News Tidbits 3/12/16: After Much Discussion, Even More Discussion

12 03 2016

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1. The community meetings have begun for Maplewood Park’s replacement. The Cornell and Professional Graduate Student Assembly (GPSA) held a discussion with the developer EdR and project architects Torti Gallas this past Monday. According to the Sun, some of the features planned in the new graduate housing development include-

“[S]omething like the Big Red Barn but on a smaller scale as a community room so you can open it up and have events…there will also be a business center for group projects and work. We are also planning an outdoor recreational space like tot lots for people who have families and volleyball courts.”

Concerns about affordability were raised, but the developer said that rent prices are still being sorted out. From the meeting, the four big goals of the project are “affordability, walkability, sustainability and community,” with streets that also serve as public gathering spaces, and a variety of unit sizes and types. Definitely something to keep an eye on as plans are fleshed out.

On the bureaucratic end, the Maplewood Park sketch plan is set to be presented to the Ithaca town planning board next Tuesday by Scott Whitham of Whitham Planning and Design. A sketch plan has no votes involved and is merely an informational session, and an opportunity for the board to give preliminary thoughts and input. The board will also be hearing a much less interesting proposal for a new bus shelter in B Lot.

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2. Looks like Kraftee’s in Collegetown will be shutting its doors. According to the Cornell Daily Sun, the book and apparel store, which opened its Ithaca location in 2002, will be closing for good at the end of the month. Owner Pat Kraft did have plans to move the store into the first floor of the Dryden South mixed-use project currently under construction at 205 Dryden Road, but now with Cornell’s new Executive MBA building underway on the lot next door, he plans to “explore other more complementary uses for the commercial space.” Since the project is in MU-2 zoning, Kraft is legally obligated to have “active use” commercial on the 2,400 SF first floor: hotel, bank, theater, retail, and/or food service.

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3. The city’s CIITAP production at the Wednesday PEDC meeting was productive. The board seemed comfortable with the pre-payment option preferred by the IURA. The question now comes down to what length abatements to offer. The 10-year has strong support, but there was discussion on whether or not to offer the 7-year option (only used once by the Hotel Ithaca) and the 12-year option with the enhanced benefits. So while this a few months of discussion left ahead of it, there’s a better idea of what the revised CIITAP will look like. For the record, the 1% fund payout would be based on hard construction costs only, not soft costs. So for example, the Marriott currently underway, it would have paid 1% of $19 million instead of $32 million (would it have still moved forward? Dunno).

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4. Also at the PEDC meeting, the development policy topic du jour finally moved forward – incentive inclusionary zoning. Discussion on the law here, and a primer on the topic here. So, stemming from a debate with the Times’ Josh Brokaw on Twitter, my initial reading of this law was mandatory. But I was mistaken, it’s voluntary and the city will want a couple years to gauge its effectiveness.

The Sun writeup is here, but eventually you;ll be able to find live video archived from the meeting here. I think Mayor Myrick pretty much nailed it with this quote –

“This proposal is an opportunity for those of us who claim to care about affordable housing but oppose large-scale subsidized housing.”

The unpleasant truth is, classism reared its ugly head during the 210 Hancock debate, and thanks to the online petition, everyone saw it. After all the prep and community meetings that went into the project before it was even proposed, there were still people who said it was unsafe, uncivilized, would breed trouble, that the residents would cause crime, they’d all be on welfare…pretty unnerving commentary from a community that considers itself progressive. Abhorrent as it is, these comments aren’t going to go away. Many of these folks are older, some have been here for decades, and they’re set in their beliefs. It’s regrettable to say this, but the more subtle and intermixed the affordable housing is, the less likely it is to face neighborhood opposition.

Along with the removal of parking requirements and +1 floor option in certain neighborhoods, the reduced site plan review option (only affecting the plan layout and design, not the environmental aspects) was judged to be the most appealing by developers. To be fair, a project redesign based on board input can be expensive, so reducing that prospect in neighborhoods with pre-established form guidelines (currently only Collegetown, but the Waterfront is likely to have its own form-based hybrid code in a year or two) is a big positive.

The PEDC voted to circulate the law for review, with only 1st Ward Councilwoman Cynthia Brock dissenting. There will be more typed about this law as it moves forward.

On a semi-related note, it looks like the town of Ithaca is now starting to look into some kind of inclusive or incentive zoning as well.
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5. For this week’s eye candy, here’s the latest revision for Travis Hyde Properties’ DeWitt House senior apartment project at the Old Library site.  This was the version presented at the March 8th meeting. HOLT Architects has been tuning in to both the ILPC’s and the Planning Board’s comments (the two have been conducting joint meetings to avoid extra bureaucracy and contradicting each other) and is trying to hem down the general design idea such that SEQR and SPR and the rest of the approval process paperwork can begin.

As can be seen, the design is quite a bit different from the original plan with the “dorky roof” as one county legislator called it (for the record, I liked the dorky roof). This is an idea of where the design is going, but not the final revision, since the ILPC and Planning Board still plan on commenting further. For those still simmering over the decision last summer, just remember that even if the Franklin/STREAM proposal for condos had been selected, the ILPC and Planning Board would have had a heavy hand in that design process as well. The design for DeWitt House will continue to evolve, and updated images will be shared as they become public.

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6. Meanwhile, out in Lansing, lawmakers are under pressure because NYSEG cannot accept any new gas service requests because the current pipeline is fully tapped. About half of homes nationally and many commercial and industrial structures use natural gas an an energy source, so this could potentially put the kibosh on a lot of home and commercial construction. Definitely not welcome at a time when the town and village are at high risk of losing their biggest taxpayer.

NYSEG is still actively pursuing construction of a new gas pipeline from Freeville, one that has garnered considerable opposition from Dryden and some eco-activists. The environmental advocates have pushed for renewables, but the recent opposition to the Black Oak wind farm in Enfield, and to solar panels in Ulysses for the Sciencenter have created yet another complication to the county meeting its green energy goals, let alone overall energy needs. The area can’t afford to be self-defeating.

The Lansing Star is reporting that NYSEG has obtained about half the easements it needs, and could eminent domain the rest as a last resort. It’s a tense and complicated situation.

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7. Wrap this up with a quick house of the week update on INHS’s 203 Third Street affordable home project. These photos are a couple weeks old now, but most of the trim has been attached with the exception of the porch, and with that, finish-out of the interior and landscaping, this 2-bed, 1.080 SF house will be good for sale. INHS is asking $129,000 from qualified moderate-income homeseekers (buyers making 70-80% of Area Median Income, I think offhand), and is expected to change hands this summer. Claudia Brenner did the design, and Rick May Construction did the buildout.


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3 responses

12 03 2016
Cornell PhD

Are developers being consulted on abatements the same way they are for affordable housing? I’m really skeptical much will get done with that up-front fee requirement, and it would be good to hear from them on that issue.

The Old Library plans’ dramatic change begs the question – what did the regulating authorities ask for!? It doesn’t strike me that the building looks any more likely to fit into a historic district than the previous iteration (brick seemed to be a better way to go to that end..)

13 03 2016
B. C.

Yes and no. The original plan with the enhanced benefits and labor documentation had developer input (I believe the developer’s group rep was Herman Sieverding of IAD). http://www.ithaca.com/news/abatements-not-based-on-guesses/article_fcdb2d9e-92c8-11e5-82f7-076e65714366.html

This version with the up-front payment has had no input outside of city hall, as far as I’m aware. The lack of outside input may be part of the reason why the IURA was keen to try and keep an upfront payment from swaying the rest of the abatement benefits package. But, like you, I’m concerned they’re over-estimating the finances of developers, many of whom aren’t as deep-pocketed as they’re made out to be. I’ll put out the feelers to some local developers to gauge their reactions, it would be interesting to hear what they think.

As for the Old Library…HOLT’s pretty much redoing the design from the ground up in an effort to assure approval, in what’s pretty much the definition of design by committee. I suspect the Franklin/STREAM proposal would have suffered a similar fate for anything beyond the shell of the old library that they planned to reuse.

14 03 2016
Taxpayer1301

In our County’s Comprehensive Plan and draft Energy Road Map, our Legislators stated their goals for energy use and pollution reduction. They are to “transition away from natural gas” and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050.

Putting aside that the Paris Climate Conference made clear these goals are too little too late, the key local truth is that the use the 700,000 additional cubic feet of methane per hour to be pumped into the County through NYSEG/Iberdrola’s proposed West Dryden Road Gas Pipe will defeat every goal in the Plan and the Road Map: Specifically:
We won’t “transition away from natural gas.” We’ll do the opposite, and our fossil fuel dependency will increase by 700,000 cubic feet per hour for the probable 50-year life of the pipe.
Greenhouse gas emissions will increase (not decrease) by as much as 50%.
Air pollution will increase not decrease.
The air pollution will worsen (not improve) public health.
The extra gas burned will increase (not decrease) global warming.
Money paid for the methane won’t stay here. It will go to Spanish-based Iberdrola.
Installing and operating the Pipe will be done by outside “experts;” so there won’t be any significant increase in permanent, local jobs.
Our community-wide ability to respond to global warming will be worse not better.

In short, to be on the side of the Pipe is to be on the side of global warming and against every goal we have as a community for responding proactively to the global warming and climate change that we have seen so recently all around us. And, our Legislators can do more.

Moreover, Dr. Brice Smith and the folks at Sustainable Tompkins have demonstrated that it is more cost effective–and profitable–to build well-insulated buildings cooled and heated by air or ground source HVAC pumps than to use fossil fuels. Time to move into the 21st Century!

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