News Tidbits 8/27/09: Phase Two of Coal Yard Apartments Planned

28 08 2009

From the Ithaca Planning Board’s August agenda:

Coal Yard Apartments – Phase 2, 143 Maple Avenue, Steven & David Beer Owner/Applicant.

Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval. The applicant is proposing to construct an Energy Star-rated, 25 unit apartment building located between the existing coffee shop and the existing 10 unit apartment building that was constructed in 2007. The new building will have four residential stories built on top of a 16-space underground parking garage. The new building will have four 3 bedroom units, seven 2 bedroom units and fourteen 1 bedroom units and will have an elevator. The applicant anticipates that the majority of the bedrooms will be singly occupied. It will have a flat roof, and will include many of the design elements of the 10 unit building. Lower levels of the façade will be brick and upper levels will use similar fiber cement clapboard and solid board panels used on the 10 unit building. Colors will match or complement the existing building. The target market for the building will be graduate and profession students, professional academic staff and faculty, and seniors. The project is in the R3b Zoning District and will require a variance for height. This is a Type I Action under the City of Ithaca Environmental Quality Review Ordinance in accordance with §176-4 B (k) and an Unlisted Action under the State Environmental Quality Review Act and is subject to environmental review.

The property is part of the Beer Properties portfolio, which includes the Grandview House in central Collegetown. The trick here will be getting the height variance approvalas Ithacans are very protective of their sight lines. Here’s a picture of the 10-unit building taken from their website:




The apartments are aptly named, since this used to be the coal yard for the city of Ithaca back in the day [1]. Prior to discontinuation of passenger train traffic in 1963, the site was also home to the East Lehigh Valley Railroad Depot. The coffeeshop referenced in the city agenda is the “Queen of Tarts”, which sounds like a great name for a madam as well as being a cute pun.

The project falls outside of the Collegetown Vision area and would not be affected by any zoning changes as a result of the Collegetown plan.



News Tidbits 8/21/09: Dumb Frat Tricks

22 08 2009


The house involved is Sigma Nu, off Willard Way near West Campus. Apparently, firefighters found a small pot-growing operation while investigating a busted water pipe. I would not be surprised if sanctions from their national or from the IFC are put in place against Sigma Nu as a result of this incident, as it is rather embarrassing for the Greek community (personally, I think it makes Sig Nu look like a bunch of dim bulbs).

ITHACA — A busted water pipe may lead to a drug bust after the discovery of a small marijuana-growing operation inside a Cornell University fraternity house.

The Sigma Nu house manager called firefighters about the broken water pipe on the second floor, Ithaca fire officials said. Firefighters contacted the Ithaca Police when they found the plants.

 Ithaca firefighters found a half-dozen marijuana plants Tuesday afternoon while investigating a broken water pipe at the Sigma Nu fraternity house on Willard Way, Ithaca Police officials said. Officers seized the plants and though they’ve identified a person of interest, they aren’t releasing his name. 

 Water was running through the ceiling, they explained, and in the process of assessing the damage, firefighters found the plants in a tin-foil lined closet, surrounded on all sides and angles by several high-intensity lights. 

Whoever was growing the plants will likely be charged with unlawful growing of cannabis, a misdemeanor, police said. Fire officials said the numerous electrical cords used to power the lights created a fire hazard.

The leaking pipe was part of the sprinkler system and had to be shut down for repairs, Ithaca Building Department officials said. Additional life and safety issues such as a defective smoke and fire detection system and missing exit signs were found, so they posted the house on Tuesday and told everyone to leave until the problems could be fixed, they added.

Bobby Quintal, a member of the fraternity’s executive committee and last year’s president, said the chapter housed members in local hotels and other campus fraternities donated space while contractors fixed the problems.

Friday evening, Ithaca Building Department officials said that the house would likely be safe and ready to be reoccupied later that night.

Quintal said he isn’t living at the house and has no knowledge of the marijuana found there, but that marijuana possession violates Sigma Nu fraternity rules. When rules are violated, the national chapter investigates and might sanction the local chapter, the fraternity member or both, depending on the outcome of their investigation.


News Tidbits 8/13/09: Ithaca’s Economy Gets a Dose of Reality

14 08 2009

Image property of Welch Construction Inc.

Well, the simplest way to put it is that the sh*t has hit the proverbial fan. Emerson Power Transmission, the company that owns the factory on South Hill, will be shutting its doors next year, putting 228 people out of work [1]. Not to mention the 200+ people they have laid off in the past year.

Name your reason. Energy costs. Cheaper alternatives from overseas factories. Losing a major customer as Magna Int’l shuts down its massive factory in Syracuse. An anti-business local political climate. Oppressive taxes due to an incompetent state government (which I agree with, but I digress). In the end, the jobs are still gone.

Yet, Ithaca continues to survive. A major setback for sure. But Ithaca has been through economic horror stories before.  Consider Smith-Corona.

Smith-Corona was once a large company based out of Cortland, which is 25 miles northeast of Ithaca. Founded in Syracuse in the 1880s, the once employed as many as 10,000 people [2].  Groton, a town just north of Ithaca, was home to a large Smith-Corona factory. They manufactured calculators and appliances, but their speciality was typewriters.

If you’re reading this blog entry right now, I think you can guess where this is going.

Well, with the rise of computers and pocket calculators, their business went belly up. They started to shut down their lines in the early 1980s, with the factory in Groton shutting down in 1983, with the loss of 400 jobs. At the time, 2,800 people were still employed in the factories in Cortland [3]. In 1992, they decided to eliminate 900 jobs from the area, moving them to Mexico [4]. That ended up being a waste too, as the company shut down the Mexican factories five years later. The company originally shifted the Groton jobs to Signapore, to a factory they owned there that had 1500 employees. That shut down a few years later. Today, there’s little left of Smith Corona. Maybe 100-150 employees at a “headquarters” in Cortland, working in consumer electronics services.

Well, life didn’t end in 1983 or 1992. The local communities have continued to survive, perhaps even reinvent themselves to some extent. The loss of jobs always hurts the community. But people get by. Some might move, embittered by the economic loss; others might find other gainful pursuits. Companies such as Advion and Incodema have grown and picked up some of the slack. The wine industry here has grown by leaps and bounds in the past twenty-five years. The area continues to evolve, although it may not always to everyone’s liking.

I’m not trying to diminish the importance of the loss of a major manufacturer. However, I’m trying to make a point that as long as there’s local business talent and people who are willing to take a risk and start new business ventures, then this area will continue to survive, perhaps even thrive in the long run.





Cornell Criticism

12 08 2009



What inspired this post were the none-too-charming rankings released recently by Forbes on their “Best Colleges” list [1]. The article itself wasn’t the trigger, but the comments, however…

Where’s Cornell? Where it belongs, behind a lot of small LAC’s where teaching undergrads is actually a priority.”

“…another thing I considered: Cornell has one of the highest suicide rates of all colleges/universities in the U.S. actually, at one point, it was the highest…”

(not true according to the New York Times, but that’s beating a dead horse…)

Now, I could really care less about overall school rankings. Cornell is one of top-rated schools in my field of study, so that’s about the only ranking I ever cared to know. But, there’s a little bit of dark humor to be found in the lengths that people will go to criticize other institutions.

Cornell, of course, is not new to criticism.  The school was maligned in its early years for being co-ed, for not having a religious affiliation, and for some faculty that ran dangerously awry from the norms of the time (one of which included a professor that was an atheist, which in the religiously driven nineteenth century was truly shocking and tabloid worthy). Even today, remarks of “SUNY Ithaca” and “the safety school of the Ivies” still manage to bother some of our thinner-skinned students and alumni. Read Ivygate’s comment section for examples [2].

In the early 1940s, there was “The Dilling Affair”. A student by the name of Kirkpatrick Dilling was brought before the Student Conduct committee and put on parole for engaging in stunts such as blowing dormitory fuses and filling ceiling lights with water. Well, his parents were extreme right-wingers who were convinced that their son was put on parole due to the committee’s underlying communism. Mrs. Dilling came to Ithaca, launched her own investigation, and published a scathering magazine report detailing how the reds has infiltrated the institution from President E. E. Day down. (Bishop, 568)

Sometimes, Cornellians are their own worst enemies. Consider the little feud between Ann Coulter and Keith Olbermann earlier this year. For anyone who wasn’t living under a rock, Metaezra has the full story [3], so I’ll take the liberty of abridging the drama. Coulter, a bastion of invective conservatism, made the remark that liberal mouthpiece Keith Olbermann didn’t go to the same Cornell, but rather state school Cornell (CALS). Most of us who went to Cornell, while aware of the difference (and that the only significant differences between them are source of funding and in-state tuition), but also know that criticism is about as bad an idea as sticking a knife in an electrical socket. But, Olbermann responded back by showing off his diploma on air and bragging about his Cornell degree, Coulter just had to respond back, and the catfight resulting in nothing more than embarassing just about everyone else who ever went to school far above Cayuga’s waters. 

Here’s some of my favorites – building criticisms, as recorded from respondents in the Cornell Alumni News:

Sibley Dome – “the breast of campus”

Rockefeller Hall – “public grammar school No .16”

Baker Lab – “A U.S. Post Office Conferred by a Republican administration”

Olin Hall – “might suit a department of alchemy better than chemical engineering”

…and that was before the sixties and seventies rolled around. The aesthetic critics must be rolling in their graves.

I s’pose Cornellians are their own worst enemies. To quote one more commenter from Forbes:

Wow! A lot of references to Cornell in these comments! As a Cornell graduate, I see that “complex” is still there for many Cornellians.




News Tidbits 8/5: Ithaca Gun Redevelopment in Financial Hell

6 08 2009

This is really funny, because I passed by the site when I arrived back into Ithaca last week, and thought it was curious that no work appeared to be underway even though it was weekday afternoon. However, I didn’t have the camera with me, so I didn’t bother taking photos of the site before I left for places further north.

On the bright side, the blight that was the main building has been torn down; all that remains on the site currently are the debris/soil piles that need to be moved off-site, and of course the Ithaca Gun smokestack that is to be incorporated into a small pocket park when the property is fully redeveloped. So it could be worse.

One thing should be made clear; although there are cost overrruns with the cleanups of the site, the project to rebuild on the site isn’t cancelled. However, results may be late in coming, and may end up different from the initial plans.

The removal of demolition debris at Ithaca Gun has stopped because the development team apparently doesn’t have the money to pay its contractors.

A series of surprises, increased state oversight and community involvement has resulted in cost overruns totaling almost $1 million, according to a letter from property owner Wally Diehl, project engineer Pete Grevelding and developer Frost Travis sent to Mayor Carolyn Peterson on June 30.

The development team initially estimated demolition and cleanup would cost $1.46 million. They now estimate it will cost $2.3 million, according to the letter, which Peterson provided to the Journal on Tuesday.

The cash-flow situation apparently is so tight, the development team can’t afford to dispose of the remaining debris.

“I think there’s basically an issue of having the money in hand to pay people to do the work,” Peterson said. “My focus right now is not to have those piles sitting there.”

She submitted a resolution, which Common Council will consider tonight, asking that the $840,000 in state money intended for redevelopment go instead toward cleanup.

The city earned a $2.3 million state Restore NY grant to subsidize the developers’ project to clean up the site and redevelop it into 33 high-end condos and a public walkway to the Ithaca Falls overlook.

Appointment of a Community Advisory Group, a lengthy asbestos-removal process and “unanticipated environmental procedures, review and approvals” all led to cost overruns, according to the developers’ letter.

Peterson said it cost more than expected to preserve the smokestack and its foundation, deal with some potentially contaminated bricks, and more strictly monitor of the air at and near the site.

Before Travis’ 2007 proposal, Diehl twice proposed condo projects that would have covered cleanup costs without state help, but they were rejected by neighbors as too large. With no subsidy on the redevelopment side, the project “will require some creativity on the part of Travis & Travis and their architects,” the letter stated.

Peterson said she hadn’t heard any discussion about a bigger project or more condo units.

“Certainly, with working with the neighborhood, the preference was the proposed project. So I don’t know if there’s a proposal in mind, but I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if there needs to be some re-thinking,” she said.

News Tidbits 8/1/09: Edelman Realty Puts Sorority House on the Market

2 08 2009

Realtor Description:
Own a piece of Cornell History. Delta Phi Epsilon Sorority is an arts & crafts style stone & stucco building on The Knoll. Built circa 1915 with up-to-date sprinkler, fire alarm & other safety systems. Compliant w/all inspection by the City and Fire Department. Living room, chapter room, paneled dining rm, commercial kitchen. 15 rooms for up to 25 occupants.There is an also a one bedroom two-story caretaker’s cottage with a separate driveway. Approximately 18 parking spaces+driveway to cottage.

The house’s list price is $795,000. Technically, the property has two units, the second being the small building in the second photo (both of these photos are from the listing).


Personally, I think my photo is more flattering.