News Tidbits 1/16/2011: The Project Planned for Seneca Way

17 01 2011

(UPDATED) So, this is a project that has been under the radar but merits a closer look. The site plan review (first step in the approvals process) is due to go in front of the city of Ithaca’s planning board later this month. This project is set for initial review along with Josh Lower ’05’s controversial parking lot-lacking five six story mixed-use building planned for the current Ithaca Carshare building site in Collegetown (the former Kinney Drugs), and the continued review of Ithaca College’s new boathouse, which I don’t consider particularly newsworthy. Sorry IC.

What is interesting about this project isn’t so much who’s designing it (the popular local firm Trowbridge and Wolf, who also designed the West Campus House dorms and the Gateway Commons apartment building on East State Street), but its location. Most people haven’t heard of Seneca Way. That’s because the street barely exists. It’s a tiny stretch of road off of East State that flows into East Seneca Street (shown below). The project address is 140 Seneca Way, the north/east side of the street.

The lots facing Seneca Way are few. True Insurance, a parking lot and the former Challenge Industries Building on one side, and a parking lot on the other side. This area has been a designated target for desired future development for the past few years, so much so that several of the properties on the even-numbered side of the street were up for rezoning. That zoning was to change the site from four stories max to six stories, but was controversial because it might impact the redevelopment of the Argos Inn (right next door to the east side of Challenge Industries) and as one city councilman put it, “I’m not sure this proposal provides as graceful a transition between the core and the residential areas as one would wish”. The zoning failed to pass the Ithaca Common Council, so the maximum height allowed on the property is still 40 feet or four stories, whichever is shorter (which for residential structures, 9-10 feet is standard floor height anyway).

So, what might be there? Well, if the project wants to pass, it’ll likely have to incorporate base parking or compensate somewhere nearby (which would be expensive). There isn’t room for a larger parking lot, let alone spaces lost to new construction. Perhaps part of the project will involve demolition of the vacant Challenge Industries building. Since that’s an uncertainty, it’s difficult to speculate on the number of units (it also depends on what their intended square footage for a unit is). I would expect that being a “transitioning” set of parcels, the size would be three to four stories. Trowbridge and Wolf specialize in contemporary and rather angular designs, so if it’s anything like their previous work it’ll probably bear similarities be glassy and have a fair amount of exterior steelwork.

At this time, it’s just about waiting to see what they come up with for that area.

UPDATE 1/25/11: Okay, so here is the proposal: 63,400 sq ft mixed use building with 14 below-ground parking spaces, as well as 41 surface spaces. First floor commercial (one-third of which will be occupied by a branch of Warren Real Estate), 32 apartments, a fitness center and enclosed roof terrace. Will require demolition of former Challenge Industries building. At five stories, this project will require a zoning variance, as well as variances for setbacks and parking. So, excluding the height variance, my guess wasn’t too far off.

Also, 307 College Avenue will be six stories, not five. My mistake.



4 responses

26 01 2011

Great stuff, and thanks for the info. I certainly hope the height variances get through. And considering the recent financing problems for The Hotel Ithaca and Cayuga Green condos, I hope money breaks loose for all the proposals in the city. btw, where did you find the rendering?

27 01 2011
B. C.

The rendering was sourced from the Cornell Daily Sun.

27 01 2011

Thanks, the one source I forgot to check (just call me Homer, DUH).

23 02 2011
Matt Clark

The developers changed the address so the building front is now west instead of south, the reason being that the side setback is less than a rear setback so they would need reduced variance. However the building is now six stories tall since there are five stories ABOVE the entrance.

As a neighbor I am pro-development, but there is no transition zone when the developers are asking for five variances, including height (two stories above allowed limit), setback (the building will abut residential backyards), and parking (22 spots – more than 1/3rd of what is required by zoning).

If the building were lowered to abide by code and the law, then it would be a welcome addition to downtown Ithaca. As it has been proposed, it is currently a behemoth that is too big for the site and encroaches all neighbors.

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