The DeWitt House Senior Apartments

25 08 2015

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Most of the time, writing up initial project pages is mostly background details, along with whatever scant details were included in the sketch plan. It usually makes for an exciting post, though occasionally lacking in details.

Now here we have the total opposite – a project where many of the details have already been gone over with a fine-toothed comb. Here we have the county legislature’s preferred development for the Old Library site at 310 North Cayuga Street, the DeWitt House Senior Apartments. It has a website, a completed Site Plan Review (SPR) application (here), and the county is heavily involved with the approvals process.

I’m not going into the debate between this and the Franklin proposal with this piece. It’s intended more as a project summary.

Plans call for a mixed-use, 4-story, 72,500 SF building. On the upper three floors are 39 1-bedroom and 21 2 -bedroom apartments aiming for the middle of the rental market, and serving renters aged 50 and older. Approximately 40 parking spaces will be provided, as well as CarShare and a shuttle. Along with the apartments, there will be community space on the southeast corner of the first floor (2,000 SF), new digs for senior services non-profit Lifelong on the west side (6,500 SF), and office/retail space facing Court Street (4,000 SF).

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The building will deconstruct the old library, and there are plans to reuse much of the foundation, steel, and possibly the brick from the 1967 structure. The one-story Lifelong building at 119 West Court Street, which dates from the 1950s, would also be taken down. The Lifelong annex building at 121 West Court Street, which dates from the late 1800s, would be renovated into a guest house for those visiting friends and family living in the apartments.

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HOLT Architects, which is among a few local firms to have accepted the Architecture 2030 Challenge, has designed the building to be carbon-neutral. Solar panels, rainwater collection from the roof, and a Combined Heat and Power system (CHP) are some of the green features.

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The project is being developer by local developer Travis Hyde Properties, and the design is the work of local design firm HOLT Architects. Contact info for both is provided here. TWMLA Landscape Architects, Esther Greenhouse, T.G. Miller Surveyors & Civil Engineers, Elwyn & Palmer Structural Engineers, and Delta Engineering are also providing services.

The SPR application indicates that the $14,000,000 building is aiming to launch construction in June 2016, and finishing up 12 months later. However, the timeline in the SPR says construction wouldn’t start until February or March of 2017, with completion in summer 2018. The renovation of the Lifelong Annex would be completed by the end of 2018.

The DeWitt House project will need not only approvals from the city Planning and Development Board, but also the Ithaca Landmarks Preservation Council (ILPC), since the land is a part of the DeWitt Park Historic District.

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“Fun Facts” About the Ithaca Workforce

21 07 2015

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A few weeks ago, I did an article for the Ithaca Voice about how wages in Ithaca are only slightly higher than peer communities in upstate, yet they pay a lot more in rent.

This article isn’t going to focus on that, although I could certainly add a few more pages (or at least fix the embedded graphs issue in the first article). This “topic of the week” piece is intended to be more of a “fun facts” about the Ithaca labor market.

The data comes from the Department of Labor here. All figures date from May 2014.

– The major category that employs the most people in Ithaca is no surprise – “Education, Training and Library Occupations”, with 15.49% of the jobs in the Ithaca metro (the BLS estimates this category to have 7,660 jobs locally, but that would suggest only about 49,430 jobs in the region when their numbers elsewhere say 70,000…make of it what you will). This turns out to be the highest percentage for any metro in the entire country.

This category, which includes professors, teachers, librarians and teaching assistants, averages pay of $80,700/year locally, versus $46,660/year nationally. Not only is Ithaca the metro with the largest percentage of educators and librarians, it’s also the one with the highest wages – Ann Arbor (U. of Michigan) comes in second with $79,500. Ithaca’s quintessential college town vibe is strong.

– The occupational category with the highest average pay is no shocker either – Physicians and surgeons, who employ about 80 people locally and average a pay of just over $233,000/year. The national average is only a little lower at $224,000/year. They are followed by the 40 or so dentists in the region making an average of $205,000/year (national average $167,000/year).
– On the other end of the scale, fast food cooks make the least – the 140 estimated by the BLS make about $18,680 per year. Food prep, delivery drivers and laundry workers all make less than $20,000/year on average, and amount to 1,380 workers. The median salary for all jobs in the Ithaca area is $52,020/year.

– Some other rankings where Ithaca comes in the top 10 of the nation’s 381 metros: professional chefs (8th highest concentration in the nation), microbiologists (7th highest concentration), psychologists (5th) and editors (4th – here’s looking at you, Jeff).

– Now here’s a fun category – location quotient. Basically, how many times more likely a certain type of worker is in a given area versus the national average. For example, my field, atmospheric and space scientists, has a location quotient of 107.36 for the Boulder, Colorado – in other words, atmospheric and space scientists are 107.36 times more common  in Boulder than the national average. This is why we have a joke in my field that Boulder is like Mecca for atmospheric scientists – you have to visit at least once before you die, otherwise you can’t go to Heaven.

So what fields have the highest location quotients in Ithaca? Economics professors (24.53), Physics professors (14,49) and Fundraisers (14.03). And yes, Ithaca has the highest concentration of people in those fields out of any metro area in the country. Now I know why Cornell is so persistent with its donation solicitations.





News Tidbits 7/18/15: Two Steps Forward, Two Steps Back

18 07 2015

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1. The Old Library conundrum continues. At last Friday’s meeting, the committee was unable to come up with an endorsement. As it also turns out, absent legislators Peter Stein and Kathy Luz Herrera can no longer re-introduce the preferred developer vote because absent legislators can  only re-introduce a resolution for the subsequent county meeting – in other words, they didn’t put it up for a re-vote on the 7th, so that option is no longer available. Stein didn’t make a resolution, and Luz Herrera was once again absent from the meeting.

Now things get a little more haphazard. Individual legislators can introduce resolutions for a preferred developer, which Dooley Kiefer and Leslyn McBean-Clairborne are doing for the Franklin/STREAM proposal (the 22 condos and medical office space, first image), and Mike Lane for Travis Hyde (the 60 apartments with space for Lifelong, second image). Either one would require eight votes in favor. Martha Robertson’s recusal makes the Travis Hyde proposal a little less likely to hit that magic number, but unless anyone’s had a change of heart, if Kathy Luz Herrera and Peter Stein don’t both vote in favor of the Franklin proposal, nothing moves forward. The county gets left with a building they can’t make a decision on and don’t want to keep.

The building needs hundreds of thousands of dollars in renovations at this point, not to mention routine maintenance; the lack of a decision could be a weight on any legislator’s re-election prospects. If there is no decision, what happens next is anyone’s guess; spending money to mothball the building, demolition, or even selling the property on the open market. whatever the case, this is definitely not a comfortable position for the county to be in.

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2. Looks like the Amabel housing development in Ithaca town is undergoing some site plan changes once again. Quoting the web page, “[w]e recently came to the conclusion that it is far better to park the cars at each house then to have car parks within the common space, allowing 2 cars per house if needed. This also allowed for more guest parking spaces.” Rather than having a road go through the middle of the housing development, the development is now encircled by the road coming in and out of Five Mile Drive. I asked developer Sue Cosentini of New Earth Living LLC if those were garages facing the driveways, and the reply was “no, [but] they may be carports though.” As a result of the revised site plan, the project would need to go back in front of the Ithaca planning board for re-approvals.

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3. Recently, Finger Lakes ReUse has been working on plans to open a new “downtown” branch and HQ at the site of the former BOCES Building at 214 Elmira Road on the edge of big-box land. The plans for the gut renovation of the ca. 1950 building (Ithaca’s first big-box supermarket) have been in the works for a while, and grants have been awarded to fund the project.

One thing that appears to be a recent addition, though, is a three-story, 20,000 SF office building. The building, described as the “Main Headquarters”, is strictly a conceptual proposal. The grant announced in December funds two new buildings,  the renovation and what could be either be the proposed 5,000 SF warehouse to the west of the existing building, or the “tenant space” occupied by Boris Garage at 210 Elmira.

The office building is an interesting idea, adding density to the often-underutilized Southwest Corridor and showing what future plans might be in store for the non-profit.

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4. It seems like there was an unpleasant surprise at this month’s IDA meeting – the motion from committee member Will Burbank to put a moratorium on all tax abatements until a county CIITAP is in place for local labor/construction unions and prevailing wage policy. For those unfamiliar, a moratorium is in this case a temporary prohibition of all new tax abatements. After considerable debate and a split opinion from committee members, the motion was rescinded until next month.

Speaking as a matter of opinion, it might seem like a good idea on the surface, but an all-out moratorium sounds more like a case of “throwing out the baby with the bath water,” as one of my professors used to say. Generally, the policy for businesses to hire the contractor with the best price and a strong record for quality, on-time work. Sometimes that’s a local business with local labor; sometimes it’s a company in Binghamton, Syracuse or Rochester. Hence the debate.

The problem with a moratorium is that it stops everything applying for a tax abatement, including projects that already have plans to use local labor. And to be frank, local governments have a terrible track record with moratoriums, frequently extending them because of bureaucratic red tape. I think the unions support the CIITAP idea, but a moratorium that could place even larger numbers of their membership out of work for 12 or 18 months is undesirable and politically damaging. Local labor is important, but a moratorium isn’t the best approach.

On another note, the IDA did unanimously approve the tax abatement for the Tompkins Financial Headquarters project.The 7-story, 110,000 SF building proposed for 118 East Seneca Street in downtown Ithaca will likely start construction later this year.

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5. In economic news, Ithaca Beer had its informal groundbreaking Thursday the 16th for its expansion. The 23,800 SF addition by HOLT Architects will triple brewing capacity when it is completed in approximately eight months. The expansion at their site in Ithaca town is expected to create 22 new jobs.

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6. Also in Ithaca town, a senior living facility is looking to receive final approval on its expansion. Brookdale Senior Living is looking to obtain final site plan approvals for its 32-unit Clare Bridge Crossings expansion at 101 Bundy Drive on West Hill. Brookdale is planning to start construction of the one-story 23,200 SF addition this October, with the first tenants moving in around October 2016. There’s no mention of job creation in the application, but there is a letter of opposition from a Cornell professor concerned that new construction will be detrimental to current residents.

Noted previously here back in May, the Brookdale site is a PDZ that consists of two facilities at the moment – Sterling House is a 48-unit assisted living facility, while Claire Bridge Cottage is a 32-unit facility specializing in memory care (Alzheimer’s and dementia). The new building, “Clare Bridge Crossings”, is designed to bridge the gap between the two – patients who might be in early stages of illness and experiencing mild symptoms, but otherwise still capable of some degree of personal independence. The whole complex is in the process of being renamed to Brookdale of Ithaca.

The new building will be tucked between the other two structures, so it won’t be visible from the street. Along with the new building, there will be updates to parking, landscaping stormwater facilities, and the addition of a couple of courtyards between the buildings. The architect is PDC Midwest, a Wisconsin firm that specializes in memory care facilities.

7. Let’s end off this week on a high note. Chances of a Chapter House rebuild are looking good. The owner’s looking into reusing the walls that remain standing, and even what’s left of the floorplates. The idea is to have the building look like it did before (though perhaps with a modern fire suppression system, one imagines). Looking forward to sharing renderings as they become available.





When Varna Needed A New Plan

14 07 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote up a piece regarding new solar-powered townhomes approved for 902 Dryden Road in the hamlet of Varna, located on the west side of Dryden town. There was a temptation to expand the piece quite a bit by looking at Varna’s 2012 development plan, but that would have been another article in itself. So here we are.

As with a lot of development plans and rezonings, the impetus for many participants was a large, politically divisive project. A lot of the details I’m featuring here come courtesy of blog posts or the links posted within the posts of the “Living in Dryden” blog written by Simon St. Laurent, though this retrospective comes without his vehement opposition.

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In February 2010, the Lucente family (locally large-scale developers who run Lifestyle Properties) began discussions for a new, very large project in the hamlet of Varna. Dubbed “Varna II”, the proposal called for 260 units of housing and 30,000 SF of commercial space off of Mount Pleasant Road and Route 366. The plan called for a build-out over ten years in three phases, and the residential units were mostly townhouses that would be sold in the $150k-$200k range. It wasn’t the first time the Lucentes had targeted Varna for a major project – a 170-unit project proposed in 2000 had previously been shelved. The zoning in Varna allowed projects of 2.5 units/acre, comparable to a lot of older suburban neighborhoods. The Varna II project, at about 16 units/acre, the project was much denser than what Varna was accustomed to – and permitted, for that matter, since the town zoning law had a maximum of about 14.5 units/acre. The project would be going forward as a Planned Unit Development.

Geographically, Varna is in an awkward position – it’s a hamlet of about 800 people just east of Cornell’s campus, which puts it in the figurative line of fire for development interests, one that greatly interferes with the bucolic lifestyle touted by some residents. On the other hand, Varna is not without need of major improvementsit’s a very auto-centric area, a lot of what is developed is underutilized, and some of the street-fronting properties have potential for redevelopment into a more walkable, cohesive community.

Timing-wise, the project was well-suited; Dryden was looking at revised zoning to reflect its 2005 comprehensive plan. The possibility of a large residential complex was definitely enough to draw more attention to the new zoning, especially its impacts on Varna. The old Varna zoning (R-C and R-D residential) wasn’t dense at 2.5 units/acre, but it also allowed for a whole range of uses from residential to commercial and farming; a proverbial grab-bag. The Lucente project made it clear that maybe it was time to give the future of Varna some real thought.

As with any divisive project, Varna II went through community meetings, hosting a meeting with the Varna Community Association during the summer. The VCA was a little more even-handed about the whole thing – they knew that development in Varna was inevitable, but they wanted a greater role in shaping it. The VCA stated that it was comfortable with doubling the density to 4-5 units/acre in some areas, as well as owner occupied homes, more walkable spaces, and smaller development sites.

The project never went through formal review – the initial PUD application appears to have been rejected, because Dryden’s PUD requires at least 100 acres – this project involved only 16.3 acres. The rejection was appealed to the town Zoning Board of Appeals in December 2010, issues with State Environmental Quality Review (SEQR) and procedural issues delayed the meeting on the project, and by spring 2011, the town had an unofficial moratorium in place on large-scale development, at least until the new plan for Varna was drawn up and approved (expected to be about 9 months).

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Fast forward some months and meetings later, and the plan, created by Behan Planning and Design, was adopted in December 2012. The conceptual plan calls for New Urbanist guidelines – sidewalks, garages on side-streets, pocket parks, and mixed-use. The conceptual build-out above adds about 450 bedrooms to the hamlet. Some of the short-term goals called for improving bus stops and finalizing the Varna Trail in the short term (identified as 2012-2014), reworking the 366/Freese Road intersection into a roundabout during the medium term (2015-2017), and incentives for projects to follow the plan. The plan also suggests implementing complete streets in the 2015-2017 timeframe. The revised Varna zoning allows for units 6-10 units per acre, with density bonuses for LEED and certain forms of redvelopment.

Well, we’re in 2015 now, let’s see where things are at. The town applied for grants in 2013 for the “complete streets” multi-modal corridor on 366. But apart from that, not much else on the town’s end, something that Varna residents have noted with some distress. The town responded that plans are underway, they’re just going slower than anticipated.

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On the private end, Modern Living Rentals’ 15-unit, 42-bedroom project for 902 Dryden is the first major project to hit the dirt since the plan was adopted. The 902 Dryden parcel is about 2.42 acres, so the project comes about to about 6.2 units/acre (based off of the zoning, I think 13 units/acre were possible with the green bonus for being solar-powered). Being 2-story townhouses, it’s in scale with Varna, and is a sizable but not large project, the type that the VCA expressed preference for back in 2010. 902 Dryden includes proposed street-facing sidewalks for when the town gets to that phase. Since it’s been approved, I would guess that the town is satisfied with the project.

As for the Lucentes, they’ve focused on other endeavors, such as their Village Solars apartment project in Lansing. They still own the land that Varna II was proposed for. There’s no indication if anything will happen here or if they’ll eventually sell it off, but it’s something to keep an eye on in the long-term.





News Tidbits 7/11/15: Trying to Make A Dent in the Housing Deficit

11 07 2015

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1. We’ll start this off with a brief data map, courtesy of Curbed NY. The Urban Institute, a DC think tank, quantifies the country’s affordable housing problem with a detailed study that lays out, county by county across the whole United States just how many units are affordable to what it labels “extremely low-income” (ELI) households, who make 30% or less of county median income. In Tompkins County, this means families of four making $23,200 or less during 2013, the latest year for which data is available. The full report comes with an interactive map.

Nationwide, the numbers aren’t very good – in 2013, only 28 of every 100 ELI families could find affordable housing, down from 37 out of every 100 in 2000. In Tompkins County, the situation is even worse – it’s gone from affordable housing being available for 19 out of every 100 ELI households in 2000, to 16 out of every 100 ELI households in 2013. There was only two other counties in the northeast that fared worse – Centre County, PA, home to State College and Penn State, and Monroe County, PA, a far-flung NYC commuter county.

While much of the talk about affordability focuses on the middle class getting priced out, it’s worth noting that the tight housing market and college-centric rental market have had a continued negative impact on what little housing there is for the poorest tiers.

2. Staying on the topic of affordability,  the county is all set to sell a foreclosed vacant lot in Freeville to INHS for the express purpose of affordable housing. This was first mentioned on the blog a couple of weeks ago. The 1.7 acres of land off of Cook Street in Freeville is assessed at $25,000, but the county is generously selling the land to INHS for the low price of $7,320, which is the amount owed on back taxes and “required maintenance”. This project would be next to Freeville’s other affordable housing complex, the 24-unit Lehigh Crossing senior apartments south of the parcel. Those were built in 1991 and are managed by a for-profit developer out of Buffalo (Belmont Management).

As noted previously, the village of Freeville (population 520) is outside of INHS’s usual realm of Ithaca city and town, but INHS expanded its reach when it merged with its county equivalent, Better Housing for Tompkins County (BHTC) last December.  This is likely to be the first new rural project post-merger, and the first new affordable housing development outside of Ithaca in several years. BHTC had a string of failures prior to the merger. For INHS, after the controversy with Stone Quarry and 210 Hancock, taking on a development site that’s likely to have less opposition will be a welcome change of pace.

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3. No full decisions from the Board of Zoning Appeals on the 210 Hancock project, but there was plenty of acrimony. Of the three requested variances (height, parking and commercial loading), only the commercial loading variance was granted at Tuesday’s meeting, with the height and parking up in the air until additional information is received about pile driving impacts and winter odd-even parking. INHS has just over two months to submit the additional information.

The same vitriolic sentiment could be applied for the Old Library proposals, where legislator Martha Robertson has been called out for a possible ethics violation, and emails on the Fall Creek Neighborhood Association listserve have turned unpleasant. All in all, it’s been a pretty harsh week for anything related to development in or near Fall Creek.

Some of the 210 opposition is upset that they’re being perceived as “classist”, but when the gentleman leading the opposition posts tweets like this to the #twithaca page for all to see, a negative reaction shouldn’t be a surprise. As for the old library debate, the legislature’s Old Library Committee met on the morning of the 10th, but no endorsements were made.

4. A couple of details worth noting for ILPC’s meeting next Tuesday – “early design guidance” for work planned at 201 W. Clinton Street, and “discussion” about 406 and 408 Stewart Avenue in Collegetown.

201 West Clinton, also known as the Hardy House, was built around 1835, and was previously the home of the local Red Cross chapter from about 1922-2011. After the ARC moved out, it was restored and converted back to a private residence. The house was more recently reviewed/approved for solar panels, and I dunno what’s in store for this next round.

As for 406 and 408 Stewart Avenue, those would be the addresses for the historic (ca. 1898) three-story red-shingled apartment house destroyed during the Chapter House fire last Spring, and the fire-damaged but still-standing apartment house to its north. They are/were operated by CSP Management, the same folks tending to the Simeon’s project. So let’s keep hopes up for a possible rebuild faithful to the original 406.

If you still need your weekly dose of crazy, here’s a rather paranoid screed submitted as part of an application to the ILPC. I can only imagine the committee’s initial reaction to this.

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5. Time to move another Collegetown project into the “under construction” column – 307 College Avenue, a.k.a. Collegetown Crossing, will hold a formal groundbreaking on Monday at 10 AM. The 46-unit, 96-bedroom project was approved last September after a years-long debate over parking; the project was only able to move forward when the new Collegetown zoning went into effect last year. Expect a 12-month construction period, with occupancy likely in August 2016. Collegetown Crossing, which also includes a 4,000 sq ft Greenstar grocery store branch, a pocket park and a TCAT transit hub, is being developed by the Lower family and their company Urban Ithaca.

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6. Looks like we’re on to another iteration of the proposed pair of duplexes at 112 Blair / 804 East State Street in outer Collegetown. Updated file here, previous plans here. It kinda feels like there’s a disconnect going on – the neighbors basically don’t like the houses for being boring pre-fab duplexes; the developer, Demos/Johnny LLC (Costas Nestopoulos), doesn’t want to change that, but is willing to adjust the site layout and invest in extensive landscaping in an effort to hide them. The two sides have met and they seem close to a compromise.

Rather unusually, the 12-bedroom project (4 units with 3 bedrooms each) will open to student tenants in January 2016, after a construction period of September-December 2015. Being a small project, there will probably be enough intersession shuffling to make it work.

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7. Here’s another small project getting a revision – the Maguire Fiat/Chrysler addition down in bog box land. Still adding 20 display spaces, but the addition has grown from 1,165 SF in the last version to 1,435 SF, include a small 418 SF second story intended as a lunch room. This project, which will need an area variance, is also looking at September-December 2015 buildout.





The Case For More Housing

7 07 2015

Last week, Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick and county Legislator Martha Robertson issued an opinion piece on the need for more housing, and especially affordable housing, in the city and county. There were two, fairly simple reactions to the article – readers believed it and agreed there was a housing issue, or they thought it was bunch of lies.

Being a data-driven person, I decided to delve a little deeper into the numbers behind Myrick and Robertson’s claims.

Let’s start with the 2006 housing study that was cited in the article. According to that study, performed by Vermont-based Economic & Policy Resources Inc. (EPR), 2,127 rental units and 1,767 owner-occupied units would be needed by the end of 2014, for a total of 3,894. These numbers were determined using the 2005 housing deficit (871 units), economic trends and population/demographic trends.  Some readers may remember the quote of “4,000 units of housing” cited in news pieces back in the mid-2000s, and this is where it comes from.

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Using data from the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s State Of the Cities Systems (SOCDS) Database, new housing permits were pulled for the same time period as the study’s projection, 2006 to 2014. From 2006 to 2014, Tompkins County added 1,124 single-family homes and 910 multi-family housing units (apartments and maybe a few co-ops or condos), for a total of 2,034 housing units. In what is a surprise to no one, the majority of multi-family housing was built in the city of Ithaca, and the majority of single-family homes were built in surrounding towns. The county had 40,069 housing units in 2006, so in that nine-year span there was about 5.1% growth in housing units, to 42,103.

The EPR study stated that 3,894 housing units would be required. With 2,034 units actually built, that means only 52% of the housing needs identified by the study were met. Breaking it down further, homeowners, occupying mostly single-family properties, fared a little better – with 1,124 built of the 1,767, that meant 63.6% of the homes that were needed based on 2006-2014 projection were built. However, for rental units, which are mostly multi-family housing, it was only 910 of the 2,127 needed – 42.8%. Not even half.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the economy slowed down or population growth leveled off, but neither of those occurred. Even with the recession a few years ago, job totals have increased quite a bit, with over 6,000 jobs have been added to the county since 2006. The population has also increased – Tompkins County had 99,997 residents in 2006, and in 2014 it was estimated to be 104,691. Rather oddly, the county added 3,049 housing units from 1997-2005, the previous nine-year period, but only 3,482 residents. Population growth has climbed even as housing construction has dropped.

Perhaps most importantly, the 2006 EPR study never accounted for changes in student population. It assumed net zero change for the purpose of the study, which focused on permanent residents. Unfortunately for the housing situation, there’s been a huge growth in student population. Cornell added 2,040 students from 2006 to 2014. Ithaca College added a more manageable 178 students. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average rental unit in Tompkins County houses 2.14 people. The county’s staring down 1,036 units it didn’t plan for, and as noted in the opinion article, Cornell plans on increasing its enrollment further.

For the record, IC has added student housing in the period from 2006 to 2014 – an addition to the Circle Apartments south of campus, which opened in 2012 and increased campus housing capacity by 138 beds. While South Hill students are driving up housing demand, the overall impact is minor.

In contrast, when Cornell rebuilt its West Campus Housing during the 2006-2014 time period, there was no net increase in the total number of beds. The Big Red has had no gain in student housing since new dorms opened on North Campus in 2001. With the impending closure of the 480-bed Maplewood Park student housing complex, the situation may get worse. No one can force Cornell to build new housing, but their burgeoning student population does add a substantial strain to the market.

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Given the numbers above, Tompkins County fell 1,860 units short of its 2014 housing goal; add in the unexpected influx of college students, and the number rises to 2,832. It wasn’t good to have some affordability problems when the county was 871 units short of a balanced market in 2005; at the 2014 deficit of 2,832 units, the impacts become much more severe, which is why housing affordability has become such a big issue.

Myrick and Robertson’s column might be an opinion, but the statistics give their opinion a lot of weight.





News Tidbits 6/27/15: A Bad week for YIMBYs

27 06 2015

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1. Starting this off with least controversial news-maker this week – John Novarr’s 209-215 Dryden Road project, which I wrote about for the Voice here and with site plan details and SPR/render links here. The first article’s a little helter-skelter as a write-up because there was a lot of frantic 11:30 PM fact-checking going on in an effort to get the news out.

The $12 million, 12,000 sq ft proposal is smaller than Collegetown Dryden, but more importantly, the project isn’t residential; it’s classroom and office space for Cornell’s MBA program, three floors for each of those uses. That definitely brings something different to Collegetown and its mostly residential focus. With assurances given that the property will be kept on the tax rolls, the initial opposition appears to mostly be related to the design, which to be honest, is rather avant-garde and an acquired taste (not one I’ve acquired, to be honest). However, bringing 200 staff and a few hundred professional students into Collegetown would be a real asset for businesses struggling to stay open amid the neighborhood’s 32/36-week profit window.

209-215 Dryden Road is within the MU-2 zoning from the looks of it, so a trip to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) seems unlikely at the moment. We’ll see what happens moving forward, this one could be a fairly smooth approvals process.

2. For a smaller developer, Ithaca-based Modern Living Rentals has been pretty busy this year. Along with 707 East Seneca Street and 902 Dryden, they have a modular duplex (3 bedrooms each, 6 total) currently under construction at 605 South Aurora Street in Ithaca city. A construction permit was issued back in 2014, according to the city planning report. The orientation is a little odd in that the new duplex is being built in front of the old home on the property, since the house is longitudinally centered but set back on its lot. Taking a guess, the intended market is likely IC students. The new units look like they’ll be ready for occupancy in time for the fall semester.

3. Here’s an interesting piece of news, courtesy of the Tompkins County Government Operations Committee – plans to sell a vacant lot to non-profit housing developer INHS. In its May minutes, the committee announced intent to sell a vacant, foreclosed parcel in Freeville for affordable housing. The property is described as a 1.72 acre parcel on Cook Street in the village, which through a little deductive searching, turns up the lot in the map above, just north of the Lehigh Crossing Senior Apartments. The minutes state that INHS is in the process of drafting up an acquisition offer for the county attorney.

Freeville is outside of INHS’s usual realm of Ithaca city and town, but INHS expanded its reach when it merged with its county equivalent, Better Housing for Tompkins County (BHTC) last December.  This might be the first new rural project post-merger. The Lehigh Crossing Apartments have 24 units on 2.3 acres, so if INHS were to build at the same density, this site would be looking at something around 18 units. Not big, but not inconsequential, especially for a 520-person village.

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4. A decision to decrease sewer hookup costs in Lansing village also shares some details about a senior housing project in the works. The news comes from the Lansing Star, where the village voted to decrease its sewer hookup fee from $2,350 per unit to $1,000 for the first unit and $500 for each additional unit. Apparently the high fee was the result of the lack of a permitting process in the 1990s.

The article notes that the developer of a mixed-use request had requested a fee waiver because it would have cost $138,650 for their “59 units of senior housing”. Now it will be $30,000. Not as good as a waiver, but still pretty good. Lansing village only has one project that meets the description provided, the 87,500 sq ft Cinema Drive project covered here previously. The semi-educated guess back in May was 51 units, so the ballpark estimate wasn’t too shabby.

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5. It’s official, 327 Eddy is under construction. Asbestos removal has been completed and the Club Sudz building is coming down. The Fontanas hope to have the building completed and ready for occupancy by next August. In replacement of Club Sudz’ and Pixel’s 7 units and 2,500 sq ft of commercial space, the new 5-story building will bring 1,800 of retail space and 22 new units with 53 bedrooms to the market.

Eagle-eyed readers might recall the building was originally going to be six floors, but a floor was lopped off since it was approved.

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6. Updated renders for 215-221 West Spencer Street, coming right up. A little more detail on the facades, some window updates from the last version, and…well, honest personal opinion…it’s a very attractive design. Materials could underwhelm it, but as presented, it appears to be a lovely addition to South Hill. Good work STREAM Collaborative.

The 12-unit, 26-bed project plans to start construction next year. The project replaces an informal (dirt) parking lot.

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7. Touching on the Old Library decision briefly, a public meeting on the two proposals will be held Monday June 29th at 6:308:30pm at Greenstar’s “The Space” (700 West Buffalo Street). Douglas Sutherland will represent Franklin Properties (first image) and Frost Travis will be presenting for Travis Hyde. Should the County Legislature decide to take another vote to see if the stalemate will be broken, the next chance will be at their July 7th meeting.

EDIT: The public meeting scheduled for the 29th has been cancelled .

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8. Onto the thornier topics – Not sure what was worse this week, the reaction to the State Street Triangle project, or the INHS Hancock Street opposition. The objective, non-partisan write-up about the State Street project is on the Voice here. This and news piece #9 are opinion pieces, feel free to ignore them.

At least the State Street objections (latest renders here), I can understand the initial shock and recoil; there’s this perception that Ithaca is a small town, and this doesn’t jive with that. Regardless, by Ithaca standards it is massive, 11 stories with 289,000 sq ft of space and 620 bedrooms; if this was, say, a four-story building with an 11-story tower on the closest third to the Commons, the reaction would probably be less vitriolic (people would still hate it, but let’s entertain this thought exercise).

But that probably won’t happen. Not with this developer, or with any developer that purchases the Trebloc site. Here’s my theory why, and it goes a little more in-depth than “they want maximum profit”.

In December, Jason Fane’s 130 East Clinton project was rejected for tax abatements, and one of the reasons cited was that market-rate housing wasn’t enough of a community benefit. State Street Triangle is mostly apartments – it contains only a modest amount of retail space, with less than 13,000 sq ft it’s not even 5% of its usable space. If it were to apply for an abatement, it would likely be rejected for the same reason.

Arguably, they could try commercial office or even industrial “maker spaces”. But the market demand for office space doesn’t seem to be growing much, and industrial uses don’t tend to be a good fit in heavily populated areas. A developer could even try condos, but if developers knowledgeable with the area are hesitating, than a bank won’t hesitate to hold off on financing (aside on that – if the Old Library goes condo, other developers and financiers will view it as an experiment, or more positively, a pioneer; until it’s clear that the project is successful, don’t expect more condos in Ithaca).

However, nothing changes the fact that building downtown is quite expensive. So, being a for-profit company, if you want to build in an expensive area, you have two options to ensure return on your $40 million investment and get the construction loans you need – build as much as possible, and/or make your units as expensive as possible. If you’re a company that specializes in student housing, you’re not going to push the latter because there’s a lower ceiling on what students can afford. That would be my guess on how State Street Triangle came to be.

There are a few possibilities that might make the project more palatable to community members, such as free bus passes for tenants or a 10% affordable housing requirement within the tower (if the INHS project oppositions are any clue, this is going to be the only way to go from here on), but given the costs, those ideas just might kill the project completely. Which is exactly what some folks are looking for.

At the very least, let’s let the Planning Board do their work. If they can help change this:
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to this:

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Let’s see what they and the developer can negotiate here.

9. Now for 210 Hancock. Here is a project that’s been transparent, incredibly transparent, throughout their whole planning process. At first, there was little opposition. Now, it threatens the proposal, apartments, townhomes and all.

A wise man once told me in when I was preparing a piece, “There’s no point in talking about this with you, the public’s going to have issues with it either way”. At this point, I’m inclined to believe him.

I’ve read the petition, and I’ve read the facebook comments. It’s regrettable, to say the least.

A lot of the comments just seem to be misinformed. People saw the petition, thought that INHS was only building the apartments, and signed it. The petition was worded with charged and selective language. I’d like to take a few minutes out to refute and argue some of the commentary.

“there must be a safe place for children to play…”

“People need access to green space, yards and the ability to get outside directly from their living space.”

“I want my 3 year old to grow up in a neighborhood where he can safely ride a bike, play sports and walk his dog.”

You’re right. That’s why the project, as proposed by INHS and tweaked by the city Planning Board, builds a playground that blends into Conley Park without the threat of vehicular traffic (shown in the plan below). Adams Street and Lake Avenue would be removed, allowing kids living in the apartments and townhomes to go the playground without crossing any street.

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“I’m a lifelong resident, and I’m frankly getting tired of seeing all these areas getting bulldozed and developed…especially when we have dozens of empty/condemned houses and buildings just sitting around!”

The rental vacancy rate is 0.5%. A healthy market is 3-5%. Further to that, if there are dozens of homes, even if they were for sale, it’s still not enough to handle the demand, which is in the few thousands.

“inadequate parking planned.”

“The parking issue is already a problem. This will only make it worse.”

“I am a Fall Creek resident and do not want this area in our neighborhood to resemble Collegetown in density or difficulty in parking.”

84 parking spaces are required by zoning, 64 are proposed. However, only 22 spaces are expected to be used by the 53 apartments. In the parking study of INHS tenants, 41% of apartment tenants have 1 car, 12% of those have two. One of the reasons why INHS’s parking utilization is so low is that many of its apartments are rented by seniors – for example, Breckenridge Place is 60% seniors on fixed incomes. With limited mobility and/or income, many don’t maintain personal cars.

In a sense, although the Cornerstone project for affordable senior housing wasn’t selected by the Old Library site, the INHS project on Hancock Street may serve in some ways as a reasonable alternative.

“We don’t owe any developer a profit on their development.”

INHS is a non-profit community developer. The townhouses sold at Holly Creek over the past year were in the $105-$120k range. For comparison’s sake, the townhomes in the Belle Sherman Cottages sold for double that, and those aren’t even considered high-end (high-end would be the $410,000 townhomes in Lansing’s Woodland Park).

The reason why construction won’t start until Fall 2016/Fall 2017, with the apartments finishing up in Fall 2017/Fall 2018, is that they are completely reliant on government grants and donations from community supporters. The townhouses won’t start for a couple of years (their time frame is 2018-2020) because funding for purchasable units is more difficult to get. Just like with the condominium debate, the government is more likely to disburse a grant if it knows there are buyers waiting in the wings. And for low and moderate-income households, far more are capable of renting versus buying. As for the rent-to-own option suggested by the petition writer, it’s speculative, complicated, and NYS/federal HUD will not provide grants for that type of property acquisition. INHS couldn’t do it if they wanted to.

“[need]assurance mixed income will be there”

It will. As I wrote in March:

“210 Hancock will have 53 apartments – the 3 bedrooms have been eliminated and split into 1 and 2 bedroom units, so the number of units has gone up but the total number of bedrooms remains the same (64). The units are targeted towards renters making 48-80% of annual median income (AMI). The AMI given is $59,150 for a one-bedroom and $71,000 for a two-bedroom. The one-bedroom units will be rent for $700-1,000/month to those making $29,600-$41,600, and the two-bedroom units will rent for $835-$1300/month to individuals making $34,720-$53,720. Three of the units will be fully handicap adapted.”

“A 54 apartment high-rise is not the appropriate place for children to grow up, low income or not.”

“It is too dense and not suited to Fall Creek or Northside.”

“I moved to Ithaca and settled in Fall Creek to live in a small town.”

For starters, it’s harder to make housing affordable if there are fewer units on the a plot of land. Secondly, because the INHS project takes lead on the city’s right-of-way (ROW) on Lake Avenue and Adams Street, the calculated density per acre is 23.6 units per acre. Cascadilla Green, one block to the north, is 20 units per acre. Also note that units are 1 and 2 bedrooms per unit; most of the houses on blocks in Northside and Fall Creek are 3 bedrooms per unit.

What probably bothers me the most are some of the comments in the online petition for INHS.

“Shame on you “Ithaca Neighborhood Housing” for even thinking of creating something that will breed trouble…”

“This is an uncivilized proposal…”

“if all on welfare, this will invite crime…”

One of the reasons I harp on affordable housing is that I grew up in affordable housing. This 147-unit mixed-income complex in suburban Syracuse. Apartment 28E. I shared a bed with one of my brothers until I was 10, and even after my mother was finally able to buy a small ranch house, we shared a bedroom until he graduated and went to college two years before I did (by that point, we had moved on up to bunk beds). My mother did what she could. We were never more than working class, but she worked hard (still does) and made sure her kids worked hard.

At least some of the comments are kind enough to be “I want affordable housing but”. Others really make it sound like that those in need of affordable housing are a contamination of the community. Those statements aren’t worth debating. They’re just hurtful.

Anyway, this might be the longest news update I’ve done, so I’m going to wrap this up and detach from the computer for a while. There may or may not be a photo update Monday night, we’ll see.








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