News Tidbits 4/26/16: Blips and Trends

23 04 2016

6-29-2014 162

1. In case you missed it, the Times’ Josh Brokaw did a pretty excellent feature this week on the Collegetown student rental market. He’s got Anagnost, Fane, Novarr, Lambrou…most of the major players have been covered.

A few details worth noting:
– The Avramis project planned for 302-306 College Avenue is being called “Avenue 102”.

– There have been rumors going around of a slight softening of the student rental market. No one’s really concerned about it, but the softening has been touched on, most recently at the city’s Rental Housing Advisory Commission meetings. In comparison to typical annual gains of +200 in the past decade, Cornell actually saw a slight decrease in the number of students in Ithaca from FA14 to FA15 (from 20,951 to 20,933), so the evidence is there. The key question is whether it’s a blip, or the start of a trend.

– Lambrou has a couple of smaller buildings (given previous work, 20-50 bedrooms) in the early planning stages. One of those might be 313-317 College Avenue talked about a while back.

If I do have any qualms with the piece, it’s that it implies Cornell’s West Campus was new housing. However, it was replacement housing for the U-Halls. There hasn’t been any net increase in beds on Cornell’s campus in fifteen years, since work on North Campus dorms finished in 2001.

2. In a separate piece, Brokaw mentions that 215 College Avenue, a 5,500 SF, 16-bedroom boarding house dating from the late 1800s, will likely come down after the 2016-2017 academic year. Readers might remember this property as the one that John Noarr paid an eye-popping $5.3 million for last August. 215 College Avenue falls under MU-1 zoning, which is Collegetown’s second-densest type of zone. MU-1 allows new buildings to be 5 stories and 70 feet tall (with a minimum of 3 stories and 30 feet), and no parking is required on site.

3. Last week, it was mentioned that Lifelong planned on selling the office building that it owned at 121 West Court Street in downtown Ithaca. Here’s the listing, which seems to be under the purview of local realtor Brent Katzmann. $439,000 gets you 4,518 SF in a former mid-19th century residence-cum-office. 8 offices, a conference room and amenities on the first level, and a three-bedroom, 2213 SF unit on the second level. The building lies just outside the DeWitt Park Historic District, although any imminent threats would probably send the city into panic mode and a rushed historic designation. Lifelong was gifted the building in 1996, and previously it was used as a doctor’s office. The county has the property assessed at $330k.



4. A substitution for House of the Week – since there are apartments on the upper levels, it’s fair game. The “Old Cigar Factory” at 108-114 East State Street is undergoing first-floor renovation to its retail spaces. The revised storefronts will have granite bases, a new wood-framed cornice, and existing cast-iron elements will be repaired.

Historically, this was known by the less cancerous and more PC name of “the Grant Block” and “the Floros Block”, with the building dating back to 1851. The “Grant’s Coffee House” in the render is an interesting throwback, sharing the name with a shop that operated on the site in the early 1800s. At other times, the building served as a cigar maker (natch), confectionery. and the Normandie Restaurant in the 1940s and 1950s.

The old vestibules and entries have been removed and covered with plywood while interior work is underway. The project underwent Design Review in March. Ithaca’s John Snyder Architects is in charge of design.


5. A small note for the West Hill folks, local home-and-landowners are planning an 8-lot subdivision at 519 Elm Street Extension, just west of the city-town line. The owners, David and Sarah Locke Mountin, plan to subdivide four vacant parcels totaling 20 acres into six lots of 1-2 acres with access to Elm Street Extension, and 2 5-acre lots towards Coy Glen Road. The project will go to the town board because the Mountins are seeking exemption from public sewer for the two 5-acre properties. The land is zoned Medium-Density Residential, and marked as low-density residential in the 2014 Comprehensive Plan.

6. A big, interesting agenda for the city Planning Board next week. Here’s the rundown.

1. Agenda review
2. Floor Privilege
3. Special Presentation the Brindley Street Bridge Replacement

4. Subdivision Review
A. Tax Parcel #20.-2-3.1 (N. Taylor Place between Campbell and Westwood Knoll, two single-family)
B. 511-13 Dryden Road (one single-family)
C. 312-314 Old Elmira Road (two duplexes).

5. Site Plan Review
A. Chain Works District, 620 South Aurora Street – Consideration of closing the public hearing for the DGEIS, and extending the public comment period. Currently, it’s expected to close May 10th.

B. Parking-lot expansion, 310 Taughannock (Island Health) – 17-space addition on part of the bio-retention area with porous pavement (13 spaces) and re-striping (4 spaces). Nearly the whole gamut here except sketch plan – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, and Consideration of Preliminary & Final Approval.

C. Cherry Artspace, 102 Cherry Street- Consideration of Preliminary & Final Site Plan Approval with Conditions. Conditions being, Common Council has to sign off since the project is in the Waterfront TM-PUD.

D. 201 College Ave, Apartment Building – Project Update & Discussion. It doesn’t sound like any decisions are being made on Visum Development’s 5-story, 44-unit apartment building, which did sketch plan last month. With the stepped down corners and revised entrance, it seems most of the PB’s suggestions have been incorporated by architect Noah Demarest. Neil Golder will take a few verbal whacks at his potential neighbor, but it doesn’t seem like there are too many concerns with this project.


E. Maplewood Redevelopment Project, Veteran’s Avenue, Concurrence of Lead Agency – basically, this is the city agreeing that the town planning board will take charge on Cornell’s new mini-neighborhood. Makes sense, since 97% of the project is in the town.

F. SKETCH PLAN: 201-207 N. Aurora St. — Mixed-Use Project. So I’ve dedicated a little bit of ink to this one before, when Todd Fox, Charlie O’Connor and Bryan Warren purchased the property last July. This is CTB’s downtown location. The ILPC started discussing designated the block in late March, including 201-207 North Aurora, to which its owners were less than pleased. The building dates from 1901, but the June 1986 filing of the East Hill Historic District with the state says on page 2 that many Aurora Street buildings were substantially altered after their period of significance (1870-1920) and “no longer possess the level of integrity that characterizes the district”. So the ILPC’s approach here reads as more of a reactive thought process rather than a proactive one.

Regardless of whether or not the building’s historic, development here needs to be really sensitive to the neighbors, several of whom expressed great concerns in the week or so after the property was purchased. I spoke with Fox about it back in October after seeing the building listed on Modern Living Rentals’ webpage with 60 units coming in 2018, and he said that “we have planned to include the surrounding neighbors in an open discussion”. If I was a betting man, and given that Fox and O’Connor like to hire STREAM Collaborative to do their projects, I’d wager that they’re involved with this one as well.

I don’t think there’s any way to totally avoid controversy, but an overbuild like the Carey Building might be more palatable to the planning board and community than a complete tear-down and replacement. Zoning is CBD-60; 5 floors, no parking required, 60 feet max height. We’ll see how things look next week.

G. SKETCH PLAN: 107 Albany St. — Apartments. This is probably 107 South Albany Street, since the county occupies where 107 North would be located. Currently, the site is a two-story professional building, dating from the early 1900s as a house. In 2013, the property was rezoned as part of the State Street Corridor’s southern edge, increasing zoning to CBD-60 (once again, 5 floors, no parking required, 60 feet max height). In August 2015, it was picked up by the Stavropoulos family, who own the State Street Diner. They’ve done a couple other small apartment buildings, too small for Planning Board review – 514 Linn and 318-20 Pleasant Street offhand. Haven’t heard anything here, but once again, keep an eye out next week.


H.    SKETCH PLAN: 203-209 Elm St. — Apartments, Demolition & Reconstruction. Also recently covered, 203-209 is a 12-unit affordable apartment building partially intended to replace deteriorated housing that has became un-rentable due to settling issues. It would replace a house, a 4-unit building, and a 9-unit building. All units would be 1-bedroom.

Originally, 301 East State, the Trebloc / State Street Triangle was on the agenda. Then it was pulled within hours.



10 responses

23 04 2016
Cornell PhD

Whoa, big news week. I’m kind of shocked about 215 College Ave.; it’s definitely a waste of space in its current location given the new Collegetown zoning but I would’ve thought developers would have targeted the less obviously historic properties along the street first. Do you think there could be a fight over this?

The Collegetown Bagels property on Aurora Street seems less obviously historic to me, but there’s something very cozy and lived in about the building and corner that I’d hate to lose, so I agree it would be nice to see a Carey Building-style addition if anything at this site (I wonder if that’d also allow CTB and the other businesses to keep on operating on site, too).

23 04 2016
Cornell PhD

Side note: seems the Elm Street housing will have fewer units than what it’s replacing. That’s disappointing and somewhat incomprehensible.

23 04 2016
Cornell PhD

And one more thing: 107 S Albany seems like a pretty nice house; it’s unfortunate if apartments aren’t going on the lot next to it, along State (or replacing the squat, plain professional building that the lot serves).

24 04 2016
B. C.

The social dynamic of West Hill is not conducive to new affordable housing. A portion of that is standard NIMBYism (the first ward is represented by the two most anti-development councilors on the CC), but most of it stems from longstanding fears and issues with the West Village apartment complex, which has a comparatively high crime rate that has spilled over into West Hill at times. Many residents of West Hill have fallen into the line of thinking that all affordable and low-income housing is bad, and it’s going to take a lot of time and effort to change that mentality.

24 04 2016
B. C.

As for 107 S Albany, I’m a little disappointed that of all the parking lots and low-value buildings that have the capacity to take advantage of the 2013 rezoning, that this is one of the first. This with Aurora makes me a little concerned about a rise in NIMBYism because of design issues (not unlike what we saw in Cornell Heights a few years ago). Both development teams will need to approach these projects carefully and thoughtfully, or they risk “poisoning the well”.

24 04 2016
B. C.

I’ve been a bit concerned about it in private. Ever since the huge sale last summer, 215’s days have been numbered. The building doesn’t even come up in PB/former Common Councilor John Schroeder and former Councilor Mary Tomlan’s 2009 list of historic Collegetown resources, which is a bit of a surprise.

So this is a case where a building is certainly old, but its historic significance is debatable. But I feel the potential for backlash from non-student residents and historic preservationists is substantial. Novarr’s been accommodating before, but I dunno what can be done here, apart from the extreme case of moving it.

Re: Aurora, if done right they could stay in business as an overbuild occurs. Although, if State Street Triangle was any indication, Gregor Brous is keeping his options open on a possible new downtown location.

29 04 2016
Cornell PhD

I guess I also wouldn’t also mind if CTB were able to move, as long as a similarly active use was implemented on the Aurora/Seneca corner after the new build. Given the lack of movement on the SST, though, that seems doubtful (and I’m having a hard time thinking where else downtown CTB could go? A lot of vacant Commons properties but they’d probably prefer a street front and something they didn’t have to renovate for food prep/customer bathrooms, of which there are slim and not ideal pickings among the Commons vacancies.)

29 04 2016
B. C.

From what Todd Fox told me, CTB would like a larger space. A potential rebuild could offer that to CTB, but it may be too far out to be worth the wait for them.

29 04 2016
Cornell PhD

Good news I guess that they’re considering a build-over option. I kind of wish they’d combine the modern and buildover options, though, to heighten the contrast between the modern building and those underneath. It’s also really unclear whether the buildings on Seneca are being retained even in the most conservative design…and even seems unclear whether the developers own or will be able to purchase them at all.

30 04 2016
B. C.

Bryan Warren owns 308 East Seneca, and that is included in the plan. 314 is the question mark. As a result, one floor plan is smaller and calls for 60 apartments; the other calls for 85 apartments. Both have 3 retail spaces of varying sizes, if I remember right offhand.

The more they save, the less reactionary the community will be. From the developer’s perspective, easing the board into this with a long, steady process might be the best way to go to avoid a backlash that could allow the ILPC to landmark the block and endanger the project.

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