Ithaca’s Big Plan

29 04 2014

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I realize that the city’s comprehensive plan might seem a bit abstract. So let’s break it down into Q and A.

1. What is a comprehensive plan? Is this just more government bureaucracy?

Kinda? A comprehensive plan is the overarching theme for a city and its neighborhoods.  It’s not as specific as zoning is, but it helps determine what zoning should be, given the city’s concerns, desires and goals. So yeah, it’s more documentation, but it’s also allowing the community to determine the “forest” to be created by its “trees”. The plan helps to decide whether a project is appropriate for an area, because the planning board and zoning board will understand the desires for a given location. Used effectively, it may actually save time and mental energy in the long run by establishing a basic framework (i.e. developers will know that the chances of building a massive apartment building in Fall Creek are pretty low).
2. Why does the city need a new comprehensive plan?

The old one dates from 1971. A time when computers were the size of rooms, green was just a color and not a cute term for ecologically sensitive, and the Brady Bunch epitomized the way many wanted to live, in a posh contemporary in the suburbs with a Plymouth Satellite wagon in the garage. Times, and Ithaca itself, have changed. The plan has been amended in bits and pieces, but given its age, it needs a big overhaul, such that a new plan would be the easier option at this point.

3. Just how do they plan on making this plan?

In two parts: Phase I involves the preparation of a city-wide plan that identifies a vision and future goals for the community, and Phase II will include the creation of individual neighborhood or thematic plans, based on Phase I’s results. Committees, focus groups, surveys, meetings with community members, the whole years-long shebang. The current state of affairs can be found located here, and the current planning issues (using community input) is here. A 277-page PDF discussing environmental issues and goals for the plan is here. A draft of the plan, a mere 16 pages, can be viewed here.

4. Sum up the issues for me. I didn’t come here for long PDFs.

Parking’s a b*tch, and people want more walkable neighborhoods. Ithaca is expensive and only getting worse. The Jungle. Development pressures are threatening Ithaca’s historic structures, but the development process is too onerous for most folks to even bother with trying, vacant lot or otherwise. More jobs that aren’t colleges or retail. Protect the gorges and other local, natural amenities.

5. Okay, so what does the community want? What are the big changes?

Under consideration, we have a bunch of overarching themes. Here’s a map:

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Ithaca loves itself some compact, mixed-use developments. If it fits that criterion and it also fits the area, the city wants it. Surface parking lots (231 acres) and vacant parcels (194) comprise just under 10% of the land in the city, and a number of these are what the city hopes to be appealing to developers (if the RFEI for the county library is any clue, the interest is there). Many of the currently developed parcels should be protected – homes in Cornell Heights, Belle Sherman and Fall Creek, for examples. The red spans above are what the city sees as areas for new, dense development – underutilized parcels downtown and on West State, the large swath of big-box land in the southwest, and the frequently-flooding land to the west of big-box land (the city hopes to fix that with dredged soils to raise the land).  Some accommodation for local commercial spaces is created with the “Neighborhood Mixed-Use” land use option. The final plan linked above notes the challenges with each neighborhood, and the desired changes moving forward.

The asterisks denote focus areas, areas the city wants sees significant and unique development opprotunities. There are four – Emerson (which is now in the earliest stages of redevelopment),  the flood-prone/retail-heavy southwest part of the city, the large undeveloped swaths of West Hill, and the Waterfront/Inlet Island. All are seen as very underutilized – all present unique opportunities to significantly expand housing and commercial options, if a developer is willing to fight the adverse factors and work with the city.

6. So are we going to see anything develop out of this?

Explicitly, no. This doesn’t dictate massing of new structures, or curb cuts and sidewalk widths. But it says where Ithaca wants growth to be focused, and where it would be more amenable to playing nice with anyone who comes forward with a plan in those areas.

7. Can I have a say?

Well, the public workshops are this evening, as I write this. But if you can’t/couldn’t attend, feel free to answer the online survey, or email the city planner with your thoughts and concerns.





The Six Contenders for the Old Library

22 04 2014

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Most people are aware that the old Tompkins County library is about to be left completely vacant. As covered by Ithaca Builds last fall, the county issued a Request For Expressions of Interest (RFEI), inviting developers to cast their lures and offer proposals, and the plan perceived as best would garner its developer the ability to buy the old library and build on the parcel. The county expressed preference for proposals that were eco-friendly and would create senior housing, so the proposals play to that preference. In a long if thorough process, the County Planning Advisory Board will make a preliminary review, recommend its choices to the legislature, and the legislature will select the finalists, who will be asked to submit more thorough proposals of their initial entries, detailing info such as project financing. The county makes it final selection in November, with sale of the parcel to the winning developer in March 2015.

This is exciting, it’s like watching competitors at an Olympic event.  All proposals can be found at the county website here, individual links are included with each shot below. Feel free to voice your opinion on your favorite proposal in the comments.

1. DPI Consultants

DPI Is a private developer operating out of Rochester. Their group has some previous local involvement, converting the old county jail to offices in the early 1990s, and they were involved with the Johnson Museum addition a few years back.  Their plan calls for 76 condos and 8 apartments in 2 5-story buildings (max buildable height for the parcel is 50 feet, for the record). The condos would be mid-to-upper tier for pricing, and the project would have underground “automated parking”.  This proposal is the only one that does not have a focus on seniors.

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2. Franklin Properties

Franklin Properties of Syracuse has teamed with a group of local firms (STREAM Collaborative and Taitem Engineering, among others) to propose a 68,000 sq ft “wellness center” for the library site, which they call the “Cayuga Community Education Center”. The first two floors would have a cafe and medical offices for doctors and non-profits, with three floors (32 units) of senior housing on top. The building would incorporate solar panels and is aiming for a 2017 opening if selected. The proposal seems to be the only one that reuses the original library, and already has some letters of support from local businesses.
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3. Integrated Acquisition and Development

IAD proposes a LEED-certified, 115,500 sq ft, four-story structure they call “Library Square”, with 90 apartments, conference rooms, a library and fitness center space. The project suggests a late 2016 completion. Parking is behind the L-shaped primary structure. IAD has been involved in the Ithaca area previously, being the owner of several properties in Lansing (Warrenwood, the medical offices of Trimhammer), and the lead developer of several of the office buildings in Cornell’s office park near the airport.

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4. INHS (Ithaca Neighborhood Housing Services)

Locally prolific non-profit INHS comes up to bat again, this time proposing a project for the library site. Their proposal, called “DeWitt House”, calls for a 4-story, 60,000-80,000 sq ft building with 60 to 70 units of affordable housing, not specifically geared to seniors. The selling feature is an internal courtyard, along with community space and 6,000-8,000 feet of commercial space for rent. This one also has underground parking. The time frame for this one seems to be the latest, with completion in the 1st quarter of 2018.

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5. Rochester Cornerstone Group / Cayuga Housing Development

Cornerstone is a Rochester based non-profit housing developer. CHD is directed by the same people as the Ithaca Housing Authority, who operate Titus Towers. The proposal consists of 70-80 units of affordable senior housing, in a 4-story 54′ structure (i.e. it would need a zoning variance). The building would have covered ground-level parking and some surface parking. Full occupancy would be in late 2016. Token snark here, but next time, ask the architects not to use the glare tool in your renderings. Building roofs are not shiny.

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6. Travis Hyde

Ithaca based private developer Travis Hyde submitted the last proposal on this list. Travis Hyde is involved with the renovations of the Carey Building, the construction of Gateway Commons, and further back, Eddygate in Collegetown. Travis Hyde teamed up (once again) with Ithaca-based HOLT Arechitects for their proposal, which is probably the one that discusses architectural context the most out of the six. The 4-story 90,000 sq ft building would have 48 apartments with office and community space at street level. While it discusses providing senior housing, it doesn’t appear to be explicitly senior housing. Parking would be minimal, on the western edge of the site, with mass transit/municipal parking garage incentives being explored. Spring 2017 is the suggested completion date.
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May the best project win.





Ithaca’s Economic Mystery (Again)

18 04 2014

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I don’t consider myself an optimist. Maybe that’s the result of growing up in upstate New York, or working in a field that suffered its share of setbacks due to the recession. I don’t like the term pessimist either, preferring to go with the more socially acceptable term “realist”.

But this IJ article citing the state Labor numbers doesn’t make one damned bit of sense. I’m not even talking about the fact that they threw Ithaca into two separate employment regions (Ithaca and Binghamton, and Ithaca and Syracuse). to quote a section of the article:

“In the Ithaca region, financial activities, trade, transportation and utilities, and leisure and hospitality each added 100 jobs.

The education-and-health-services sector lost 1,300 jobs from March 2013 to March 2014. That sector’s employment was 38,300 this March.”

Doesn’t it seem just a little unusual that the area lost 1,000 jobs? Recalling the headcount numbers for Cornell that were shared last month, the difference in employee headcounts on East Hill over the period of November 2012-November 2013 is a loss of about 50. Ithaca College’s headcount reports 1,822 employees,  about 12 less than the previous year. So those are both from the fall, and the state counts health and education are grouped together, but if we’re talking about 1,000 jobs, and it’s not Cornell or IC that caused it, then who did? I don’t recall any news of a huge layoff in Tompkins County.

The state regional breakdown PDF says the number of jobs went from 70,900 to 69,900 in the region (IJ says 60,900 to 59,900…someone in their office needs to double-check their numbers, because the 2011 average jobs number was 66,194).  The state description of their methodology says they use a time-series regression model and a sampling of 18,000 establishments statewide to determine jobs data. I’m wondering if this is all a quirk in the sampling, given that Ithaca is a small market (and small sample size in turn).

Maybe Ithaca’s economy really is in the crapper. But honestly, it’s not the first time the state has given overly-negative assessments, and the county agencies have to do damage control. But do we really have to go through this every other year?

 





Belle Sherman Cottages Update, 4/2014

16 04 2014

My last stop, on my out of town. In short order, I mentally debated stopping for photos, missed the turn due to the debating, circled back around, ended up ditching my car in a reserved parking spot at the Coal Yard Apartments complex. Then I ran down the hill, to the development, back up to the hill, and back into my car in the span of five minutes. I’m sure some of the neighbors that were outside Sunday afternoon were a little confused by my behavior.

Since my last time through, work was completed on the bungalow on lot 19 (someone gave it red porch trim; I’m guessing the owner), and the “Victorian farmhouse” on lot 13 is well underway, the modular pieces are assembled and it looks like siding swatches are being tested and installed. I expect this house will be done in just a few weeks. According to their facebook page, Q1 2013 was a stellar three months; five lots were sold: lots 4, 6 and 18 (elevations here), the spec house on lot 1, and one of the planned townhouses. That means 10 of the 19 houses planned have been sold. Considering they sold only six houses in the past two years, this is quite an uptick. Looks like Carina Construction will be busy this spring and summer.

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Dairy Bar and Bar Argos, 4/2014

15 04 2014

Two of the bars I hit up last weekend. For the former, it was my first time inside the new Stocking Hall (the old one is undergoing renovation, and the project won’t be fully complete until 2015). It was absolutely packed with 4H kids/parents, and Cornell Days kids/parents. To order and receive ice cream was a 40-minute endeavor. But I got my Italian lemon cream cake, and that’s what matters.

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Meanwhile, on the more adult end of the spectrum, this past weekend was also my first time inside Bar Argos, the open-to-the-public bar of the Argos Inn. I had a Cuba Libre that was not overpowering, just the right amount of bite. Drinks here run on the high side of average, but the interior was fairly warm and inviting.
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Boiceville Cottages Update, 4/2014

14 04 2014

I had an alumni event in Ithaca, and my drive in always take me in via 79. The Boiceville Cottages are about a mile out of the way, so I had just enough time before dinner to stop by and shoot a few photos.

Unfortunately, spring is also mud season in upstate, and that became all too clear when I stepped out of my car on the edge of the parking lot, and the mud went halfway up my dress shoes. Luckily, I had a second, not-as-dressy pair on hand, but this is definitely not the time of the year to be walking around in nice shoes.

Compared to my last time through Boiceville in December, all the foundations laid at that time are now occupied by homes that are largely complete, with exterior finishes and detail work underway on the newest cottages. No more foundations have been laid, so I’m unsure if more are planned for this year; some areas had been cleared, but it looked to be used for the staging of construction equipment.

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The Keyword Bar XXI

11 04 2014

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I figured I had two options at the moment – write about all the Chain Works District news, or do one of my tried-and-true keyword bar articles, where I examine and comment/answer on searches that led folks to this site. Well, I’m holding off on the Chain Works discussion, until some of the materials presented start floating around one of the local government websites (city of Ithaca, town of Ithaca, or county), and can be reused here. So in the meanwhile-

1. “what frat can ithaca college students join” 4-9-2014 and “ithaca college sorority options” 4-2-2014
Officially, IC offers a few professional music fraternities, but there are a couple of social Greek chapters that are based at IC but are not officially affiliated with the college. Rarely, IC students join Cornell University Greek organizations, though it’s normally no more than 10 IC students per year. Many of these are in the MGLC, fraternities and sororities that focus on minority groups, but a couple do join chapters affiliated with Cornell’s IFC (I don’t know if Pan-Hellenic allows sororities to recruit IC students; maybe in the informal fall rush). These students aren’t allowed to serve in leadership positions in most chapters, and I imagine the trek between campuses gets old after a while.
2. “cornell snow graduation” 4-8-2014

Thankfully, there’s nothing to worry about. According to the NRCC, the latest snow of any amount (trace or higher) in Ithaca occurred on May 18th (1973). With graduation traditionally at the end of May, the possibility of snow is very remote. Winter graduation is a different story.

3. “proposed south hill development town of ithaca” 4-7-2014.

That would be the Troy Road development. Which from a planning/land use perspective, I become less and less a fan of every time I see it. But then, I prefer New Urbanist planning, not suburban cut-and-paste development. I just keep reminding myself that the current zoning is worse, and the town has a poor track record in raining in sprawl.

4. “is there any problem of construction in collegetown terrace” 4-4-2014

Jason over at Ithaca Builds would know this better than I, but as far as I’m aware, there’s been no indication of construction issues. Perhaps the parking isn’t being utilized as much as they thought it would, but that has more to do with planning than construction.

5. “the cradit-moore house” 4-1-2014

Actually, this one has a pretty cool story attached. The Cradit-Moore house dates from 1817, with an addition built in 1860-61. The older north wing was built by Issac Cradit, and the south wing by Peter Kline (the Kline family were locally prominent farmers who held a lot of land, and its where Kline and Klinewoods Roads take their name from). The house was bought in 1938 by Dr. and Mrs. Norman Moore. Dr. Moore was the director of the Cornell U. infirmary, and in 1948, the Moores sold the house to Cornell but with the condition that they could live out the rest of their days in the home. When Cornell began plans to expand North Campus with CKB and Appel back in the late 1990s, the original intent was to demolish the house. This caused substantial protest, and working with the non-profit preservation group Historic Ithaca, Cornell donated the house away in 2000 and Historic Ithaca loaded the house, all in one piece, onto a flatbed truck and hauled it .3 miles to a new foundation on a lot donated by Cornell further up Pleasant Grove Road. The house was then sold to a private owner to recuperate the moving costs, the new foundation and landscaping.

Image property of Historic Ithaca

Image property of Historic Ithaca

6. “tunnel barton teagle” 3-25-2014

It exists, though like many of Cornell’s tunnels, it doesn’t appear to be open for public use.