News Tidbits 3/21/15: Imagine If It Was Trader Joe’s…

21 03 2015

texas_roadhouse_1 texas_roadhouse_2


1. Yet another chain restaurant entering the Ithaca scene, this time Louisville, Kentucky-based Texas Roadhouse. There’s 24 separate documents on the city website, and I’ll link to the most useful ones here – the Building Application here, the elevation drawings here, the Full  Environmental Assessment Form (FEAF) here and overall site plan here. I wrote about this for the Voice, and I’ll recapitulate the salient details here-

-The site location is 719 South Meadow Street, the northern end of big-box land. The site was previously home to a Cellular One and a 1980s one-story masonry building that was demolished in 2013, leaving the current vacant lot.

-The construction time period is expected to be from September 2015 to Spring 2016. The project will begin the PDC review process in April. The construction cost is pegged at $1.35 million, including landscaping and parking improvements.

-About 30 construction jobs and 40 permanent (albeit food service) jobs will be created, according to the application. Jeff Stein at the Ithaca Voice says that an email from Texas Roadhouse corporate expects 170 permanent jobs, so I’m not sure which figure is correct.

-The 7,163 sq ft store looks to be the standard corporate design theme for the 430-restuarant chain.

One of the things that continues to amaze me is that, here on the blog, news like this is not a big attention-getter, it’s worth a blurb and not much more. On the Voice, where the audience is more general, people go nuts when they hear about new chain places moving into Ithaca. The lovers and the haters, and sometimes even attacking each other in the comments. In the first 24 hours after the Roadhouse article was published, it was shared 300 times on facebook, and had 2600 likes. Any other real estate or business article would be lucky to get 1/20th of those figures. I never cease to be surprised.


2. Looks like another town of Ithaca project is hitting the dustbin. The 68 acres involved in Rural Housing Preservation Associates Troy Road project have been put up for sale. Originally proposed in February 2014 as a 216-unit project, the original design met with stiff resistance from neighbors and town officials. In November, a smaller, 130-unit plan (shown above) that included on-sire orchards and clustered housing was much better received, and the town planning board declared itself Lead Agency for site plan review, but the project never progressed further. In consideration of other dead mutil-family projects (such as NRP’s Cayuga Trails and Holochuck Homes’ 106-unit townhome development), the town is having a difficult time providing new housing, partly due to developer problems and partly due to local opposition and red tape.


3. The writers over at the Ithaca Times have an article up this week about the Kendal at Ithaca expansion currently underway. In order to stay on schedule, Kendal had to do their groundbreaking in January, with the intent of finishing in January 2016. Even with the appalling winter we’ve had this year, the director of Kendal claims the project is only three days behind schedule.

The Kendal expansion will add 24 senior apartments and 13 skilled patient care beds to the current 212 apartment and 35 beds on-site. The $29.3 million project is expected to add about 20 jobs when complete. Local architecture firm Chiang O’Brien is handling the design of the building additions.

4. More bad news from Cornell, at least for this blog’s sake. From a Cornell Daily Sun writeup about a town hall-style budget meeting conducted by outgoing President David Skorton:

“Cornell can also cut costs further by reducing campus construction, a step Skorton recommends the University take. 

‘Much of the construction you’ve seen on campus over the last 20 years has been supported by debt,” Skorton said. “We are at the point now, for at least a few years, where we need to very, very seriously reduce construction of new space.'”

I could imagine a couple impacts from this. First off, this probably won’t affect projects with permits in hand and funding in place, like the Gannett addition or Upson Hall’s renovation. But through the rest of the decade, there could be a serious curtailing of new construction. This would hurt the local construction industry, for whom Cornell is a good chunk of their work. Skorton’s explanation also works as a reason to not build any new dorms, and that’s worrisome. The rapidly increasing student population has not only been crunched by tight supply, it’s spreading into adjacent neighborhoods and raising rents for permanent residents, and contributing to strains in town-gown relations.

One thing is clear. The impacts of Cornell’s latest budget issue will be felt throughout the community.


5. Looking ahead at the agenda for next week’s city Planning and Development Board meeting, here’s what to expect:

A. Final Site Plan Approval for the 4-unit, 9-bedroom INHS affordable housing project at 402 Sough Cayuga Street

B. Public Hearing and possible approval for the Lake Street Bridge Replacement

C. Discussion (no actions expected) on INHS’s 210 Hancock development – some minor tweaks have been worked into the plan, such as moving the new Lake Avenue north of the playground and adding a crosswalk.

D. Sketch Plan for 215 W. Spencer Street by Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative. This should be interesting. Readers of the blog will know I’ve mentioned this site a couple of times – it was a vacant lot that was sold by the IURA to local rental developer PPM Homes a couple weeks ago, and apparently they’re wasting no time with getting their plans in motion.

A 0.47 acre parcel (shown above), 215-221 West Spencer is in an R-3a zone that allows for a 40′ structure with 35% lot coverage. That’s a max theoretical buildout of 28,662 sq ft (which if you give 20,000 sq ft for the housing units, and 1,000 sq ft per unit, we get a hypothetical 20 units), but whatever does get proposed will likely be somewhat smaller. STREAM Collaborative is a local architecture firm with a few other projects under its belt, including the 21-unit 323 Taughannock project on Inlet Island, and the Franklin/O’Shae proposal for the Old Library site (the proposal that reuses the Old Library Building). STREAM Collaborative was also responsible for the design of the Troy Road project mentioned earlier, so at least they won’t be going without work anytime soon. Noah Demarest has done pretty good work previously, so I have high hopes for this project.

Along with these four discussion topics, the PDB will review a minor subdivision to create a new home lot at 104 Campbell Avenue on West Hill, a review of application materials to see if any revisions are desired, and discussion of the Planning Board Annual Report, 2014 Edition.


6. It’s that time of the year for building new student rentals for 2015/16. Here we have a Craigslist posting for 318-320 Pleasant Street on South Hill. The rear portion (left) is an addition, a duplex with 3 bedrooms each. The owners of the 105-year old house are members of the Stavropoulos family, who run the Renting Ithaca rental company and the State Street Diner.



12 responses

21 03 2015

Can you tell me why Kendall was able to issue municipal bonds for their construction? I believe they may have been tax exempt as well.

24 03 2015
B. C.

Hi Chris,

Looks like it was part of the benefits package approved by the TCDC (Tompkins County Development Corp.) last fall. Minutes here:

Click to access BOD-Minutes-091114.pdf

The municipal bond issuance also had to be approved by the county legislature, and that happened in October.

23 03 2015

I wish Cornell’s administration would own up to the problems they’re creating in the local housing market. They need to either stop admitting so many students or build enough dorms to actually house them, instead of crowding more and more students into the saturated rental market and allowing unscrupulous landlords to keep jacking up rents.

Skorton’s emphasis on no new buildings is also troubling for the CS department, which is continuing to see skyrocketing enrollment. We’ve already outgrown Gates Hall, and the university promised us another new building on Hoy Quad once they get permission to remove the baseball field. If those plans are cancelled we’ll soon be so overcrowded we can’t give new faculty or grad students offices in the department.

24 03 2015
B. C.

Unfortunately, the university has promised a lot of buildings over the years, and the projects that do get built take years to come to fruition. Gates Hall had been in the planning stages since 2006 if I remember correctly, and the Gannett expansion starting this Spring has been planned since at least 2008.

29 03 2015
Cornell PhD

Cornell’s externalization of costs and student life onto Ithaca is bound to create all sorts of problems for its long term competitiveness. It’s hard enough for Ithaca to compete for students with other university host communities, and Cornell handicaps it significantly without investing in the local real estate market and holding down rents the way schools like Columbia, for example, do.

25 03 2015

BC, I noticed in an Ithaca Times summary of the Planning & Development Board meeting a new building for Tompkins Financial Corp. (7 stories on Seneca) was mentioned. Any idea where the heck this came from?

25 03 2015
B. C.

That’s a surprise, nothing was in the agenda. There’s also no mention of the new apartment project on Spencer Street, which was on the agenda.

It’s possible that TFC was just making a verbal statement and there was nothing more to present, but I’ll keep an eye out for documents.

25 03 2015

Not sure, when I went to the link provided by the Times in their weekly list of community meetings, the list included “sketch plans” for both Spencer st and TFC Headquarters. **shrug**

25 03 2015
B. C.

Oh, I see what happened. The TFC HQ was an a later addition; I used version 1 of the PDB agenda when I wrote out the original summary last week, but version 2 was added afterward.

29 03 2015
Cornell PhD

I guess one silver lining of Cornell cutting its construction budget is that there will be more and better bids available for local non-Cornell projects, which may be able to get off the ground more easily/sooner?

29 03 2015
B. C.

That is one way to look at it. Cornell does use a lot of the same contractors that many of the larger local developers do.

11 04 2015
News Tidbits 4/11/15: Not Feasible As Presented | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] now present in the new elevations, and signage has been tweaked. All in all, not a big change from the previously-shown drawings. It doesn’t look like this one will have too many issues moving […]

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