News Tidbits 10/3/15: Lying in Wait

3 10 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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



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

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

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


The Newfield UFO

29 09 2015

Image property of the Cornell Daily Sun

October 24, 1967. It was a typically crisp October night in Newfield. The hamlet and town were even quieter than they are now, just the scattered homes of farmers and a few commuters, tuned-out from the tumultuous world around them. They knew of the Soviets and Sputnik, of Johnson and the Apollo program, but were so far removed that it would serve only as a vague interest, coffee talk. By any account, it should have been just a normal, serene night in the hills and valleys southwest of Ithaca.

But at about 9:30 PM, the strangest set of events unfolded in the hamlet. A 12-year old boy named Donald Chiszar said he witnessed a “craft” hovering about 130 feet above the ground. There were markings on the craft, which he could not recognize, and a large window. Two humanoid figures could be seen in a saucer-shaped craft. “But then all of the sudden it leveled off real fast and disappeared”, Chizsar claimed. The visitors were “[r]ough-colored and brownish” beings with “big, wide hips”.

Though no one else claimed to see the craft up close, many other folks in Newfield that evening reported seeing strange lights. Red and white, or green and white, flashing in some kind of sequence. Stanley Orr, driving on 13 to Ithaca the night before, reported “two large, stationary red lights” visible from his car, but at no time thought they were a flying saucer, until he had heard about Chizsar’s experience.

Overnight, people in Newfield began to see UFOs everywhere. On October 30th, more than 100 sightings were claimed by local residents. So started the “Great Ithaca Flap“, as it would be later known.

Now, these sightings caused quite a stir. People wanted an explanation. Many of the witnesses were convinced that what they saw was not of this earth. Residents of Newfield invited UFO experts and an Air Force Lieutenant from the Hancock Air Force Base to a meeting at a local home, so they could hear about their experiences.

One of the UFO experts was intrigued by the stories, but said the lights could be easily mistaken, just tricks of the eye. The air force lieutenant, Gerald White, was less accommodating, saying that it sounded like airplanes to him, traveling along one of the major air traffic conduits out of and into New York City. Newfield laid below one of those routes. Cornell astronomers were rather incredulous as well.

The sightings continued well into November. One of the UFO investigators, William Donovan, set up shop on Newfield’s Main Street, and went about interviewing witnesses and examining sighting locations. A meeting was held in Ithaca, and the claims of sightings were in the hundreds. Although the police and military were skeptical, residents felt like the truth was being hidden from them. Some residents felt the UFOs were related to the Synchrotron (a particle accelerator) on Cornell’s campus; it was reasoned that being one of the few facilities able to bring atomic particles to near-light speed would attract alien visitors, and some of the “flight paths” came from that direction. The local papers picked up the stories and relayed them with interest. Folks crowded the secluded pull-offs and star-lit fields, hoping for a glimpse of something extraordinary.

Finally, in December, Donovan stated that he could find no proof that Newfield was seeing flying saucers. He didn’t offer ideas as to what people saw, he just said that there was no hard evidence that Newfielders were seeing UFOs.

Or course, that didn’t stop the college students from having fun with the news; students launched laundry bags filled with burning fuel, and in one case a local pilot fitted a strobe light to his plane to instigate the UFO-watchers below. Eventually, the sightings tapered off as interest waned. A year after the sightings, Donovan was charged with fraud on an unrelated matter. Occasional reports of UFOs still come in from all over the county.

So was there a UFO in Newfield on that cool October night? Well, probably not. A UFO tracking website reported on the case several years ago, and received the following email:

“I stumbled over references to UFOs over Newfield NY in 1967.
I guess I have a confession.
I was a student at Cornell University’s College of Engineering in 1967. I was curious about hot air balloons, and wondered whether or not I could make a working model. I took a dry cleaning bag, sealed up the openings at the top, built a framework to hold the bottom open, and then placed a “heat tab” from a Boy Scout Heat Tab stove on the frame.
I then brought the bag out to the “dust bowl” between the University Halls dormitories, lit the pellet, and held the bag upright to keep it from catching fire. Within a few minutes, the bag arose and began a journey, sailing out of sight to the southwest direction.
Within the same moments, I had drawn an audience of about a hundred freshmen students, curious as to what I was doing. Once the bag lifted off, some of the students began trying the same trick. Some succeeded while others failed. My success was based on the fuel: the heat tab.
I must say that my creation was a sight to behold. The heat tab produced a constant glow, and the clear bag took on the light in a way which magnified the existing light. It was strange, to say the least.
The next day, I was surprised to see an article in the Ithaca Journal titled, “UFOs Spotted over Newfield“. It didn’t take more than a split second to make the connection that the UFOs may have been the bags we sent aloft from Cornell. The direction and the timing were right!
Is there any possibility that my college prank was the cause of these UFO sightings over Newfield?”

It would seem Newfield has more to fear from curious college students than space aliens.

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

12 09 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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


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

Boiceville Cottages Construction Update, 9/2015

8 09 2015

Out in Caroline, work at the Boiceville Cottages siteseems to have switched gears. Since the last update in May, the blue stucco houses with teal trim have been faced with stucco and had interior and exterior finishing completed (and occupied, judging from the 20-something I saw carrying boxes into one of the houses). Work at the site is less concentrated on cottage construction at the moment, and more focused on laying out where the rest of the homes will go as the loop road circles back around to Boiceville Road/ County Rte. 114.

Three concrete slabs indicate where new cottages are likely to be built in the next few months (I feel like the blog or the Voice should do a reader poll on what colors to use next). Scattered along the rest of the undeveloped area are cleared sites with layers of dirt and gravel. These are the sub-slab bases on which future concrete slabs will be poured. Survey work was enlisted to stake out the corners of the future cottages, with poles inserted into the  to indicate the corners of the planned units. In total, there were at least a dozen bases, and over the following months they will become the next dozen or so cottages.

Schickel Construction / Schickel Rentals of Dryden is developing and building out the project. Developer Bruno Schickel’s unusual design was inspired by cottages in a storybook he read to his daughter. The construction cost of the 75-unit addition (total 135 units) is at least $7.654 million – a loan for $5.454 million was given by Tompkins Trust in April 2013, and an additional loan for $2.2 million ($2,098,479 of which goes towards hard construction costs) was granted by Tompkins Trust in April of this year. The loan granted in April funds up to 15 2-bedroom and 16 1-bedroom units, and the legal date on file for completion is May 1, 2017.

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How House Construction Works

The DeWitt House Senior Apartments

25 08 2015


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).


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.


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.


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.


“Fun Facts” About the Ithaca Workforce

21 07 2015


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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