News Tidbits 5/21/16: Building Bridges, or Burning Bridges

21 05 2016

209-215_2

1. 209-215 Dryden Road has a name: the Breazzano Family Center for Business Education. Let’s just call it the Breazzano Center for short. The name comes as part of a $25 million donation from Cornell MBA alum David Brezzano ’80, and is named in honor of him and his three sons, all recent Johnson School graduates. According to the Cornell Chronicle, the donation will “substantially support” the building’s construction, which construction loans on file with the county have pegged at $15.9 million. Breazzano is the president of money management and investment firm DDJ Capital Management, and did his undergrad at Union College in Schenectady, where he serves as trustee.

John Novarr is the developer for the 6-story, 76,200 sq ft building, and Cornell will occupy 100% of the structure on a 50-year lease.

chapter_house_v4_1

2. So, something weird is going on. The city BPW is set to discuss an encroachment for the Chapter House reconstruction at their meeting on the 23rd. However, all the paperwork included in the agenda dates from before the sale and refers to the previous owner. So either the new owner is pursuing the encroachment and the information hasn’t been updated, or this is outdated/no longer being pursued and no one’s updated the BPW paperwork. I tried calling the project architect (Jason Demarest) but he’s out of town until Saturday, and this publishes Friday night, so…dunno. Hopefully someone can provide some insight. For the record, the encroachment is for the first-floor roof overhang over the sidewalk, and will cost the developer $33,812.28.

100_1466

Open question, would a brick-for-brick rebuild had to have paid for this encroachment as well? It existed with the original structure, this was designed with heavy ILPC input, and given that project costs seem to be why this is in jeopardy…it just seems like an unnecessary obstacle. I know it’s a new build, but it’s replicating a previous encroachment for the sake of character. It seems like the project is being financially punished for that.

brindley_elevation
3. For this week’s eye candy, the above image appears to be the city’s proposed redesign for the Brindley Street Bridge over on the West End. Pretty similar to existing newer or renovated bridges in the city (Clinton Street, South Aurora Street), with older-style lamp posts and stylized concrete railings.

Alternative 2 calls for a pedestrian bridge to replace the existing Brindley Street Bridge, which was last renovated in 1952. A new bridge for vehicle traffic would be built south from the intersection of Taughannock and West State Streets, over the inlet, and intersecting with Taber Street. The project is expected to go out to bid next year, and completed in 2018.

4. Per the Ithaca Times, the Taughannock Farms Inn out in Ulysses has some expansions and renovations planned since new ownership purchased the property back in February. Along with a bistro for lighter fare, an electric car charging station and a dock, the Times introduced plans for a 2-story, 200-person event center that would be built on the Inn’s property. The purpose of the event center is to provide additional space for events like weddings and formals, and to capture a bit of the mid-week business meeting and convention crowd. The inn itself has 22 guest rooms in five buildings.

The original inn building dates from 1873, when it was a “summer cottage” for John and Molly Jones of Philadelphia. The Joneses also owned Taughannock Falls at the time, though they would eventually deed it over to the state in the mid 1930s to create the park. The current owners are only the fourth in the 143-year history of the property.

5. A couple of big sales in Tompkins County this week. The first one was 308 Eddy Street, a 12-bedroom apartment house in Collegetown. The Lambrou family, one of Collegetown’s medium-sized landlords at ~400 beds, sold the property to the O’Connor family (a smaller landlord family) for $1,225,000 on the 18th. The O’Connor don’t tend to develop their own properties, and 308 Eddy was receently re-roofed anyway, so don’t expect any changes here, but take it as a demonstration of what a captive rental market, high land values and high taxes will do.

The other big sale was outside of Ithaca, at 1038-40 Comfort Road in Danby. A purchaser bought several land and cabin properties being touted as a high end B&B for $1,300,000. The purchases are a couple from Florida, one of which founded the Finger Lakes School of Massage in the 1990s and now heads an aromatherapy institute.

evergreen_dryden_1

6. According to a report from the Dryden town board liaison to their planning board, the Varna Community Association’s reception to “Tiny Timbers” at the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads has been mostly positive, apart from minor traffic concerns to the 16-house project. More lukewarm was the reception to the 36-unit Evergreen Townhouses proposal at 1061 Dryden, where concerns were raised about having enough green space, and whether it was too far outside Varna to be an appropriate location.

The neighbor two doors down has already started to fight the project, and this is probably going to play out like 902 Dryden did over the past several months. Here’s a pro tip when you’re writing up that angry screed – please stop arguing that renters are second class citizens. Just stop.

therm_1

7. Therm Incorporated will be presented plans for a stand-alone 20,000 SF manufacturing facility to the town board next week. The addition will be located at their property at 1000 Hudson Street Extension, between its main building and the quonset huts. In a rarity, the industrial-zoned property won’t need to heard to a zoning board – no variances required. The new building will replaces a 3,434 SF ceramics studio. As previously reported on the Voice, Therm expects to create 10 jobs with the expansion. Therm, located at its current facility since its founding in 1935, specializes in custom machining, primarily for the aerospace and industrial turbine industries.

201_college_v2_3

8. Not a very exciting agenda for the Ithaca city planning board this month.

1. Agenda review
2. Floor Privilege
3. Special Order of Business: Incentive Zoning & Site Plan Review Discussion (Lynn Truame)

4. Subdivision Review
A. Minor Subdivision, 312-314 Spencer Road, Charlie O’Connor (MLR)

5. Site Plan Review
A. Sketch Plan, Two Duplexes at 312-314 Spencer Road

This came up back in March – Charlie O’Connor plans on re-configuring vacant street-facing property behind two houses to build two duplexes near Lucatelli’s. STREAM Collaborative is the architect.

Originally, this was at the end of the agenda as sketch plans usually are, but the agenda was revised so that the sketch plan would be allowed to go first.

B. 201 College Avenue – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Determination of Environmental Significance, recommendation to the BZA

C. Elmira Savings Bank, 602 West State Street – Declaration of Lead Agency, Public Hearing, Potential Determination of Environmental Significance, recommendation to the BZA

D. Brindley Street Bridge, seen above – revised FEAF review (parts 2 and 3), recommendations to lead agency (BPW).

6. Umpteen million zoning appeals, none especially contentious
7. Chain Works DGEIS Review, Update Schedule and Special Meeting Schedule.





The Chain Works District DGEIS, Part Two: Form Codes and Phase One

17 05 2016

For part one, click on this link.

One of the challenges facing the Chain Works District is that it’s a little tough to plan out specifics when the construction timeline goes out over a decade. The renders of new buildings conceptualized as part of the redevelopment project may not look exactly as shown – in a lot of ways, they would best be described as placeholders. But, the zoning code proposed within the project’s PUD gives a pretty good idea of what a potential building would look like. The design standards can be found in Appendix C here.

The goal of the design standards is to establish a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood setting that builds on the existing industrial buildings and surrounding neighborhoods – growing without overwhelming. The design standards handle height, width, setbacks, buffer plantings, blank walls, building projections, the amount and spacing of doors and windows, porches and stoops, sidewalk width, the types of light poles allows, the “design speed” of streets – compared to Euclidean/use-based zoning, the emphasis isn’t on what’s taking place inside, but how it looks on the outside. Some might argue that it allows less creativity for architects, but it offers a lot more predictability for a multi-year development like Chain Works.

Even with the design standards, the project won’t be skipping the approvals process. New buildings and renovations that don’t conform to the initial proposed uses still have to go through Site Plan Review/Approval. Interior renovations not visible from public roads do not have to go through SPR, which is consistent with most of the city’s neighborhoods. But one step that may potentially be avoided by the PUD/PDZ are frequent trips to the Board of Zoning Appeals.

Chantreuil | Jensen | Stark Architects, STREAM Collaborative and Randall + West all played a role in site planning and developing the zoning.

chain_works_form_districts_1

There are four “sub areas” as part of the code – CW1 (Natural Sub Area), CW2 (Neighborhood General Sub Area), CW3 (Neighborhood Center Sub Area), and CW4 (Industrial Sub Area).

CW1, as the Natural Sub Area, is where land is planned to be left unaltered, or allowed to revert to “a natural state”. Some of this is due to technical issues like topography, as some of it is due to environmental features such as the presence of old-growth woods. CW1 is the most restrictive zone, allowing only passive recreational use, trails and stormwater management. New structures can only serve those purposes – sheds, park restrooms, pavilions, gazebos, and at most a visitor’s center, the sum of which may not cover more than 2% of the total area, with no single building over 2,000 SF, and nothing more than one floor / 15 feet.

cwd_cw2

 

CW2 is the Neighborhood General Sub area, and one of the two zones slated to host the majority of new development. The intent here is detached single-family homes, row-houses and small apartment buildings. Total area coverage of more than 60% is prohibited, and height is limited to 4 floors, except when built on a hill, in which case there may be another 1-2 floors on the downhill side, as long as it’s consistent with CW3. Street trees have to be provided on at least 60% of the length of new and existing streets in CW2, at intervals no more than 40 feet.

Apart from general housing, the CW2 code would allow for senior housing, daycares, home-office, small-scale retail (less than 2,500 SF), nursery schools/day-cares and B&Bs.

chain_works_rev3_4

CW3 is higher-density mixed-use – larger-scale office space, larger-scale retail and the same residential uses allowed in CW2. Most commercial and assembly/factory uses are allowed (but no adult uses – in any zone, in fact). Plazas are allowed along with green space, and the maximum height allowed is 6 floors, with 1 more on the downhill if on a slope, and only 4 floors permitted with 2 floors on the downslope if within 100 feet of Route 96B. Total area coverage is permitted up to 80%, and a vegetation buffer of 30 feet is required if adjacent to residential properties bordering the CWD. The street trees rule in CW2 also applies here.

cwd_cw4

CW4 consists of industrial uses and utilities/storage space, 2-4 floors. 90% area coverage is allowed, and there has to be one shade tree planted and kept healthy for every 10 parking spaces. There is no minimum parking requirement for CW4, or any of the zones.

One issue brought up in review is that the code specifies that any one floor can’t be more than a certain height, but it would be better if they specified a maximum height for the first floor, and then a max height for each subsequent floor. For instance, instead of a max of 18 feet, which could create a 72-foot, 4-story building in CW2, the draft could be improved by saying 18 feet on the first floor, 12 feet on each upper floor.

cwd_street_assembly

Several types of “thoroughfare assemblies” are displayed in the document, specifying what’s permitted in each area. This is where the design speed, sidewalk and pavement widths, and parking and street-scaping details come into play. These include streets, alleys, industrial access roads and even a woonerf.

So that briefly sums up about 33 pages of code details. Most of those won’t come into play until new structures are proposed – the streetscape will be developed as phase one is under construction, and more when further build-out occurs. Speaking of phase one, let’s take a look at that.

Phase one consists only of renovations to existing buildings, four of them. Buildings 33 and 34 would be renovated for new industrial uses per the CW4 code, and Buildings 21 and 24 would be renovated into an office building, and a mixed-use office and apartment building per the CW3 code.

cwd_bldg21_1

Building 21 becomes a 43,340 SF office building – new glass and a paint job are the biggest exterior changes. Parking would be on adjacent surface lots (page 2-27, DGEIS).

cwd_bldg24_1

Building 24 is the only building that gets an addition in phase one – 18,520 SF of new space on the top floor, a “penthouse addition” to the existing 111,050 SF space. The addition and the existing second to fourth floors would house 70 to 80 residential units in approximately 96,300 SF, in a potential mix of configurations ranging from studio to 4-bedroom units, but mostly it’s intended to be 1-bedroom and 2-bedroom units (page 2-25, DGEIS). The remaining 33,270 SF would be commercial office space. Parking would be on adjacent surface lots.

cwd_bldgs33&34

The industrial space envisioned for Buildings 33 and 34 requires minimal renovation, according to the DGEIS (page 2-33). Combined, they offer about 170,600 SF of industrial space, for manufacturing, warehousing, or related uses. Most parking (110 spaces) will be on adjacent surface lots, with a little more (15 spaces) created by the removal of Building 6A, and another 95 overflow spaces shared with CW3 structures. Part of the logic is that since workers and residents use parking spaces at different times (working the 9 to 5, vs. those who do their 9 to 5 in other parts of the city), they can share parking spaces somewhat.

Part 3 will take a look at some of the project impacts.





New Tidbits 5/14/16: A Land Subdivided

14 05 2016

6-29-2014 162

1. This week, the city rolled out a strategy memo for “Design Guidelines” for Collegetown and Downtown. The city held focus meetings back in March with Winter & Company, a Boulder-based urban design and planning firm with experience in cities and college towns from coast to coast. No specific individuals are mentioned as being part of the focus groups, but the focus group meetings consisted of “residents, property owners, developers, architects, design professionals, Planning and Development Board members, Common Council members, and City staff.” The memo is meant to help guide continued discussion of design standards, and to identify key issues in each area that could arise with planning and implementation.

The feedback from the focus groups shouldn’t come as a surprise – use high quality materials, respect historic character but don’t emulate it, recognize that development costs in Ithaca are very high, promote walkability and active street use, encourage parking lot infill, define transition areas between smaller-scale neighborhoods and denser cores, and so forth.

One of the major components being reviewed is whether design guidelines should be mandatory or just a set of recommendations. The city has a design review process that comes into play for certain projects like those on the Commons, but otherwise it’s non-binding unless the BZA or planning board mandates it as part of approval. Regardless, more meetings are expected as the guidelines are fleshed out.

al-huda_1

2. The Ithaca Times is checking in with the Al-Huda Islamic Center plan for Graham Road in Lansing. Fundraising is still underway for the 4,828 SF mosque, which according to a member of the Al-Huda board of Trustees, is expected to cost between $650,000 and $1 million, per contractor estimates.

Fun fact of the day, Islamic law prohibits mosques being paid for with funds that collect interest (tainted by usury). Everything must be paid for up-front and in full.

The village of Lansing has already signed off on the mosque plans, and the vacant land at 112 Graham Road is bought and paid for. Pretty sure the above drawing is outdated, but I haven’t seen an image of the latest plan available online. The Times has an interior shot of the current plan to accompany their story.

20141227_134549

3. The town of Ithaca passed the nine-month moratorium on two-family dwellings by unanimous vote at its meeting this week. Anyone seeking to build a duplex in the town of Ithaca will now have to wait until February 2017 for a building permit, unless “unnecessary hardship” is demonstrated by the law’s imposition. The law was driven by the construction of multiple 2-6 unit student-oriented structures east of Ithaca College in the Kendall/Pennsylvania avenue area, which they felt was undermining the neighborhood’s character. Earlier versions of the law called for a year’s length, but the town received numerous complaints that a year would actually hit two construction seasons, 2016’s and 2017’s.

100_1281

4. Also in lawmaking, the bike lanes proposed for the 300 and 400 blocks of Tioga Street in downtown have been shot down in favor of sharrows, 3-2. This comes after strong advocacy by city bicyclists and some planning and sustainability groups, and strong opposition from some elderly and disabled advocacy groups, suburban neighborhood residents and the town of Ithaca’s town board.

benderson_1

5. One of the many issues that faces large-scale planning and development in Tompkins County is that, over the many decades, land has been heavily subdivided and sold off between many different owners, with the properties often passed down or even traded, leaving records piecemeal. With so many owners, some untraceable, it can become logistically difficult, especially if not everyone is on board with a plan.

In front of Moe’s down in big box land, the county owns a 0.3 acre parcel of land previously a part of the flood relief channel. Since 2005, Benderson Development has rented the land as part of its shopping complex – now they just want to simplify things and buy the land from the county. With an offer of $112,500, which is $17,500 over the county’s assessment, and with the county’s 2005 confirmation and 2016 re-affirmation that they have no public use for that slice of land anymore (much of the channel’s land has already been incorporated into other parcels), they’re planning to finalize the sale at the Legislature’s meeting next week.

6. If you glanced at the Voice, you know there’s a plan cooking for 36 townhouse units east of Varna. But according to Dryden’s town planner, that’s not the only project that’s been brought forth to the town. A different applicant brought forth a plan for 20 single-family homes on 9 acres near the intersection of Route 13 and Mineah Road, a rural stretch between Varna and the village of Dryden. The units, expected to be rentals, are allowed as of right in Dryden’s mixed-use zoning – if it’s under 4 units/acre, it doesn’t need a special use permit, or even site plan review. A check of property records reveals several parcels owned by Ryszard Wawak, a Lansing businessman who picked up the land a number of years ago and has already built a duplex (2-bedrooms each) and a 5-bedroom house on subdivided parcels.

If you happen to start seeing houses popping up between Dryden and Varna, it’s probably this project slipping under the radar.

elmira_savings_v2

7. Taking a glance at the Ithaca Projects Review committee meeting agenda, the Elmira Savings Bank and 201 College Avenue projects will be undergoing review before heading to the planning board meeting later this month, and the subdivision/reconfiguration to build two two-family houses at 312-314 Old Elmira Road will also be reviewed. There are also a boatload of zoning variances being sought for various projects – Marriott signage, an apartment reconfiguration on Farm Street, a basement home salon on Center Street, a home addition on Cobb Street, parking variances for 121 West Court and a area variance for an existing carport on Grandview Avenue that was apparently never approved by the city when built in 1973. In total, there are nine. It’s times like this that the city would benefit from a simplified zoning code.





News Tidbits 5/7/16: Everything’s Political

7 05 2016

815_s_aurora_night

1. Let’s start with government. The city of Ithaca passed revisions to its cell phone tower law reducing the no-build fall radius from 200% of height, to 120% of height. The 120% was decided upon after a check of other municipalities, where it was generally the most common figure.

The change allows development to proceed on the grassy field at 815 South Aurora Street on South Hill, although as mentioned last week, the fall zone revision isn’t as much as developers Todd Fox and Charlie O’Connor had hoped for. But it’s still enough to work with; according to Josh Brokaw at the Times, a revised plan that meets the new guidelines could be going to the planning board for sketch plan review in June, possibly with more units than the 87 studio units initially planned. It was also reported that the local neighborhood group (South Hill Civic Association, SHCA) is comfortable with the initial plan, so this might be a relatively smooth process when the project is ready for review.

2. Meanwhile, while one thing moves forward, Dryden’s been hit with a major setback. The Pinckney Road parcel sale in Dryden was foiled when voters, in a 1188-936 vote, rejected the town’s plans to use recreation reserve funds to purchase the 15 acre property. The town would have spent about $56,800 of a fund that has over $300,000, and the county would have contributed $15,000, so that the town could have turned it into park space in the long-term. The town was prepared to buy the property, but residents opposed to the sale managed to get enough signatures on a petition to force to to go up for a vote.

It sounded like a worthy and reasonable plan. But I get the feeling that there were a lot of folks who figured it would pass by a wide margin, so they just didn’t vote. In a marketing course a while back in college, I remember the professor sharing an interesting statistic – versus feeling neutral, the general public is three times more likely to support an initiative when they really like something, and nine times more likely to vote or speak out when they’re really opposed. People are more driven by aversion than reward, and that’s probably what happened here.

20141227_134402

3. Sticking with local governments, the town of Ithaca is set to vote on a moratorium on duplexes, but with some modifications from the initial proposal. For one, given construction seasons revolving around the warm season, and the time it takes to plan and get permits, it was decided to make it only nine months (January 2017) instead of one year, so that they could limit the possibility of dragging it through two construction seasons. And although the town planning committee chair wasn’t on board with it, an exemption is in place if one of the units will be owner-occupied. If their goal is to revise the approach to student housing, then at least these amendments fix or lessen some of the bigger issues a moratorium would produce.

4. Just a wee bit more info on the “Tim Timbers” planned for the corner of Freese and Dryden Roads in Varna. The tiny houses are small though not micro-sized – they’re expected to be about 800 square feet. Local architecture firm STREAM Collaborative is working with businessman Nick Bellisario on the 16-lot subdivision and home development.

waterfront_concept_aerial_1waterfront_concept_mf_th_SP_1

5. So the full 206-page, $78,000 NYS DOT waterfront redevelopment study by Fisher Associates is on the city’s website. The initial results were shared here back in October, but the final product has some additional, very interesting details.

waterfront_concept_timeline

One of those additions is a potential timeline for development. It calls for getting official support and commitments over the next several months, issuing an RFP later this year for the new DOT facility in Dryden, and issue an RFP for the NYSDOT waterfront site later this year, with review in Q1 2017 and developer selection in Q2 2017, assuming this doesn’t end up like the Old Library debate. The DOT would move to Dryden in Q3 2018, and the excess state land would be transferred to the county, sold in Q1 2019, and ready for occupancy by mid-2020.

The other really interesting new section is Appendix 5, stakeholder outreach. This consists of interviews with city officials and nearby property owners – Cornell (who say they have no plans for their waterfront properties), the Farmer’s Market, and some smaller businesses and organizations. The gist of the comments had more to do with Farmer’s Market than the DOT – namely, heavy traffic issues, needs more parking, and needs to physically expand to accommodate a waiting list of vendors and cool-season operations. There are early plans incubating for a nearby indoor market facility, if memory serves right. As for the DOT site, the mixed-use plan was deemed most favorable, and the stakeholders agreed that the site had great potential for redevelopment.

warren_medical_lansing_1

6. Looks like marketing has started for a proposed new medical office building in the village of Lansing. The new one-story building, which appears to be designed by Binghamton-based Keystone Associates, would be off of Warren Road, although it looks like the building would be accessed from a driveway coming off of Uptown Road. The 2.71 acre property is zoned “Human Health Services District” by the village, and borders undeveloped land owned by Cornell, and several other suburban medical office buildings built over the past few decades. The resolution on the attached site plan is too low to determine the square footage, though it looks to be in the low tens of thousands.

The property was purchased by Arleo Real Estate from Cornell for $378,600 in October 2014. Arleo Eye Associates owns and occupies the neighboring building to the south. Arleo built their 7,119 SF optometry office in 2007.





Eight Views on Ithaca’s Development

5 05 2016

20160414_121559

The Ithaca Times, in partnership with Sustainable Tompkins, ran an op-ed series about development issues in Ithaca. Seven writers, plus the Times’ commentary for a total of eight. I have my reactions below, separate from the links in Italics; so one can read the article and jump back with limited interference from yours truly. Please feel free to leave your own thoughts in the comments section.

1. Opinion piece one, also the intro, came from Gay Nicholson, the President of Sustainable Tompkins.

cropped-11-21-07-001.jpg

I have profound concerns with Nicholson’s commentary, for a couple reasons. For one, it implies there will never be enough supply. That’s not true. The problems today stem from year after year, for well over a decade, of failing to meet the needs of the community’s economic and overall population growth, creating a deep, sustained deficit. It’s now at the point where it’s creating major hardship for thousands of people – adopting the attitude that they just can’t be helped is wrong.

Issue number two is the “carrying capacity” argument. That might work in ecology, but here, the argument’s a potential minefield because it carries the implication of “this area’s full, move somewhere else” – fine enough if you’ve lived in the area for a couple decades, you’re retirement age and with substantial assets, not so much if you don’t check those boxes. If one looks at it in the context of the area’s evolving socioeconomic and racial composition, it becomes an even more perilous statement. I think that, as an area with 3.3% growth so far this decade, in a region with decreasing populations otherwise, that’s it not a strong argument at this point in time, especially when there are real opportunities for improvement.

In an attempt to put into context, Nicholson does live in Lansing, the only community with large-scale development with limited planning and regulation, contributing to a major partisan divide. She ran for its town board in 2013, but lost. Lansing’s relatively laissez-faire approach may stem from the town’s fear of property taxes skyrocketing once the power plant closes, but whatever the reasoning, itĀ improving some issues while exacerbating others, and consequently has its proponents and opponents.

2. Opinion two is written by Frost Travis, the developer leading Travis Hyde Properties.

cropped-100_1386.jpg

Travis Hyde is behind the Carey Building project, or the Old Library site, both of which are THP’s work. One thing I like about the piece is that it sheds some light on the real estate development, and that a lot of time, money and effort go into plans. No one wants their efforts wasted.

That being said, some plans are good, and some are bad. Some deserve a negative reaction, some don’t. I’d argue State Street Triangle is an example of the former, and 130 East Clinton is an example of the latter. 130 East Clinton was fine as a project, and probably would have received the tax abatement and been built, if it had been proposed by anyone but Jason Fane. The Times acknowledged this, and the whole thing ended up being a political mess. Not saying Fane’s a sterling citizen, but the county is fortunate Fane never pursued an Article 78 lawsuit, because he would have a strong case.

State Street Triangle…well, one comment I’ve heard a lot was that their initial approach was pretty awful. They tried to make up for it, but that’s hard to do when so many controversial aspects (big, tall, students, tax abatement) are rolled into one project. The rumor on the new incarnation is that it’s not student-oriented (and not Campus Advantage), so that could make enough of a difference.

Although it might be scorned in some corners, it’s crucial that public groups and private developers work together – government studies have shown that there are lower levels of displacement when more market-rate housing is built as a complement to affordable housing efforts.

3. The third installment comes from county legislator Anna Kelles.

cropped-100_1756.jpg

I didn’t take a whole lot away from Anna Kelles’ submission. Her county district, which contains Ithaca’s Fall Creek neighborhood, is the epicenter of gentrification. Historically, Fall Creek was a lower-middle class, blue-collar neighborhood, but given housing valuations increasing 5%, 10%, even 15% a year, very few long-time residents are able to keep up with the corresponding increase in property tax amounts. For homeowners who plan on moving elsewhere in the next couple of years, this has been nothing short of a windfall because the sales prices continue to skyrocket. For anyone who planned on being in Fall Creek long-term, and especially those of modest means, it’s a much more uncomfortable situation.

As a result, two different views come out – one, limit affordability efforts as much as possible for maximum benefit to those selling; and two, those who would prefer the market to moderate in some form. Anna Kelles was deeply involved in the condo effort for the Old Library project. Although that wasn’t the affordable housing proposal, it was the one most similar to Fall Creek’s older, increasingly upper-middle class constituents, who are increasingly at odds with their neighbors.

Fall Creek has mixed views on its rapid gentrification. Maybe that’s why I don’t pick up any strong opinions from its legislator.

4. The fourth piece was written by Kirby Edmonds, Coordinator of Building Bridges, on addressing and combating displacement.

cropped-100_1752.jpg

This is a thoughful piece, it’s just a shame some of the suggested solutions aren’t as easy as they sound. For instance, the land trusts, assuming its something like INHS’s Community Housing Trust, run into an issue at the state level – they’re not recognized, and the state, via the county assessor, taxes at the full amount. Until someone changes the rules in Albany, an odyssey in itself, there’s not a whole lot that can be done. Also, I’m not 100% confident in a county legislature that turned a $583,000 windfall from the state into a free-for-all for pet projects; there would need to be some extremely strong safeguards to ensure the county’s not going to plead hardship if the state were to recognize a trust program.

The Times complained that Edmonds had a negative view of 210 Hancock, but I don’t quite get that, it sounds more neutral, about maintaining clear, frank communication. But given the multiple community meetings during the planning stage, it’s not clear how much more open and transparent the process can be before one to break out those “frank conversations about privilege”.

5. Article number five, focusing on affordable housing, came courtesy of Paul Mazzarella, Executive director of INHS.

cropped-12-21-07-001b.jpg

It was great that Paul touched on the income aspect to the housing issue – Tompkins County’s average income isn’t much higher than surrounding counties, but the cost of housing is much greater. Students are the obvious part of that because they pool incomes on units, but they only make up about one-third of the housing deficit. Also playing a role are incoming retirees who’ve made their dollars elsewhere, and the growing economy draws in those advancing their careers and already have some assets to their name. Add it all together, and it’s quite difficult for supply to try and keep up with demand.

The title also touches on the “missing middle” of housing – luxury/premium housing is easier to build, because as long as the market is demonstrated to exist, the return on investment is higher, and therefore more likely gain financing from the regional banks and credit unions that loan money to build new housing. Lower income units have the opportunity to obtain government grants, even if they are highly competitive. But for the middle market, where grants are virtually non-existent and the desired profit margins aren’t there, it becomes a tough situation. Political bodies are faced with either making an environment conducive for new middle-market housing, or expecting to ride on the depreciation of premium units – which may not be feasible with prices are rising as they are.

6. Next up was City Councilman Seph Murtagh, and “Development and its Discontents”.

cropped-100_1884b.jpg

My reaction to Seph’s was fairly positive, though he’s more optimistic about the incentive zoning than I am. The initial reaction is that people on both sides of the debate don’t like it, but until it goes into play, no one knows if it will be of any benefit. There don’t appear to be many options on the table that don’t piss people off, so, well, it seems worth a try, even if incentive zoning has its flaws. At least the city has taken and continues to take steps to identify where development can be promoted, the lynchpin is making it attractive for private entities to actually do so.

7. Planner Krys Cail was the seventh contributor, focusing on how development and especially density should be focused in the city and town, where infrastructure is in place and transportation expenses are lower, and can contribute to a more affordable setup even if housing costs a little more.

cropped-100_1974.jpg

I don’t always agree with Krys, but I thought this was fairly accurate and on the mark (excluding the off-the-cuff on the golf courses – Newman floods, the others would probably see intense opposition. But the town has recommendations if the Ithaca Country Club ever closes). For the record, when it comes to things like affordability, it’s not usually the case that affordable housing developers want to be in rural areas, it’s just that land is cheaper and the neighborhood opposition is not nearly so fierce. The key is overcoming those challenges.

8. And the last one, from the Ithaca Times’ Bill Chaisson.

cropped-100_2165.jpg

I kinda feel like form-based zoning is being presented as a panacea here. It would be helpful, definitely. Fewer plans would have to head to the the Board of Zoning Appeals, thus removing a layer of government and the uncertainty it throws in the financing process for all projects, and planners have pointed out that the city’s code has decades of numerous add-ons and revisions, yet still has substantial issues. But it’s just one part of the overall problem to address. The city has to push developers to get on board with plans and approaches, but given the expense and time it takes to create proposals, the city also has to make it worth the effort. Residents can stake claims to protecting neighborhood character, but also have to recognize that no significant change to address current affordability and supply/demand problems will result in a far worse situation as rapid price growth and displacement continue. Different decisions impact constituents in different ways – one person’s physical character preservation is another’s pricing out, damaging social-cultural preservation.

Here’s an example of how the bigger issues get lost on the individual level. In response to the Maplewood article I did for the Voice this week, I received an email from a nearby resident that said, “I would like there to be as few students on that property as possible.” That’s a “me-first” approach that does more harm than good – letting the overall affordability and supply issues worsen so this individual can avoid having grad students nearby. Saying “This is what Cornell wants to do, here’s what I’m concerned about, could X, Y, and Z ideas help mitigate” would be much more valuable to the conversation.

It’s a complex issue, and there is no silver bullet. Every action will have positive and negative reactions, and because someone will be upset every step of the way, there won’t be a fairy-tale happy ending. Local governments struggle to address development issues; just look at the post-fracking fight over large-scale solar and wind renewables in the towns, and opposition to nearly every affordable housing plan in the past several years.

People are much better at opposing than proposing. It’s time for a re-calibration.