News Tidbits 7/4/15: With Liberty, Justice, and Housing for All

4 07 2015



1. It looks like the some of the Planning Board members had some choice words for opposition to the 210 Hancock project. The board did not waver in its unanimous support of the project, and passed it forward to the BZA. This week, the Common Council passed 7-2 a resolution to approve giving $100,000 from the joint city-county-Cornell affordable housing fund to the 210 Hancock project. The dissenters were first ward (South Hill/West Hill) representatives Brock and McGonigal, which, looking at previous votes related to development, is no surprise.

At this point, the remaining votes left are a Board of Zoning Appeals vote on July 7th, and the Planning Board vote at the end of July. The BZA tends to vote with the Planning Board’s recommendation, so it looks like the biggest hurdles for INHS’s project have been cleared.

But that isn’t stopping both sides from trying. The opposition to 210 Hancock has launched a website to try and stop the project, and supporters of the project have launched a petition on (which hosted the opposition’s petition).


2. Random house of the week – this week, a photo of a new single-family home under construction in the Belle Sherman neighborhood at 203 Pearl Street. 203 Pearl is the result of a subdivision approved by the city during the spring; the lot had previously been combined with 201 Pearl and used as an in-ground swimming pool, which has been filled in at some point. According to the zoning subdivision application, the new home will be 1,276 square feet, likely making it a spacious 2-bedroom or a more modest 3-bedroom.

I was a little surprised to see this one already underway – there was a similar lot subdivision on a nearby block of Cornell Street that happened in 2006, but the home (215 Cornell) wasn’t built until 2013. As an observation, most single-family subdivision plans seem to take a few months or so before work starts.


3. In case you missed it, here’s a link to the housing crisis op-ed penned by Ithaca mayor Svante Myrick and Tompkins County legislator Martha Robertson. For readers of Ithacating or Ithaca Builds, the problem is already known – the county, and the city especially, are becoming increasingly unaffordable, with one of the primary contributors being a lack of new housing to accommodate its growing population. The op-ed cites 15,000 commuting in from the outside the county (stat here), almost a third or renters pay 50% of their income to housing (HUD recommended max is 30%), and that the estimated need for new units was 2,127 for 2006-2014, and the city built 657 in that time (I’m thinking of doing some data magic for Monday night’s blog entry, but rest assured, the county-wide number built is still far less than what’s needed).

Notably, it’s mentioned that Cornell intends on adding yet another 1,300 students in the next few years, in addition to the nearly 2,500 they’ve added since 2005. That means another 1,300 bedrooms that will either get built, or 1,300 residents that will drive the rental prices even higher. Apart from Cornell’s closure and probable redevelopment of Maplewood, there’s nothing on the horizon for student housing from the Big Red, and that is putting an increasing strain on the rest of the county. Add in the thousands of jobs added in the past decade, and smaller growth at schools like IC, and it’s clear that Ithaca and the neighboring towns need to identify and promote areas for smart, sustainable development in order to manage the growth (looking at you, Form Ithaca).

It’s an enviable position to be in; Binghamton, Elmira and many other communities would love to have this problem. But it also needs good stewardship to keep the situation from getting out of control.



4. In other Planning Board news, the city has advocated on behalf of the Franklin Properties proposal (first image). At least seven ladies and gentlemen of the Common Council have also signed a letter in support of the Franklin project. The Franklin proposal is the condo project that seeks 22 condos, medical office space and a cafe in the old library, reusing the shell of the 1967 structure; the other proposal, from Travis Hyde (second image), calls for a wholly new building with 63 apartment units, office space for senior-focused non-profit Lifelong and community space.

The proposals have been sent back to the Old Library Committee for another possible vote at an undetermined date. Originally, a vote at the legislature’s July 7th meeting was considered likely. Hopefully the legislature doesn’t drag their feet on this.

There have already been a few emailed grumblings from the 210 Hancock opposition that hint the old library proposals are next, accusing both of them of being too dense for Ithaca, and this puts neighborhood groups in a bind if the projects they’ve spent months advocating are now suddenly under attack from neighbors. We’ll have to wait and see just how much and how intense the opposition is once a proposal is selected and begins to move forward. It will be watched here with great interest.

5. Sticking with the Planning Board, here’s their review of the city’s comprehensive plan. Members have their own individual suggestions – one suggests that percentages of affordable housing should be required in all new projects rather than encouraged, and another suggests that population growth is too much of a focus. The document will be up for another round of public review before it gets passed on to the Common Council for their comment and vote.

If one should feel so inclined, the plan is here, and comments can be emailed to city planner Megan Wilson at

6. There’s potential right now for a redevelopment of the long-vacant Masonic Temple at 115-117 North Cayuga Street, one block north of the Commons. Jason Fane, in partnership with the Downtown Ithaca Alliance, has announced plans to apply for a “New York Main Street Program” development grant that would allocate $100k-$500k towards rehab and a new building elevator. Several re-uses options are still being explored, but in the meanwhile, the grant has the Common Council’s benediction. The 20,000 sq ft building was built in 1926 and made a historic landmark in 1994.

7. Last but not least, here’s some news worth noting, courtesy of the Tompkins County IDA. As part of the review of Tompkins Financial Corporation’s (TFC’s) tax abatement, board members asked what TFC plans on doing with its current buildings. CEO Greg Hartz responded that 119 and 121 East Seneca would be held onto and rented out, with the bank retaking space in those buildings as it needs. However, their office and bank on the Commons (the historic 2 and 3-story buildings on Bank Alley just south of the M&T Building) would be sold. Being in the downtown historic district and in good shape, it’s very likely that they would be undergo some type of renovation/re-use, perhaps first-floor retail with residential above. The buildings comprise 18,000 square feet above-ground (12,000 on the first floor) and 6,000 square feet of basement storage.




2 responses

10 07 2015

I’m glad to see the Hancock St. project is moving ahead despite the misinformed opposition. I was getting worried the NIMBYs would successfully stall or scuttle the project, leaving the neighborhood blighted and undeveloped while the slow process of coming up with a new proposal started over. (Seriously, do these people not realize that by trying to kill this project, they’re saying they’d rather have an abandoned building and parking lot than let working-class people have a place to live?)

10 07 2015
B. C.

Unfortunately, they’ve managed to get the BZA to hold it up until more data come in about parking and pile driving. So it’s not out of the woods yet.

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