News Tidbits 3/19/16: A Taxing Problem

19 03 2016

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1. Apart from controversial presidential endorsement, Congressman Tom Reed paid a visit to the development community last week at the Boiceville Cottages project out in Caroline. According to Dan Veaner at the Lansing Star, the meeting was touted as an opportunity for developers, builders and contractors to express their concerns with onerous government procedures, specifically the local level.

Bruno Schickel, speaking at the event, noted that Boiceville could only have been done in Caroline because the 3,000 person town has no zoning (but they do have some type of commission that acts as a planning board). The lack of layers and conflicting comments from different interests allowed Schickel to get the latest 75-unit expansion approved in just two meetings back in 2012, something that he notes would have likely taken two years in other municipalities.

Then there’s this quote from another developer.

“After the site tour Reed spent time chatting with builders about regulations, mandates and costs that prevent some projects from ever being built.  One developer told Reed about an incident that killed a project before it even got started.

‘I tried to build a mixed use residential retail commercial building and I needed more residential units to make the economics work for lending,’ he said.  ‘I wanted six more apartments and the Town of Ithaca wanted an environmental impact statement.  the deal with these impact statements is that you pay an expert $20,000 so he can produce a 50 page report.  They look at it and read it and if they don’t like it they want to hire their own expert and they make the developer pay for it.  I backed out right away.  I pulled the plug and walked out of the meeting.'”

In case anyone was wondering, that was Evan Monkemeyer and his never built College Crossings project on the corner of 96 and East King Road. Which, to be honest, didn’t get re-approved because the window of opportunity closed as soon as the town updated its Comprehensive Plan and decided it wanted dense mixed-use. It’s an uncomfortable situation for all parties.

Obviously, there are two sides. Schickel is a very thoughtful and responsible builder/developer, but others may not be, which is why guidelines need to be in place. But, having watched the battles over affordable housing, and seeing the battles over wind and solar power now erupting in the western half of the county, it does give pause. I never thought I’d hear Black Oak investors such as County Legislator Dooley Kiefer and Caroline town board member Irene Weiser described like greedy Wall Street corporate villains, but that’s the current state of affairs. Using the same point from last week, the county can’t afford to be self-defeating, and having too many rules and regulations can keep a lot of good things, like green energy and affordable housing, from happening. The big, hotly-debated question is, where is the balance?

On a final note, the Star confirms that Schickel will finish build-out of the late Jack Jensen’s Farm Pond Circle project in Lansing, as soon as the Boiceville Cottages are finished later this year.

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2. It’s that time of the year for property re-assessment. The county gives a rundown of their process and goals for this year here. Most places handle assessment on the city/town/village level, so being that Tompkins County is solely responsible here makes it unique in the state.

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The report notes that high demand and low supply has kept sales prices on an uptick, and as those get factored into assessments, the values of property are due to go up as well. There aren’t as many sales as in the mid 2000s, but county home values are appreciating at an uncomfortably fast clip – median price went up 4.2% in just the past year, much greater than wage growth. The Voice has gotten some emails from people extremely upset that the county is doubling their land value, and there have been similar emails getting shared on neighborhood e-mail listserves, so there will probably be a story coming out on that soon.

Certain areas are facing certain challenges. For example, Collegetown’s land value is so high that it’s often worth more than the building that sits upon it, making much of the neighborhood a redevelopment target. Fall Creek is seeing home value appreciation much faster than the rest of the county, making it ground-zero for rapid gentrification. The county’s not pulling these values out of the ether; assessments are based in part on what people will pay for similar neighborhood properties. Fall Creek is walkable, centralized and a strong fit to the rustic, crunchy vibe buyers are often looking for in Ithaca. There are signs that the North Side and South Side neighborhoods are seeing similar impacts, but they’re not as noticeable because those neighborhoods were traditionally less well-off, so the gross home values aren’t as high, even if they’re appreciating at similar rates.

Out in the towns, the county feels Caroline is being under-assessed, which they hope to change in 2017, and there have been wildly high-priced sales in Ulysses that the county attributes to “excited” lakefront buyers. About the only area where the county is concerned about falling land values is Groton, where poorly-maintained properties are taking their toll on the tax base.

On the commercial end, Commons businesses and county hotels can expect a 5% assessment increase.

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3. Looks like the town of Ithaca released their annual planning board summary. Only 15 new of modified proposals were reviewed in 2015, down from 27 in 2014, and 32 and 41 in 2012 and 2011 (2013 is excluded for some reason). Nevertheless, the town’s planning department has been busy trying to translate the 2014 Comprehensive Plan into form-based zoning code, at least some of which they hope to roll out this year. A couple sources seem to have taken to referring to it as the “Ithacode”.

Also in the pipeline – reviewing Maplewood (with the city as secondary), reviewing Chain Works (with the city as primary), and possibly, Cornell rolling out plans for East Hill Village (early design concept shown above), the first phases of which are expected to be unveiled within the next year.

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4. The townhouses at 902 Dryden Road in Varna have been approved. The Dryden town board voted 4-0 to approve the project at their meeting on the 17th. The 8 new units and 26 new bedrooms should begin construction this July and be completed by June 2017. Local company Modern Living Rentals will be developing the site, and the townhouses (no updated render, sorry) are being designed by STREAM Collaborative.

Also relevant to the Varna discussion, the planning department memo notes a pre-application meeting was held for a proposal to subdivide and build 16 “small homes” at the corner of Freese Road and Dryden Road currently owned by Dryden businessman Nick Bellisario. No other information is currently available about the project.

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5. Let’s wrap this up with a look at the city of Ithaca Planning Board agenda next week. Quick reminder, the general order is: sketch plan, Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Declaration of Environmental Significance, BZA if necessary, prelim approval, final approval. Here’s the formal rundown:

Site Plan Review
A. 210 Hancock – project update, no decisions
B. 424 Dryden, rear parking lot for 5 cars – prelim and final approval
C. Hughes Hall Renovations, Cornell University – Determination of Environmental Significance, prelim and final approval
D. Ag Quad Renovations, Cornell University – Determination of Environmental Significance, prelim and final approval
E. The Cherry Artspace, 102 Cherry St. – Declaration of Lead Agency and Public Hearing

F. Sketch Plan – 301 E. State Street, the Trebloc Building.

Don’t know if this is a continuation of State Street Triangle or something else (it would be a surprise if someone could create a new plan in such a short time), but we’ll find out on Tuesday. Zoning is CBD-120, meaning commercial or mixed-use, no parking required, up to 120 feet in height.

G. Sketch Plan – 201 College Avenue

201 College Avenue sits on the corner of College Avenue and Bool Street in inner Collegetown, and is presently occupied by a well-maintained though unremarkable 12-bedroom student apartment house owned by an LLC associated with the director of a local non-profit recreational center. The property is currently assessed at $545k. Zoning for the property is Collegetown MU-1, allowing for a 5-story, 70′ tall building with no on-site parking required. A quick check of neighboring properties indicates that the owner only owns this property, so whatever is planned will likely be limited to just this house.


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10 responses

20 03 2016
CS PhD

Geez, Ithaca’s inability to stop the housing crisis is bad for everyone. Grad students and working-class people can’t afford housing, single-family homes are converted into rentals, and existing homeowners see their taxes go up rapidly just for having property in Ithaca. I hope Cornell moves ahead with their East Hill development soon; it would be nice to see them take some responsibility for all the students they dumped into the housing market.

21 03 2016
B. C.

Within a few years, one hopes Cornell will have done its part to solve the problem.

I think one of the issues with the affordability crisis is that people are very quick to write it off as being all the fault of the colleges and their students; but job growth and increasing numbers of retirees are also having significant impacts on demand. Students are just the easiest to denigrate.

On the supply standpoint we have a full range of issues from market costs to excessive bureaucracy to pervasive NIMBYism.

21 03 2016
drill deep

“I tried to build a mixed use residential retail commercial building and I needed more residential units to make the economics work for lending,’ he said. “etc…

Tom Reed will likely run with a statement like this, but the community can rightfully ask “why is your lenders concern our concern?”
Mr. Monkemeyer, if you can’t get a loan, don’t blame the Town! You should have planned ahead. Being a developer is a high risk – high reward business. Better to stick with bonds.

Further, nobody is paying $20,000 for a 50 page EIS.

This is the sort of stuff that becomes fact just because people want it to be. I am one contractor that is getting tired of whining developers.

21 03 2016
Ex-Ithacan

I wish the fairly recent study in California which supports the notion that more market rate housing will lead to more affordable housing (as older housing ages and becomes less valuable than new construction) was more accepted by the Nimbys, and governments which force unprofitable and discouraging regulations for developers.

I’m anxious to see what the new Trebloc and 210 College ave plans look like.

21 03 2016
Cornell PhD
21 03 2016
Cornell PhD

…sounds like Trebloc plans will be delayed til next week though, per Nick Reynolds of the Journal:

21 03 2016
Cornell PhD

…er, make that “next month”…damn lack of edit function

21 03 2016
B. C.

From what I’ve been told by the developer, those plans are incorrect. They were a massing study that has now been misinterpreted.

21 03 2016
Ex-Ithacan

Thanks for the link PhD. That rendering makes the proposed building look entirely out of place, but I’m sure the streetscape along that block will change dramatically over the next few years.

1 04 2017
News Tidbits 4/1/17: High Energy Debates | Ithacating in Cornell Heights

[…] going to sail through the planning board. Token future park space isn’t going to change that. Of course, then he’ll just whine to Rep. Tom Reed again. To Monkemeyer’s credit, the town has been taken uncomfortably long with formulating their […]

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