Creeping in Collegetown

26 03 2013

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I have never understood, nor will ever try to understand, the fascination some have with invading the privacy of young college women in their apartments. A recent Cornell Sun article notes a case where a former Cornell student entered two apartments in the 312 College Ave. apartment building uninvited. These apartments were occupied by female students, who screamed and/or confronted the guy, causing him to flee. Apart from the obvious threat a guy like this poses, I couldn’t help but think that events like these have been going on for a while now.

My first thought was the “Collegetown Creeper”, a story that I already knew from when I was growing up north of Syracuse, because that’s how much of a media sensation it was. The creeper was tied into at least 18 cases, occurring in 2003 and 2004. Most of the earlier ones were cases of peering through windows into the apartments of young females. Then the creep factor was kicked up a notch in early 2004 when he would break in and watch them sleeping. By the end of his reign of terror, he had graduated to full-blown sexual abuse. At least one victim claimed her clothes were cut off and baby oil was poured onto her. As one might imagine, this created quite a stir, and by the fall of 2004, students were protesting outside Common Council meetings, demanding further action be taken on the issue.

The creeper was eventually arrested in late October 2004. The suspect was identified as Abraham Shorey, who at 23, a married father of six, and sporting Rastafarian-style dreads, seemed as unlikely a sexual criminal as any. Shorey was familiar with the Collegetown area and its crowds, as he worked as a cook over at The Nines. Before his arraignment on charges of burglary and sexual abuse, Shorey posted baiand fled the area. He managed to avoid arrest on two occasions  by producing fake IDs throughout his time as a fugitive. He was finally arrested a year later in San Diego, where he plead guilty to assault with intent to rape a San Diego County woman in May 2005. DNA evidence collected at the scene of the San Diego incident linked him as the perpetrator of the events in Ithaca from the previous two years. His sentence in California is seven years and four months, but the charges against him in New York were dropped for a number of reasons (time elapsed, difficulty locating witnesses, etc.)

Unfortunately, much worse has also occurred. Although technically not Collegetown, a 25-year old graduate student was raped and murdered near North Campus in May 1981, her body then dumped into the gorge. Her killer would graduate and go on to commit seven more murders in downstate NY and CT before being arrested.

Ignoring all the insensitive jokes students make about “forcible touching” here, female students at Cornell have every reason to be concerned for their safety, in the past, now, and for the foreseeable future.

Motivation for New Construction: 2012 Census Estimates

15 03 2013

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With over 2,500 housing units planned within the  county, and only so many increasingly spendthrift college students to exploit, local developers kinda need further justification to launch into such a building boom. The census is certainly supportive of their plans.

Following the new April 2012 census estimates (file here), from April 2010 to July 2012, Tompkins County has likely added another 990 residents, bringing the local population to 102,554. Interestingly enough, Tompkins and the bordering counties serve as a little growth pocket in otherwise declining upstate New York – Broome County, home to Binghamton, lost the most residents of any county, with about 2,540 shipping out, a drop of 1.3%. The largest increases upstate came in from Jefferson County (home to the growing Fort Drum), and Saratoga County (home to the very large and very new computer chip plant), with Tompkins in third with 1.0% growth. Given the 5.2% growth of the last decade, Tompkins is on par with its growth rate in the 2000s.

I should issue the token disclaimer that there are estimates, and the actual numbers can be a surprise when they come out in 2020. For instance, it was thought in the 2000s that Onondaga County/Syracuse lost 4,000 people over the decade – they gained 9,000. And I’m not sure how much I believe the rapidly suburbanizing Dutchess County, which hasn’t lost population since the 1890s, is believed to have lost people over the two year span. For Tompkins County in 2010, the original estimates were too high by a little over 200 (an error of about 4%).  Also, perhaps this comes as no surprise, the New York portion of the New York metro added about 160,000 people, cementing their belief that they are the center of the world and the rest of us just live in it.

Two of the numbers I like to throw around for a housing unit is that Tompkins averages 2.4 occupants for non-college housing, 2.0 for college housing. If we use that 990 figure, it can be broken down to 413 traditional units or 495 college student units – and that’s additional units required in two years, in a county already experiencing a housing shortage.  I’d say builders have all the justification they need for development in the near-term.


News Tidbits 3/6/13: Another Project, Another Closed Door

6 03 2013

A superstitious part of me can’t help but feel like I jinxed something when I wrote about cancelled projects in the Ithaca metro not long back. The latest victim is particularly unfortunate – Collegetown Crossing, the six-story mixed-use project proposed for the 300 block of College Avenue, in an area sorely in need of redevelopment.

In this case, the fault was not the developer’s. The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) thought the project was asking for too much with its parking variance (there were lot size variances as well, but those are not the issue here). As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not surprised, as the variance was for 95% less parking than required, which is a steep order to ask for, even with the community benefits and the proposed mitigation. Granted, I tend to be a bit cynical when I think about details such as the head of the zoning board being a stakeholder in a competing developer, but the primary drivers of the rejected variance were permanent residents who felt that students would try and smuggle their cars and park on their streets several blocks away (and this I can’t argue with – I personally feel that there are many Cornell students that walk around with a sense of entitlement, and would think that they’re being “clever” and “beating the system” by bringing their cars and trying to be discreet about it). The phrase “dead in the water” is fairly appropriate, because the project cannot move forward unless the parking is added (unlikely) or the city amends its parking requirements (slightly more likely, but this would take a support of the Common Council, and a stretch of time to be approved and implemented).


On a slightly more optimistic note, the IJ notes that $250 million in private development is underway in 71 large projects and a number of smaller works through FY 2015. Notably, following the breakdown, the vast majority of these are apartment and hotel projects, with another chunk under the vague title of “mixed-use” – proof that tourism and education are big drivers locally. Of these, 30 are in Ithaca City and 18 are in the town; I can guarantee at least half are discussed on this blog, most with renderings. Lansing reports another 18 projects, most of which could be broken down into three categories: apartments and retail near 13, housing developments (of which I’m aware of about 5 off the top of my head), and projects tied into Lansing Town Center. The article never defines what constitutes a major project, and this could be responsible for some of the discrepancy in the number of projects.

Off the cuff, I don’t write about single-family housing developments for three reasons – suburbia tends to look fairly homogenous, I’m not a fan of sprawl, and they take years to build out anyway. The article notes 516 residential lots in some phase of execution.  Give me a Kentlandsstyle proposal and I’ll get the keyboard a-tapping.

Of further interest, 27 are purely apartment projects, with about 2,100 units. This doubles the number I estimated a couple months back. Some of this is because I only counted Ithaca proper, which was Ithaca city and town, Cayuga Heights, and Lansing village. Adding the 72 units in Dryden’s Poet’s Landing, the 75 units proposed with the Boiceville Cottage expansion in Caroline, and the few hundred units in Lansing town’s Town Center definitely bring the two figures two closer. The project in Danby I think is a factory consolidation.

Of the 4 hotels and 450 rooms – offhand, there’s the 106-room Fairfield Inn, the Holiday Inn addition (13 new rooms in gross or 195 newly built rooms, depending on your perspective), the Hotel Ithaca and its 160 rooms, and maybe the Hampton Inn proposal for 92 rooms, but the combined room total is off, so I dunno what’s being counted.

It’s a boom by most standards, and certainly welcome from the perspective of this blog. I just hope to avoid seeing more projects end up “dead in the water”.

Cornell’s Office Park

1 03 2013
Image Property of Cornell Real Estate

Image Property of Cornell Real Estate

Previously, I’ve mentioned how Cornell almost had a convention center/hotel, a large hand in the airport, and a particle accelerator under the stadium. It seems almost without saying that Cornell would have a stake in an office park as well, and perhaps such a mundane asset would fly under the radar. As it has on this blog for years, not for lack of knowledge but for lack of interest.

For the uninitiated, business parks are clusters of office/commercial buildings, popular in suburban areas. In my hometown with its almighty 6,000 residents, we had one, which was so terribly stuck in the 1980s one might as well have parked a DeLorean in front of it for marketing purposes (then again, growing up in an upstate rust belt town, I can count on one hand the number of new buildings I’ve seen built there since moving away for college in 2006).

Cornell’s is just a little bit older, though most of the construction occurred in the 1980s and 1990s.  In 1951, Cornell decided to partner up with General Electric to establish a research lab near the airport. Public-private partnerships on research are nothing new. While Cornell assisted in the research, the lab was leased by GE. Unlike some of its involvements, Cornell actually owned the land and buildings for this endeavor, using old property and the lands from its airport. Cornell sold off the airport in 1956 but still owned the land to the south, donating some to the state when Route 13 was constructed in the late 1950s.

Things were a bit of a roller coaster at first. GE was the only tenant when they decided to leave in 1964, leaving the recently-completed Langmuir Lab vacant. TCAD took over development of the park while the lab building was donated to Cornell (development rights were relinquished back to Cornell in the ’80s), and CU housed some of its functions in Langmuir to keep the space occupied, with the last major university back-office leaving in 1987. The complex sort of languished through the 1970s, only taking off in the late 1980s when the trustees allowed the development of office buildings and limited commercial enterprises, rather than just research/industrial structures. It was in 1988 that its current name, the Cornell Business & Technology Park, was adopted.

Here’s an easy guide for the park – if the street name is Arrowwood or Brentwood, it’s a medical office building. If Thornwood, Brown or Warren, office or research/industrial.

The breakdown for build-out over time has been as follows:

Start-up (83 Brown Road, a former aeronautical lab renovated to start the business park in 1951, expanded ’53, ’55)

1960s: 3 structures, Langmuir Lab [1960] and 777 Warren Road [1967], 61 Brown Road [1969, addition 1997].

1970s: Diddly squat.

1980s: 6 structures: 9 Brown Road [1985],747 Warren Road [1987], 20 Thornwood Drive [1988], 33 Thornwood [1989], 579 Warren [1989], 10 Arrowwood [1989, additions 1993, 1997]

1990s: 10 structures, quite the boom:  55 Brown Road [1990], 767 Warren [1990], 757 Warren [The USPS Main Office, 1992], 53 Brown [1993], 22 Thornwood [1995], 15 Thornwood [1997], 20 Thornwood [1997], 22 Thornwood [1997, addition 1999], 10 Brentwood [1998], 30 Brown [1998]

2000s: 6 structures: Marriott Hotel [2000], 36 Thornwood [2001], 10 Brown [2001, addition 2007], 35 Thornwood [2003], 19 Brown [2006], and … It should be noted 83/85 Brown were demolished in 2005. The last building to be built was 16 Brentwood, in 2009.

So that gives about 25 structures, which total about 700,000 square feet, spread out over 200 acres. As far as I’m aware, the park has 100 acres of residential that remain undeveloped. The park has about 80 tenant companies, 1600 workers, and does in fact pay property taxes. It comes with most of the corporate amenities – outdoor picnic areas, daycare, a restaurant, over-manicured lawns and ponds, and enormous amounts of parking, bringing a little bit of everyday homogenous suburbia to the ITH. A few lots are still undeveloped, mostly parcels next to 13.

So add this to the list of developments Cornell has had its hands in. At the very least, it encourages gives Ithaca room for suburban offices….although personally I’d prefer they try downtown first.