News Tidbits 6/13/15: Things that make you go Hmm

13 06 2015

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1. We’ll start this week’s round-up with the 800-pound gorilla in the room – the Old Library decision. The general, non-partisan rundown can be found in the article I did for the Voice. Rather than rehash that, I’ll give my own thoughts and opinions here.
In what should be no surprise to anyone, there’s a lot of acrimony flying around. The unavoidable problem here is that everyone has a different expectation for the site. To be honest, I was a little surprised that the Travis Hyde proposal was the winner. The Cornerstone and Franklin proposals were running about even when it came to public sentiment – many of the Voice commenters were stressing the need for affordable senior housing, just like the county did in the RFEI. Others used online petitions to push for the condos and saving the old library, but I personally felt that that was always going to be a stretch simply because the condos are a double-edged sword; they’re a needed commodity, but that “air of elitism” associated with the sale of a public asset for high-end homes would hound the legislators all the way to the voting booth.

The truth is, the RFP was designed to be unattainable, and I called it out for that last fall. There was no way a project was going to incorporate all the things it requested. Franklin couldn’t renovate the building and make their units at the affordable level. Cornerstone was able to make their units affordable but wasn’t as environmentally friendly as the others (it also requested a large PILOT). And I guess Travis Hyde was in the middle. Which on that 0-5 scale they used to score the projects, gives a simplified sort of 5-0 (2.5), 0-5 (2.5), 3-3 (3). With unrealistic expectations, of course the legislators were going to be disappointed, and they set up everyone else to be disappointed too. But the thought of holding onto a vacant building with its mechanical systems at the end of their useful lives, ready to put the county on the hook for hundreds of thousands of dollars in replacement costs, is probably the worst option out there.

TL;DR: There was going to a large contingent angry with the legislature’s decision, whatever it was. It’s times like this I wonder if the county should’ve just sold the site to the highest bidder.

Just for the record, because the three proposals were so different, and I thought all of three of them were good community assets, I honestly didn’t have a favorite. I had a slight preference towards DPI early on, but when they dropped out I became neutral about the whole process. But it’s only the Franklin supporters that are accusing me of subversively undermining them in the Voice write-ups, and it’s making me really cold to their cause.

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2. From the Common Council’s Planning and Economic Development Committee (PEDC) agenda, more talk this week about removing the setbacks from Nate’s Floral Estates (more on that in a moment), and a Memorandum of Understanding that both the city and Cornell will be chipping in $100k from their affordable housing funds to help finance INHS’s 210 Hancock affordable housing project (specifically, the 53 apartments – the 12 for-sale townhomes are being financed separately).

As covered by Jeff in the Voice, concerns have been raised that the site is unfit for new development due to the possibility of environmental contamination. Nate’s is partially on the site of the old city landfill, and has been for 40 years. But concerns raised by Ithaca city councilwoman Cynthia Brock, Ithaca town board member Rich DePaolo, and environmental activist Walter Hang have tabled the zoning change for now until the Department of Health can re-review their previous correspondence on the park’s expansion and determine if the extra 30 feet is safe to build on. The expansion may still happen, and we’ll just have to wait on the DOH’s decision before any zoning changes move forward.

On a separate note, there’s this line from the March minutes, which are rolled into the agenda for approval:

Alderperson Brock would like to see an increase in owner-occupied housing in the City. She does agree that affordable housing is needed, but the need is for “for sale” housing.

The last I checked, Ithaca is the 11th most expensive city in the country for rents as a proportion of income. The city needs affordable housing, for-sale housing, and affordable for-sale housing.

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3. Fresh renders of the Tompkins Financial HQ. This one’s had some pretty substantial revisions from the initial bland brick box. A little more character and a more varied use of materials. More drawings here, cover letter here. This project’s just scooting right along, the applicants hope to have preliminary site approval granted at the June 23rd Planning and Development Board meeting. Construction is now expected to start in August and wrap up in February 2017.

A traffic study conducted by SRF Associates of Rochester determined that with only 20 employees moving from the suburbs into downtown, that the impact to the vehicular traffic on East Seneca (thousands of cars per day) will be negligible. A long-term increase in traffic is likely if other entities move into the rented space TFC vacates, but that’s well outside the scope of a traffic study.

The initial work calls for site clearing, demo of the existing drive-thru branch on site, then excavation down to the first sub-floor, thenceforth pile driving shall commence. It’s anticipated the sandy soils will make the pile-driving move along faster, but the other buildings nearby will necessitate temporary support installations during the excavation process.

On a related note, Tompkins Financial has filed an application with the IDA for a 10-year tax abatement. The application for the $35 million project (of which $28 million is for construction of the new building) states that the requested abatement would save the project $4.06 million in property taxes, and $2.112 million in sales taxes. New taxes generated and paid over the same time period would equal $3.782 million.

In the application, TFC states that it would be a few million dollars cheaper to build at “a generic rural site”, and in order to make downtown headquarters more financially acceptable, they decided to apply for tax breaks.

The application only suggests 6 new jobs over the next three years, paying $37k-$84k annually. Given previous estimates of 77 new jobs over 10 years, this lack of major job growth early on forces the later years to pick up the slack.

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Of course, we also have a render of the new drive-thru across the street, which is nice but not nearly as exciting.

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4. Sometimes I feel like I should do a random house of the week feature. Here we have a modular home being built on the 200 Block of Eastern Heights Drive in the town of Ithaca. It looks nearly finished at this point; permits for the home were filed back in March, so this one seems to have followed a normal building schedule with no major hangups.

Some modular homes are done on the cheap and look the part; others, like the Belle Sherman Cottages, do a great job with the finishes. This one may not look as great the Belle Sherman project, but it looks like a decent infill home for the Eastern Heights neighborhood. And it has great views to boot.

5. According to the town of Ithaca’s May 11th minutes, a developer has expressed interest in buying fire Station No. 9 at 309 College Avenue in Collegetown. An appraisal has been done and the City has hired a consultant to look into it. Fire Station No. 9 was built in 1968 to replace the original station, which is now The Nines. It sits in Collegetown’s densest zone, MU-2, so a potential replacement could be six floors with no parking requirement. There’s a lot to be looked at here, especially with the potential public safety impacts. But it’s something worth paying attention to over the next several months.

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6. It’s unusual in Ithaca to see real estate advertisements posted with speculative commercial build-out plans. The above computer drawing is from the online posting for the sale of 120-140 Brindley Street in the West End. The three smaller buildings already exist – the “Aeroplane Factory” on the right and the other two properties comprise ~18,000 sq ft of flex office space. The drawing also shows an unbuilt 3-story office building; I don’t know how serious plans were for it, but it’s probably just conceptual. The real estate ad itself notes that a live/work building is possible, as well as a 6-story building of 25,000 sq ft.  The 2.38 acre site’s for sale for $2.79 million.


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7 responses

15 06 2015
Cornell PhD

So much else going on, I won’t begrudge you not including the waterfront design charette. 🙂

A worse design (the reuse) certainly could have been picked for the old library site. What irks me most about the current version is that it fails to close the street wall along Cayuga Street; the large opening to the courtyard garden seems unnecessary when more units could be fit in along Cayuga and DeWitt Park all the more nicely framed. Presumably, the design will evolve anyway.

Speaking of which, the Tompkins building is much improved from the last render. I’m a little concerned about Buffalo Street becoming the ass-end of buildings on Seneca, though.

News of the fire department sale is very interesting. I’d assumed this would remain a dead spot on the street forever, and that the department was probably a necessary evil in the center of Collegetown given the frequent sounding off of fire alarms wherever undergrads are in abundance. Where could the department even move?

15 06 2015
B. C.

Au contraire, I wrote an article on the charettes for the Ithaca Voice. It’ll appear in tomorrow’s edition – it would have gone up today, but the flooding pushed it back a little bit.

Good question on the fire station. The last move in the late 1960s was just one lot south. I suppose the consultant the city hired is looking into nearby locations suitable for a relocation – but I’m at a loss for possible location, except perhaps some nearby land owned by Cornell. I’m wondering if, given the traffic in inner Collegetown, a nearby location on Maple, Mitchell or Cornell’s parking lot on Williams/Stewart would be adequate for a relocation.

16 06 2015
Ex-Ithacan

I think that Cornell parking lot wouold be a great location. Dual access to the site also.

15 06 2015
B. C.

On another note, I’m hearing the Legislature may not come to a consensus on the Old Library, thus leaving every plan up in the air. Eight need to vote for any plan for it to move forward, and two will be absent from the meeting (leaving 12); the current rumor says at least five will likely vote for the committee’s decision on Travis Hyde, one or two will vote for the Franklin plan, and an undetermined number say that all three are awful and don’t want to vote for any of them. I don’t care who wins, but I’m gravely concerned that the Legislature will be paralyzed by the decision and nothing will come of the past two years, and all of the money spent on review, and all of the time spent on these meetings.

16 06 2015
Ex-Ithacan

Could the DPI group come back from the dead? (fingers crossed)

20 06 2015
News Tidbits 6/20/15: Big and Far, Small and Near | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] 7. The Old Library vote made quite a splash in this week’s news. With a 6-6 hung vote, everything’s up in the air. This is what I feared would happen. […]

19 09 2015
News Tidbits 9/19/15: It’s A Numbers Game | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] Previously reported here and on the Voice, the city is studying whether or not to sell fire station No. 9, located in the heart of Collegetown at 309 Colle…. We now know the consultant the city hired to perform the […]

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