyway). Dunno how much the insurance money was, but the finances just may not work. It would be unfortunate, but as they do in golf, they’ll play the ball where it lies.

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2. Noting, briefly. Evan Monkemeyer, the developer behind the cancelled College Crossing project, might be partnering with another developer to create and put forward a plan for the corner of Route 96 and East King Road. This is according to the town of Ithaca’s planning staff. Monkemeyer has not hidden his discontent after his suburban-style mixed-use project became the subject of heavy debate because the site plan, originally approved in 2007, no longer meshed with the town’s interests, which had evolved to more New Urbanist formats put forth by the 2014 Comprehensive Plan and the Form Ithaca charrettes. Monkemeyer owns about 64 acres on the northeast side of the intersection, and more than 15 acres as part of Springwood on the southeast side of the corner. In other words, virtually all the divvied up land and conceptual buildings on the lower right side of the charrette image. This could be something to keep in eye on over the coming months.

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3. Here’s the latest iteration of the Maplewood Park site plan. A lot of changes from the previous version. To sum up the changes, the apartment buildings, 3-4 stories, have been pulled back from existing homes, the townhouses and stacked flats have are more centralized and closely clustered, and mixed-use retail/apartment planned for the city is now in the town, all the city has in its portion is green space and perhaps a small service area/ bus shelter.

Also note the secondary road that terminates right at the edge of the Maple Hill property. Chances are very good that would feed into a phase II that redevelops the Maple Hill property.

The large parking lot in the southeast corner doesn’t seem to jive with the rest of the plan, previous versions had the parking more dispersed. Since Cornell has an idea of the number of residents it wants for the project to be feasible to build and affordable on grad student stipends (850-975, centering around 925 beds in 500 units), if housing is decreased in one part of the parcel, they’re going to have their development team make up for it somewhere else. One of the bigger points of contention seems to be Cornell trying to avoid drawing traffic in by keeping larger buildings further out, while neighbors from various angles try and push the units as far away from them as possible.

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Maplewood has a website up sharing meeting notes and presentation materials here. Future meeting information will also be posted to the Maplewood website. The project will be filling out an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) not unlike Chain Works, because of the project size and potential for adverse impacts (and therefore the need for proper mitigation before plans can be approved). The scoping document for the EIS, which is an outline that says what will be written about where, is on the town’s website here.

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Just for the record, the print version of a recent Maplewood write-up on the Times claimed to have a quote from me. It was not. The online version of the piece has the corrections. The quote wasn’t even something I would say, because I don’t think Cornell attempting to house a greater number of its graduate and professional students is an “unsustainable development goal”. Quite the opposite, it’s crucial they do that to relieve some of the pressure on the rest of the local housing market.

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4. Looks like some of the IURA’s recommended funding Action Plan is out. Habitat for Humanity gets the full $75,000 request, as does INHS with the $100,000 requested for their new single-family build at 304 Hector Street. Most of the 202 Hancock project, the seven for-sale townhouses, was recommended for funding – $530,000 of $567,000, ~93.5% of the request.

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5. At the Common Council meeting next Wednesday, the city is set to vote on reducing the fall-zone radius for cell phone towers, from double the tower’s height (200% of tower height), to 120% of the tower’s height. The move will potentially allow an iteration of Modern Living Rentals’s 815 South Aurora project to move forward with further planning and review. The 87-unit project was planned on the assumption of 100% tower height plus ten feet, so in the case of the 170-foot South Hill cell tower in question, the law would call for a 204 ft. radius, not 180 ft. as the developer hoped. But still, it’s a lot less than the 340 ft. it currently is. The developer may seek a smaller project, build taller, a greatly-revised footprint, or other options. We’ll see how it plays out.

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5. House of the week. Back in March, it wasn’t certain whether 201 West Clinton’s “sawn-and-batten wood” would be left unpainted, or painted yellow. Looks like the former is correct, based on the east face of the 1-bedroom carriage house. The ZIP panels were still exposed on the other faces when I shot these photos, but based off what could be seen through the windows, interior work is progressing nicely, and the garage door has been attached. Local architect Zac Boggs and partner Isabel Fernández are building the 520 SF addition atop an existing 1960s garage.

 





News Tidbits 4/16/16: The Real Estate Shopping Spree

16 04 2016

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1. On Monday, the county’s Old Library Committee received an update from Travis Hyde Properties about the redevelopment. Perhaps the biggest development is that Lifelong is no longer moving into the building. Instead, they will sell keep their office at 119 W. Court Street, sell the historic building at 121 W. Court Street, and have free use of DeWitt House’s community room for classes and workshops. Lifelong would also be the administrator of the community room, so rental fees for use of the room by other organizations will be paid to Lifelong instead of Travis Hyde. Lifelong’s treasurer claims this arrangement will save them $50,000 vs. the original proposal.

According to the Ithaca Journal piece by Andrew Casler, law firms have expressed interest in the 121 West Court Street property, although other business and housing isn’t out of the question. 121 is just outside the DeWitt Park Historic District.

The number of units is down from 60 to 55 (though some of those are now 3-bedroom units…the Tines is reporting 57 units total), and parking spaces are down from 30 to 25, all internal to the building since Lifelong is no longer moving in. Frost Travis is quoted as saying he might be looking into expanding the age range of possible tenants (currently proposed as 55+), but that seems liable to garner significant blow-back from neighbors if pursued.

The current plan is to have approval by September, sale of the property by October, and after any final site plan approval tweaks, construction may begin next Spring.

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2. The Ithaca City PEDC had another crack at incentive zoning this past Wednesday. And the consensus is, everybody dislikes it for one reason for another. Some of the development community feels it doesn’t go far enough, while some local activists feels it goes way too far. Sounds like the plan is striking a good compromise if it’s ticking the stakeholders off for not being more like their way of thinking. But, proof would be in practice, and seeing if any developer would actually be interested in pursuing a plan that utilizes the incentive zoning.

On a related note, Svante Myrick deserve a laurel – when asked at the meeting why there’s a housing shortage in Ithaca, he pretty much nailed it – the growing economy, increasing student and retiree populations, and a renewed interest towards urban environments are driving demand higher than in decades past.

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3. For this week’s eye candy, here’s a perspective drawing of the multistory apartment building proposed at 201 College Avenue. One thing that stands out here that doesn’t in the elevations (the latest of which can be found here) is that the corners are stepped down, so the bulk of the building is lessened. The planning board is expected to agree to be the lead agency for environmental review at its April meeting.

4. So I’m mostly leaving this to my colleague and editor Jolene Almendarez, because she is much more familiar with the Elmira Savings Bank situation than I am. But it’s worth noting that Steven Wells, the Massachusetts man who sold ESB the properties, was on a buying spree this week. On Tuesday, Wells paid $224,000 for 508 West State Street (the old Felicia’s Atomic Lounge), $884,638 for 622 Cascadilla Street where Zaza’s is located, and $1.5 million for 402-410 Third Street, a commercial plaza home to Finger Lakes Physical Therapy.  Felicia’s was noted here on the blog when it went up for sale last August for $350k.

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They all have different owners, and they’re in varying physical conditions. The only thing that unites these three properties is all that are in areas the city as ripe for redevelopment for urban mixed-use in the Comprehensive Plan. Felicia’s was upzoned in June 2013 to CBD-60, permitting a 60-foot tall building, no parking required. 622 Cascadilla is WEDZ-1a, allowing for five floors and no off-street parking requirement. Lastly, 402-410 Third Street is B-4, 40′ max and 50% lot coverage, but allows virtually any kind of business outside of adult entertainment. Those are some of the city’s more accommodating zoning types, so we’ll see what happens moving forward. At the very least, the public relations game will be starting from behind the proverbial eight ball.

5. Out in Dryden, the William George Agency is seeking county legislature approval to issue $2.7 million in bonds to finance construction of a new 24-bed residence hall. The facility will affect about 1 acre, be about 15,000 square feet, and start construction this Spring, taking about one year to build.

As the county deems appropriate, they can approve the issuance of tax-exempt municipal bonds to finance construction projects. First the planning committee signs off on it, and then the general legislature takes it up for a vote. The non-profit residential treatment center secured a $2 million construction loan this past January to fund roof repairs and renovations to cafeteria area. The agency, established in the 1890s, employs over 340, making it one of the larger private employers in Tompkins County.








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