News Tidbits 10/24/15: Breckneck Builds and Market Slowdowns

24 10 2015

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1. College Crossings is dead. But its passing opens up an interesting conversation.

According to Ithaca town planning board minutes uploaded earlier this week, developer Evan Monkemeyer withdrew his proposal after planning board members weren’t comfortable with approving the environmental assessment and mitigation plan for the proposal (technically called a “negative declaration” by the lead agency on the SEQR). While at least one was bothered by the 3-story, 54′ height, many board members had visions of the Form Ithaca charrette for the property, and this didn’t quite jibe with Monkemeyer’s plans for South Hill’s King Road and Route 96B/Danby Road intersection. Minutes for the July and August meetings can be found here.

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Now, I will gladly admit that I was not a fan of this project, and I too wanted something more along the lines of Form Ithaca. I’m surprised, though, that it was enough to derail approvals of the project.

Now, the problem is, the town’s new comprehensive plan embraces form-based codes and “Smart Growth”, but the zoning is auto-centric, outdated, and doesn’t mesh with the plan. If you’re a developer or builder, big or small, and what’s legal and what the town wants are two very separate things…Houston, we have a problem.

At this point, there’s two questions that come to mind – one, given that the town planning board has cancelled most of its meetings lately due to a lack of proposals, is the disconnect between plan and zoning halting projects, and two, when will revised zoning be ready. For guidance and knowledge, I reached out to town of Ithaca assistant planning director Dan Tasman, because he’s pleasant, responsive and a pretty great guy.

As for question one, here’s his quote: “Seriously, I think it’s … complicated.” His thoughts were that there’s no indication whether the recent slowdown were caused by the planning/zoning disconnect, or natural ebb and flow related to lending and planning on the ends of home-builders and developers.

As for question two, the response was summed up as, “a lot of communities face the same issue after they adopt new comp plans. On the positive side, Ithaca’s not growing that fast, and the pace of development is slow. Still, there’s a sense of urgency.”

He’s right about the town not growing that fast. The permit records show that in September, the only new home-building permit was for a duplex at 214 Pennsylvania Avenue on South Hill (the Iacovellis building more student rentals for IC, probably). The previous month online, June, had four single-family homes, filling out lots in previous-approved subdivisions.

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Traditionally, the town of Ithaca has made up a pretty sizable chunk of the new home permits in the county. But if they only issue 30-40 this year (still better than last year’s 14), then it falls on the rest of the communities to try and make up the housing deficit, at least in the short term. Ithaca city’s total, anticipated to be 247 new units to be permitted in 2015, is only about 84 units right now, because John Novarr has yet to start Collegetown Terrace’s Phase III, and Steve Flash’s 323 Taughannock on Inlet Island has yet to start either. To bring down the deficit in a decade, as well as keep up with annual economic growth, the county would need over 600 units per year; it’s not certain if the total will reach even half that in 2015.

On the one hand, the town of Ithaca is trying to be proactive and adopt a new approach to development in quick and good order. On the other hand, it’s not a great situation for trying to make a dent in the housing deficit, with its attendant affordability issues, and there’s the possibility things are going to get worse before it gets better. I don’t know if there’s a right or a wrong way of going about it, but it’s a stressful setup.

2. On the county level, officials are seeking legislature approval for launching a study into the feasibility of an airport business/industrial park in Lansing. 52 acres of vacant land along Warren and Cherry Roads are being considered for the study, which would include a conceptual site plan of potential buildings and parcels, and an assessment of the needs and characteristics of companies most likely to open in the potential business park. Utilities and green infrastructure will also be looked at in the study. The projected cost is less than $50,000, and being paid for by the Tompkins County Industrial Development Agency (TCIDA). The feasibility study would be awarded next month, with authorization and approvals on the staff level.

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For what it’s worth, folks living up there are used to business traffic – Borg Warner’s 1,300 person plant is adjacent to the study site. The Warren Road Business Park lies a minute’s drive up the road, and the Cornell Business Park is about a minute’s drive south. The land also has municipal sewer, allowing for large-scale projects. A copy of the RFP states two that the two parcels shown above are the primary analysis area, with secondary areas closer to the airport runway and the resident land to the west separate from the park. They aren’t a part of the proposed business park, but the county asks that they be examined for development potential by the study.

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3. Details, details – the Holiday Inn Express already under construction in big-box land at 371 Elmira Road will be going in front of the city planning board this month for some slight modifications. The developer, Rudra Management and Rosewood Hotels of Cheektowaga, wants to increase the number of rooms from 76 to 79, and add three parking spaces accordingly. Along with that comes the bevy of supporting docs – technical drawings here, landscape plan here, landscape schedule here, and elevation drawings here. Apart from a palette change on the exterior (the red-brown color is “Decorous Amber“, part of the new official Holiday Inn color scheme per the architects’ cover letter), there are no changes to the design, the 3 additional rooms are just an update to the interior configuration of the hotel, one more room on each of floors 2-4. Apart from tastes in color and making sure the three new parking spaces pose no issues, the board won’t have to debate much here, and the hotel is still very likely to open next summer.

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4. In small but notable builds, Modern Living Rentals (MLR) is at it again. The relatively new Ithaca-based rental and development company is planning a triplex (3 units) at 1015 Dryden Road, just east of the hamlet of Varna. According to an email from MLR co-owner Todd Fox, the units, all 2-bedrooms, will start construction in the spring, and it’s a safe wager they’re shooting for an August 2016 completion, just in time for Cornell student renters. Judging from the renders on MLR’s site, each unit will be around 930 SF, so about 2,790 SF total. MLR teamed up once again with local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative for the design.

1015 Dryden is also home to a single-family home built in 1938, and a 4-unit apartment building from about 1980. The apartment building was badly damaged in a fire in 2011, renovated, and the site was sold to MLR for $425,000 in March 2014.

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5. While on the topic of MLR, let’s throw in some eye candy. Along with the plans for 1015 Dryden, additional images for the proposed 87-unit project at 815 South Aurora Street on South Hill can be found on their website as well. I’ve included two perspective renderings and an aerial render, but more images can be found here. The 87 units will all be studio apartments. STREAM Collaborative is responsible for this design as well.

A detailed write-up of the project, including the related cell phone tower issue, can be found here.

6. Out in Lansing town, there are two attention-grabbing news pieces from Tuesday’s next planning board meeting. One is a plan for an LP gas / petroleum distribution facility on Town Barn Road (parcel address 3125 N. Triphammer Road). A 30,000 gallon storage tank and gravel drive are planned in the initial phase, with 5 15,000 gallon tanks, a garage/maintenance building, and an office planned in later phases. Now, normally a project like this is not a big deal, but there’s the outside possibility local contingents of the anti-Crestwood, anti-fossil fuel groups will go on the offensive to try and stop it. So the potential for political football is there.

The other detail isn’t up for discussion yet, but the town notes that 15 duplexes (30 units) are being planned by former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney for a site on Peruville Road (the county calls it 428 Scofield Road, but the land has frontage on both roads). The site already houses 4 duplexes built in 2011.

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7. Instead of the the usual “House of the Week”, this week is more of a shout-out/advertisement. For those with cable, The DIY Network will be running a new episode of “Breckneck Builds” tonight at 11 PM (additional showings listed here), highlighting a just-finished home on Dryden’s Hollister Road. Quoting the promo write-up:

“Jordyn is ready to leave her rental behind and buy her first home, but what is most important to Jordyn is that her new home is eco friendly, so she is turning to the modular world to build a big house with a small carbon footprint.”

The modular home assembly was the work of local builder Carina Construction, who also tackled the modular units at the Belle Sherman Cottages site. Local builder, local resident, local project, so set your DVRs or TiVo.

8. Last but not least, here’s your Planning Board agenda for next Tuesday. Nothing new at this month’s meeting, but here’s the run-down:

A. Review of changes and revised approval for the Holiday Inn Express (see above)

B. Declaration of environmental significance and BZA reccomendations for 215-221 West Spencer Street– Pocket Neighborhood, 12 units w/ 26 bedrooms, Ed Cope/PPM Homes is the developer, Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

C. Environmental Review Discussion for the bar/lounge proposed for the renovation of 416 E. State – cover letter here, description here, letters of opposition in the agenda.

D. Public hearing and re-approval, Hotel Ithaca renovations, 222 S. Cayuga – Site Plan Review drawings here, renders here and here. Not sure there’s enough of a difference from the first time around, but at least the cross-catching on the exterior is gone.

E. Herson/Wagner Funeral Home renovation, 327 Elmira – Declaration of Lead Agency and Public Hearing – I wrote about that in the Voice here. Fun fact, the original proposed title was “Funeral home hopes to being new life to Elmira Road property”. It was rejected.


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5 responses

24 10 2015
Cornell PhD

Boring week. All that’s new in Ithaca right now seems to be some incremental suburban sprawl. The last line made my day though. 🙂

24 10 2015
B. C.

I wasn’t the biggest fan of this week either, but things are what they are. “A planning board meeting without anything new is like a birthday party without cake”.

28 10 2015
Ex-ithacan

You guys are funny. 🙂

Some good info here, I’m not concerned about the College Crossing project not going forward, but I do like the possibility of a kind of Town Center happening in that area.
I still haven’t made up my mind about the 815 S. Aurora proposal looks. I understand it’s a bid to fit in with the Emerson (Chain Links) project across the street, but it almost looks like an old industrial style prison blockhouse. Of course the additional housing is welcomed.
I hope the Tompkins County Sheriff’s office has enough deputies to handle all the arrests and associated paperwork for the demonstrations on Town Barn Road in the coming years.
Hope I can stay awake late enough to catch that DIY show some time this weekend.

28 10 2015
B. C.

815 South Aurora almost reads too much into the “it’s not Ithacan enough / it looks too new” commentary given by some of the local peanut gallery. Total guess here, but the design might be an attempt to give familiarity and make the structure seem less obtrusive.

28 10 2015
Cornell PhD

Of course this just means the opposition will just be based on “it’s ugly/too dense/traffic/parking” instead of “context”. You can never be too contextual, apparently, until you can’t.

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