News Tidbits 11/15/14: For Better Or Worse

15 11 2014

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1. I see the Journal (and Common Council) has touched on what is probably one of the biggest questions when it comes to housing in Ithaca – the affordability issue. As noted over at Ithaca Builds, it’s a complicated problem, and there is no silver bullet. We have a confluence of problems, many of them fortuitous – a growing economy and a desirable place to live, even if it has a dearth of developable land. On the other hand, wages aren’t going up as fast; so the problem gets worse. From 2000 to 2013, average income increased 61%, but home values over the same time increased about 105%.

I become very negative and cynical when I think about this issue. It gets lip service, but no one really wants to do anything about it. Development costs are expensive in Ithaca, so no developer wants to do it on their own dime. There’s also a mentality among some residents that affordable housing equates to ghettos and crime. West Hill is opposed to more affordable housing on their hill, South Hill would be very difficult due to simmering tension left from the Stone Quarry battle, Downtown’s too expensive without tax breaks, and Cornell students price out East Hill. There’s not much space that’s developable in the inner neighborhoods, only rare opportunities like the Neighborhood Pride site. Anything built outside the city is sprawl. I don’t see a solution to this problem. I only see it getting worse.

As for the hotel, the type of business it brings helps define the services offered by nearby retail. They probably won’t visit second-hand clothing stores, laundromats, or the local bank. But they will restaurants and bookstores and novelty shops. The shops will continue to evolve as they’ve always done – for better or worse, depending on who you ask.

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Switching gears but on the topic of hotels, Tompkins County and the city are making a killing on the high demand for hotel rooms, and 2015 is expected to be a banner year thanks to Cornell’s sesquicentennial and other big events. Literally, the report has “cha-ching!” written in the notes. According to the paperwork presented at the October Planning and Economic Development meeting, the city can comfortably accommodate either the Marriott, Canopy or Holiday Inn Express on 13 without a problem (no mention of the smaller hotel approved for 13, although it would be a blip in the market); the city/county can accommodate two of the three with only a minor hiccup. But if all three are built in the next couple years without a new driving force to bring in visitors, an older hotel further out in the county will likely close. My fingers crossed in the hope the Hotel Ithaca convention center gets the construction loans it needs, for that will be a boon to the hospitality market.

2. Looks like the land sale for the Amabel project is in the works after falling a little behind schedule. 617 Five Mile Drive is tentatively selling for the minimum price (the tax assessed value of $16,875), after New Earth Living’s initial bid for $10,000 was rejected. City gets money, land gets sold off and added to tax rolls, and down the line it gets used for housing. Win-win. I win as well, for a correct if easy prediction.

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3. The county’s IDA is reviewing tax abatements for Jason Fane’s 36-unit 130 East Clinton project, and the 20-unit mixed-use Carey Building addition proposed by Travis Hyde Companies. The document for the Carey Building reveals a construction time from of December 2014 to August 2015 for the $4.1 million project, and the number of REV incubator tenants is now up to 9. The reason for the abatement is to take the reduced costs created by the abatement, and move the new units from the upper-end of the rental market to the middle. The applicant writer does a pretty effective job selling it, saying that it will help ameliorate the dearth of affordable rental housing if approved. No new jobs are anticipated, but then, this doesn’t count any company in the incubator. The requested property tax abatement plan, and with sales/mortgage abatements, is valued at $850k over 10 years.

Looking at Fane’s project, the document notes a start and finish date in “2015, hopefully 2015 but most likely completed 2016“. That does not instill confidence. The construction cost is $4.4 million. The property tax abatement isn’t explicitly stated in the document, referring to a spreadsheet that wasn’t included in the upload. However, it says it’s following a standard 7 or 10-year plan, so it’s in the ballpark of several hundred thousand dollars. The sales and mortgage tax abatement is $200k.

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4. Here’s a site plan render of those “artisanal” car dealerships proposed by the Maguires. Both budget motels come down, but the “mosquito pond” as one commenter described it will still be there. Apparently, campus-like dealerships look a lot like corporate office parks. Saponi Meadows Park lies to the north of the line of trees, on the property adjacent to the Peachtree Lane homes. Saponi Meadows would be connected via the “Coregonel Remembrance Trail” to Tutelo Park in the upper right. The dealerships would be Subaru, Hyundai, Alfa Romeo, Fiat, Nissan and the corporate office for the Maguires. The developers predict 40-50 new jobs if built out. Local firm Schickel Architecture is responsible for the site plan.

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5. It’s back. For the town planning board meeting next week, round two for the Troy Road housing development is about to begin. Some readers might recall this past winter, when it began as a 216-unit proposal. By August, it had entered red-tape hell, because neighbors were opposed to the PDZ it needed.  Details on the newest incarnation here. Now down to 130 units, a PDZ is no longer needed. The project will be comprised of 46 2-4 bedroom single-family homes, and 14 sets of 4-unit 1-2 bedroom townhomes (56 units total) and 14 duplexes (2 units each, 28 total). It seems a little odd to include single-family homes again, since those were cut from the last design because the developers weren’t sure there was a large enough market for them. Compared to the previous design,  this one is less sprawling, has an orchard and farm on-site, and looks to be eschewing the “rural agricultural”-style housing for modern units designed to exceed NYS Energy Code. With fewer units and no need for a PDZ, the project has a much better chance of approval.

6. According to the Syracuse Post-Standard, regional scrap metal magnate Ben Weitsman just bought a former industrial site in Syracuse and plans a retail and hotel development on the site. What does have to do with Ithaca? Nothing, at a glance. But as I noted last month, Weitsman has plans for his Ithaca property, plans that are waiting on the Brindley Street bridge replacement. What exactly those plans are isn’t known quite yet. But now we know he isn’t just interested in expanding scrap yards.

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7. Another piece from the IJ, this one a meaty write-up on the Ithaca Gun cleanup progress. This (hoepfully) last round of decontamination should be complete by the start of Spring 2015. IFR Development LLC (Ithaca Falls Residences), a byproduct of Travis Hyde Companies, hopes to present sketch plans for 45 units of clustered townhouses in December. Some will be 2 stories, others 4 stories with upper and lower units stacked on each other.

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On a whim, I googled “Ithaca Falls Residences” and this report from September came up, complete with renderings. How close they are to the current product, I don’t know. But I suspect they’re not too far off. Adjusting the timeline numbers, it suggests an early 2017 completion.


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2 responses

15 11 2014
Ex-Ithacan

I’m not feeling all warm and fuzzy about all the proposals becoming reality. I’m mostly worried about the Hotel Ithaca convention center and the old county library site. I’m not holding my breath on the old Ithaca Gun site, but I do think something will happen there eventually. btw, I really enjoyed that “Ithaca Falls Residences” link provided, very entertaining and informative. Thanks for the update BC.

20 12 2014
News Tidbits 12/20/2014: Many Homes, One Community | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] Earth Living LLC has released some updated site plans and sketches of their approved Amabel project just southwest of the Ithaca city-town line. The houses on the northern two-thirds have been rearranged from the previous site plan, and if […]

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