News Tidbits 9/28/12: No Seriously, I Love A News Deluge…

28 09 2012

I feel like a clearing house at the moment, but a bunch of little tidbits have been proposed/modified lately that merit a brief blurb before I return to non-newsy matters.

67 new townhouses are proposed for the Eastwood Commons area, a relatively dense development out within the suburban neighborhoods south-southeast of Cornell.

The development consists of duplex-style townhomes with a couple of side streets, not new urbanist but definitely in the realm of nodal development. The town will be pleased.

Worth noting, the land needed for the developed is being bought from Cornell. One of the stipulations for this sale is that Cornell employees be given priority for sales; INHS may offer some programming assistance for CU employees with modest incomes.

News item number two comes out from the Ithacan, IC’s newspaper. The Hotel Ithaca project, which was rebranded to a Marriott, has released an updated rendering. While the cladding, roof-ware and entry area have been changed substantially, the building retains its general shape and configuration (however, the changes still need to be re-approved). The project is shooting for a March 2013 construction launch.

While I would prefer they keep the “Hotel Ithaca” theme with it’s Zinck’s-branded bar, I have no qualms about the proposed design – the lines are clean, vaguely modern, and it seems to fit in with the other recent development in the downtown area (this statement assumes homogeneity is preferable). Also, I’d like someone to explain to me all the tallish buildings in the background – are they attempting to make Ithaca look bigger, or attempting to make the building look smaller?

Last on the news wire is that the Collegetown Crossing project, the rather controversial six-story building proposed for the 300 block of College Avenue. The project has obtained an agreement to a 20-year lease from local grocery store co-op Greenstar. This is important for two reasons – the city and many local residents have expressed strong interest in a C-Town grocery store, and it also makes the project lass likely to be just another empty storefront. However, it’ll be a while before Greenstar has to worry about its second third location, since the project is still caught up in red tape with obtaining zoning variances, especially for parking. This project would likely not open until at least 2014, assuming it gets approved in the next few months.

News Tidbits 9/21/2012: Building Something That’s “Typically Ithacan”

22 09 2012

While the city debates the details of the Collegetown Crossing and Cascadilla Landing projects, here’s a couple of new interesting little news tidbits from this month’s planning board agenda:

Planned Parenthood, the bane of most social conservatives’ existence, is building a new Ithaca (Southern Finger Lakes) facility. The two-story, 9,000 sq ft building will be built on half an acre of land occupying 616-626 West Seneca Street (WHCU claims 16,000 sq ft – I trust the planning board more). The new structure, its 27-space parking lot and landscaping will require the demolition of four homes. I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the configuration of this, since the Iacovelli apartment building is going up next door, and AFCU’s new accessory lot on the vacant property on the corner of Fulton and Seneca. I had to check the photos I took last month to verify there were still two homes on the Seneca side of the proposed property, and since there are in fact two homes, I think the diagram below looks about right. The photo above is one of the homes, which I had initially intended in a gritty Ithaca photo blog entry somewhere down the line.

On to the other piece of news, INHS, the NPO developer of affordable housing in the city and town, is in the initial stages of its latest project, a 35-unit complex at 400 Spencer Street. This is on the edge of big box land, and the southern edge of residential Ithaca, in an area best described as low-density commercial/industrial hodge-podge. The project as proposed offers up two rows of townhomes (16 units), and a 3-story apartment building (19 units). INHS has been on a roll the past couple years, with the 39-unit Cedar Creek project completed, the 50-unit Breckinridge Place project downtown, and 11 townhomes underway in the town of Ithaca (with 11 more planned in a second phase of the “Holly Creek” project). This is in complement to their normal single-family renovation/new-construction work.

So, “affordable” housing projects, and a new building for Planned Parenthood. I’d say those fit the political interests of left-wing Ithaca fairly well.

Scoundrel, or Scapegoat?

18 09 2012

The Sun’s piece regarding the problems with Jason Fane is nothing new. Previous articles over the past several years have done the exact same thing. I personally have never, ever been a fan of Jason Fane. So, since he is the (man? villain?) of the hour, I figured it was worth taking a look at the man who owns so much of Ithaca.

Jason Fane, from as far as I can tell, has been a major landlord in the Ithaca area since the mid-1970s. He is New York bred, holds a civil engineering degree from MIT and a Harvard MBA, and is about 70 years old. The recent Sun article notes that his tenants refused to pay rent in 1974, citing deplorable maintenance of his properties. In 1979, he feuded with the city building commissioner, who condemned one of his properties (with 15 occupants still living in it). An academic study of Ithaca compares quotes from him in 1975 to 2000, where he goes from saying “students aren’t interested in aesthetics” to students “are looking for quality”. By quality, we’re talking $1,400/month in rent. To be fair, Jason Fane knows his business…and for better or worse, he knows how to milk his stakeholders to his advantage.

Cornell has a fairly wealthy student body, such that extremely high rents are acceptable, as some students have the means (or rather, their families do) to afford such rates. Business owners, however, tend to be a different story. A student pays high rents because of proximity to Cornell and high quality of services. For a business, setting up in Collegetown means suffering a major lack of business during academic breaks, not to mention extremely high rents for choice, high-traffic locations…many of which are owned by Jason Fane. As long as the apartments are rented, Fane has no need to try and fill the commercial space, no matter how much students, residents and local officials complain. He’s still making a tidy sum from his residential units, and rather than cut prices to lure in shopkeepers, would prefer to wait until that day when someone is willing to pay his high price – because occasionally, someone will.

Let’s be clear – the man is rich. He owns a real estate empire that stretches from New York City to Toronto, where he is currently developing high-rise condo towers. For more proof, here’s an article where he goes to court over $850k in gold and silver bullion. He also isn’t afraid to weigh in on anything that may affect his business – he was a major opponent of the Cayuga Green apartment project, and he also tried to have the city building commissioner shut down Cornell’s temporary freshman housing in student lounges – presumably, because both had an impact on his business.  He is not the compassionate and caring businessman pro-commerce groups like to promote. In fact, a few other c-words – cold, calculating, and controlling – come to mind instead.
In all fairness, Mr. Fane is under no obligation to fill the space, unless he feels a need to deepen his pockets further. But it certainly isn’t doing him any favors in the communities he’s invested in. I guess when you own ten Collegetown properties, several more in downtown Ithaca, and a couple suburban properties, you can afford to do as you please.

News Tidbits 9/12/2012: Reading Between the Lines

12 09 2012

I tend to look forward to the middle of the month, mostly because the new agendas are released for the Project Review Committee associated with the Ithaca Planning Board (and the first official news of new projects). Apart from this debatable unhealthy interest, I’ll sometimes check out the Planning and Economic Development Committee, not because it’s as interesting to me, but mostly because I’m trying to avoid another Cayuga Green screw-up from ever happening again. So, in engaging in my monthly routine, I looked to find that while nothing was posted yet for the planning board (meh, I can wait), a curious piece of news was embedded in the PEDC’s agenda.

There’s a note from the economic development planner asking for a brief revision in the description of waterfront zones. Waterfront zones are stated as five floors maximum, and in another section states a maximum height of 63 feet. She asks for it to be stated such that the building may be 63 feet max, or five floors. I like to imagine her busting out a magnifying glass for this trick.

Now, associated with this incredibly uninteresting detail is an interesting piece of news – the clarification was proposed because a property owner wishes to build a waterfront-zoned building within the 63′ height limit, but with more than five floors. Now, I double checked Cascadilla Landing, and the proposal calls for 5 floors maximum. So, unless something major changed, it’s not that project. This appears to be a new project, for a six-story building on/near the waterfront.

A couple of details can be gathered from this type of proposal. The project is likely six floors because 10′ is fairly standard for a residential development – anything less is rarely seen, due to material insulation/layering between floors, and some desire on the developer’s part  to have decent floor-to-ceiling space. Commercial entities generally have larger space requirements for equipment and space, along the lines of 12′-15′ per floor. So if I were a betting man, I’d wager a six story building, near the waterfront, all residential on the upper floors (the ground floor may have another use – perhaps a retail space with 12′ ceiling, for example). So in sum, I think the proposal for another large building on Ithaca’s waterfront may be in the works, and the densification of Ithaca’s waterfront continues.

The Descendants of Ezra

4 09 2012

The inspiration for this entry comes from a recent Sun article detailing the rescue of a woman from the gorge, in which the first responder was a Cornell student, and descendant of Ezra Cornell.

Some famous people, like William Shakespeare and Abraham Lincoln, have no living direct descendants. Ezra Cornell, who is at least famous to those who have spent four or more years in Ithaca, is quite the contrary.

Ezra Cornell had either nine or eleven children, which sounds prodigious until you realize that couples had as many children as possible back in the mid-19th century simply to ensure that nature and probability would allow at least a few of them to survive into adulthood. Indeed, four of Cornell’s children died before the age of 25. However, that leaves behinds seven children – three boys and four girls (or five children consisting of three boys and two girls, depending on which source is correct).

The most famous of Ezra’s direct descendants is likely his son Alonzo, who served as governor of New York from 1880 to 1882, and was married twice. The wikipedia article claims he had four boys. One of them, Charles Ezra Cornell (d. 1947), served as trustee and had three children of his own, of which at least one, William Cornell, survived to adulthood. So plenty of possibilities for descendants here.

Regarding Ezra’s other surviving children, Franklin Cornell, a banker, passed away in 1908, and at that time, three of his four children were still alive – one boy, Franklin Cornell, and two daughters, Ms. Dorothy Cornell and Mrs. Eunice Cornell Taylor.

Oliver Perry Cornell, the third son of Ezra, survived well into his mature years (d. 1911). He married and had at least one son.

As for the daughters, they tend to be less easy to track, since they take the names of their husbands. There was Mary Emily Cornell  and Emma Pettit Cornell Blair (d. 1914), of which I can be certain. A Dorothy and Emma Cornell also appear in one of the sources, but this could be a repeat, someone’s wife, or some other error (and this is why I would never wish to be a genealogist). Mary went to Vassar, passed away at the age of 87 in 1935 (making her the last of the first generation), and appears to have remained unmarried. But Emma did marry, and had three boys, Charles, Cornell, and Hamilton Blair.

So, given this illustration, it is likely that there are Cornell descendants sill kicking around today, many of whom still live near the Ithaca area. Among those, Ezra Cornell IV (class of 1970), and the kid from the Sun article, Thomas Ezra Cornell Collum ’14.

On a final note, in the early days of the university, direct descendants could attend free of charge. However, with the proliferation of descendants, this practice was discontinued beyond the fourth generation, by order of the Board of Trustees in 1932. The university notes that the last folks eligible were of college-age around sixty years ago. So even if you find out you’re a seventh-generation progeny of Ezra, it won’t help your pocketbook if you attend the Big Red. But I’m sure it would make a nice conversation piece.