News tidbits 1/16/2016: The Not-So-Best Laid Plans

16 01 2016

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1. It isn’t exactly a shock that Elmira Savings Bank is pursuing plans for the $1.7 million in properties it just acquired on the west 100 block of Meadow Street between West State and West Seneca Streets. That being said, sending out 30-day eviction notices wasn’t a very good idea from a public relations standpoint.

Technically, it’s all above the law – the three tenants affected were on month-to-month leases, according to Nick Reynolds over at the Journal, and one had an expired lease and was in the process of relocating. The bank wasn’t interested in renting out the properties and decided to clear them out. That is plausible, if a little brusque – even if they had put forth a proposal for something at the next Planning Board meeting, approval would take months, in which case they could eased the tenants out of the current property. But instead, they ended up with a petition that, while mostly reading like a speech from the Politburo, does make the valid point that this was conducted poorly. Then it hit the airwaves, and the bank has gone into major damage control mode, giving the tenants until the end of March and reimbursing them $1,000 for the trouble.

Looking at some of the comments on the Voice, there is a lot of outcry against gentrification, but there’s not a whole lot the city can do to prevent that – even if Elmira Savings Bank didn’t build a thing and sold the buildings to someone else, the rapidly rising property values around the city would push the renters out, albeit more subtly, and the city can’t make a law that says someone can’t move in. Plus, as seen during the 210 Hancock, Stone Quarry and Cayuga Ridge debates, there’s a lot of pushback locally against affordable housing. Arguably the best solution going forward is to work an inclusionary zoning ordinance into law so that when Elmira Savings Bank does decide to build (and it’s more of a when than an if), that a few of the units be made available to those on more modest incomes.

Just to touch on that real quick, according to the Journal, the old Pancho Villa building at 602 West State Street will become a bank branch for ESB in the short-term, and plans are being considered for a mixed-use project at some point down the line (two months, two years, who knows). The zoning is WEDZ-1a, allowing for a five story, 65′ building, but there might be tweaks to that depending on the inclusionary zoning ordinance.

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2. Keeping a focus on the west side of the city, the Planning and Economic Development Committee voted to circulate a proposal for a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Urban Development” (TM-PUD) over the waterfront. The reason for this is one part proactive, and one part reactive.

What the TM-PUD does is, for an 18-month period starting the day of Common Council approval, it gives the Common Council the right to oversee and if necessary vote down projects that it thinks will not be appropriate for the waterfront. The study area is currently a mix of zones: Waterfront (WF-1, WF-2), Southwest Mixed-Use (SW-2), Park (P-1) and Industrial (I-1). When the Comprehensive Plan was passed in 2015, it promoted a more walkable, dense, mixed-use waterfront. Therefore, some of the zones are outdated.

The city’s planning department is still in the process of drawing up specifics for how to implement the Comprehensive Plan’s walkable urban waterfront, but in the meanwhile, some of the zones don’t match up with the direction the city wishes to proceed. Take, for example, the industrial space on Cherry Street and Carpenter Circle. By zoning, residential uses aren’t allowed, although the city would like to see mixed-uses with condos and apartments in their vicinity. The planning department needs time to figure out the what and where on zoning so that those uses can be proposed without a developer spending extra months in front of the Planning Board and BZA, which can drive up costs and make construction financing more uncertain.

So that’s the proactive, benign part – the city needs time to plan out the zoning laws for the dense waterfront they want. Now comes the reactive, cynical part.

It’s a not-so-secret secret at this point that the Maguires are looking hard at Carpenter Circle for their car dealership headquarters and multiple sales outlets. Since Carpenter Business Park is zoned industrial, and Ithaca city zoning allows commercial uses in industrial space so long as they’re two floors, there’s a good chance they could build dealerships without the need of the BZA, and it would be an uncomfortable position for the planning board to have to debate a project that is totally legal but is something the city and much of the community doesn’t really want. So as a way to stall for time, the city’s pursuing this TM-PUD and giving the Common Council the authority to shoot down any unwelcome plans should they arise.

For comparison’s sake, there’s a similar scenario that is playing out in Ithaca town. The College Crossings project on South Hill was welcomed under the zoning and previous iterations had been approved, but after the town passed its 2014 Comprehensive Plan and attended the Form Ithaca charettes last summer, the planning board realized that a shopping center with a couple apartments above and in the middle of a large parking lot wasn’t something they really wanted anymore. While the project has been withdrawn, the process and debate has created a lot of discomfort, confusion and uncertainty, which is rather problematic given the area’s housing shortage. The town hopes to have some form-based zoning code ready this year.

So, looking back to the city, the occupants of 108 E. Green Street want things that are still illegal in much of the study area, but they don’t want a full-on moratorium because some spots like the Waterfront zones actually do accommodate what the city and many of its constituents want. The TM-PUD is an attempt to stave off the legal but undesirable projects until the revised West End zoning can go into effect.

Worth pointing out, at the meeting the boundary was changed to midway through the Meadow Street and Fulton Street blocks, rather than along Fulton Street. It may or may not affect Elmira Savings Bank’s parcels as mentioned above, but those long-term plans are in alignment with the city’s, so probably not.

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3. On a related note, the town is holding workshop sessions for those interested in designing a ped-friendly, mixed-use community for South Hill. The meetings are planned for 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. Jan. 26 to 28 at the Country Inn and Suites hotel at 1100 Danby Road in Ithaca. An open office has also been scheduled for 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. Jan. 27. Form Ithaca will be in attendance at the sessions to help formulate the form-based character code proposed for the neighborhood.

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4. A revision to the cellphone tower law has taken one step closer to becoming reality. The city’s Planning and Economic Development Committee voted 4-1 to circulate a revised law that would reduce the size of the tower’s fall zone, where construction of any structures is prohibited. A revision to the current city law, which is twice the height of a tower, could potentially allow the 87-unit 815 South Aurora apartment project to proceed with planning board reviews and other BZA variances if necessary. Developers Todd Fox and Charlie O’Connor of local company Modern Living Rentals have been pushing for a fall zone radius of 180 feet for the 170-foot tall tower, rather than the 340 feet as the current law mandates.

From the discussion, it sounds like the concern has less to do with this parcel, and more to do with the possibility of cell phone companies pursuing towers on open land in the northern part of the city where spotty reception has to be weighed against the aesthetics of the lake shore. Anyway, we’ll be hearing more about possible changes to this law in a month, but for back reading, here’s the Voice article from a few months back.

5. In quick news, CBORD’s move to the South Hill Business Campus looks like a go. A $2.45 million construction loan was extended on the 8th by Tompkins Trust Company. CBORD, a software company founded in Ithaca in 1975, will move 245 employees into 41,000 square feet of freshly renovated SHBC space from the Cornell Business Park later this year. The project, which totals $3.7 million, was granted $296,000 worth of sales tax abatements.
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6. From the city’s Project Review Agenda next Tuesday, plans for a facadectomy of the 1980s Student Agencies Building at 409 College Avenue. Student Agencies, in collaboration with Cornell, plans on dropping $183k on the facade work, as well as the $2.8 million or so for the interior renovations of the second and third floors for the new eHub business incubator space. Prolific local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is in charge of the design work, including the 9,660 SF of interior space. The work would go from January to April (the loan is already approved and most of the work is interior).

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If I may play armchair architecture critic, which I have no credentials to do, I think the patio area is great, but I’m opposed to the brise-soleil, the wing like feature that serves as a sunscreen. I feel like that its location above the third floor throws off the rhythm of the block, by being lower than the cornices on adjacent structures. It might be fine over the glass curtain wall alone, but as is it feels a little out-of-place. Just one blogger’s opinion.

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7. House of the week. 228 West Spencer Street in the city of Ithaca. Zero energy new construction, 2-bedrooms, on a rather difficult site. In the above photos from last weekend, the house has been framed and sheathed with Huber ZIP System plywood panels, the roof has been shingled, and doors and windoes have been fitted. The blue material on the concrete basement wall is Dow Styrofoam Tongue and Groove Insulation which protects against moisture and helps keep the heat loss to a minimum. The house should blend in nicely with its neighbors.

Ed Cope of PPM Homes is the developer, and Noah Demarest of STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

 


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9 responses

16 01 2016
Update from Ithacating – City of Ithaca 2nd Ward

[…] 2 and 4 in the latest post from Ithacating in Cornell Heights do a great job of covering a couple of the things we discussed […]

17 01 2016
Cornell PhD

I think the brise-soleil on the Student Agencies building is fine, but the asymmetrical glass curtain window on half the building is definitely going to throw the look of that block.

What is the new startup space replacing, pray tell? I hope not housing.

17 01 2016
B. C.

From the project narrative, the second and third floors were office space for Student Agencies and eLab, which is a co-working space and forerunner of eHub. There are eight apartments on the top floor that will be unaffected by the renovation, and the ground-floor retail will be mostly unaltered except for dedicated signage space and other minor work.

http://www.cityofithaca.org/AgendaCenter/ViewFile/Agenda/01192016-974

18 01 2016
drill deep

“they ended up with a petition that, while mostly reading like a speech from the Politburo…”

Thank you for that gem.

My new goal for the year is to reference the Politburo the next time I am forced to read some awful report. It will happen sooner than I hope.

As usual a great summary. Thanks.

18 01 2016
B. C.

I consider myself a moderate, so when I was reading through that petition, I had to take some of its commentary with a very big grain of salt. The petition writer’s father ran for mayor against incumbent and registered Socialist Ben Nichols in 1995 because he felt Ben Nichols was bought and paid for by wealthy Ithacans. Apple didn’t fall far from the tree.

18 01 2016
CS PhD

Ugh, that new facade for the Student Agencies building is ugly. The trendy modernist glass box they shoehorned in to the left side clashes horribly with the traditional brick and stone facades of the rest of the street, not to mention the other half of the Student Agencies building itself. The false roofline created by the brise-soleil also makes the remaining story above it look orphaned and stumpy, further contributing to the impression that the building was mashed together from three different buildings.

18 01 2016
B. C.

I always felt a glass box (and not that glass and metal thing ikon.5 designed for Novarr) would work somewhere in Collegetown and really give the Jagat Sharma-heavy neighborhood a little diversity. I’m not 100% sure a glass curtain wall works here, but I’m not too opposed to it either.

19 01 2016
Ex-Ithacan

I’ll go for glass option across the front on both the 2nd & 3rd floors of the Student Agencies building,

Good news for the South Hill Business Campus, but how much long term impact will that have on the Cornell Business Park?

Just to be a smart ass……how about putting the Cell Tower on the Carpenter Circle property? That would resolve two problems at once. (Sorry, I’m trying to think outside the box) he-he

19 01 2016
B. C.

RE: Business Park, good question. I have not had the impression that the park has had trouble filling space, but I’m not sure. No one spoke in opposition at the public hearing, but I imagine Lansing might start objecting if this starts to become a common thing. On a brighter note, a fuller SHBC makes for a somewhat higher probability of expanded space (office/industrial) down the line.

Ex, don’t give anyone ideas. Some of the biggest NIMBYs around are also subscribers to the blog. It’s like they’re trying to figure out what to oppose next.

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