News Tidbits 9/10/16: Situations To Be Avoided

10 09 2016

Pardon the week hiatus. Sometimes, by the time there’s enough news to share, it’s already the weekend, so it just makes more sense to fun a longer feature the following week.

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1. The Maguire dealership proposal for Carpenter Business Park had a lukewarm reception at its public info session a week and a half ago. A copy of the application can be found here, and Second Ward Councilman Ducson Nguyen was kind enough to upload a 90-minute video of the meeting on his facebook page, and a transcript of the meeting can be found here. A second public info meeting will be held on the 14th.

You might recall news of the project broke last winter, followed shortly thereafter by a vote of the city Common Council to subject waterfront and waterfront-vicinity properties to a “Temporary Mandatory Planned Unit Development” (TM-PUD), meaning that any building proposal would be subject to a vote of the Common Council as a stipulation of approval (typically, projects only need the Planning Board’s consent, plus the BZA and/or ILPC if needed). One other project has gone through the TM-PUD process since then, the Cherry Artspace performing arts building. The small experimental theater held its public info meetings at the end of March and mid-April. It enjoyed fairly broad  public support, but two of the eight voting councilmen still voted against its construction at the May meeting. If a a project with widespread support has some trouble getting passage, you can already guess what will happen with the Maguire proposal.

There’s only about a year left in that TM-PUD. But for the Maguires, it was too late as soon as the TM-PUD was passed. Perhaps more concerning, this is creating one of those cases where everybody’s opinion is coming out of the woodwork – some demand it be a park, some say industrial space only, Form Ithaca advocates walkable mixed-uses, and then there was that verbal brawl on the Ithaca West list-serve about the evils of the Ithaca Community Garden. A lot of folks think their idea is the only reasonable option, so if this plays out like the old library site, there’s going to be a lot of acrimony in the long run. Hopefully when the TM-PUD expires, the city will have the new urban mixed-use zoning ready for implementation, so situations like this can be avoided in the future.

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2. Can’t help but feel just a little sympathetic towards Steve Fontana – he tried to have this project open for move-in, and everything that could go wrong, was going wrong. The Journal’s Nick Reynolds reports that first it was a safety systems issue with the elevator holding up the certificate of occupancy, and then a water main burst. The latest planned opening date is September 9th, when the initial date was August 1st. Now it’s a financial issue, a public relations issue, and a mess for all involved. This could be used as an example of why Todd Fox put the 201 College site up for sale – it became clear that August 2017 opening wasn’t going to happen.

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3. On that note, I’m going touch on 201 College real quick. Given the amount of time that went into the Collegetown Form District – six years – this just looks bad all around. On the one hand, Todd Fox could benefit from more patience (granted, we don’t know what the financing situation was), and the character attack on Neil Golder in his supporting documentation turned some people off to his cause. But what John Schroeder did also deserves strong scrutiny. It’s odd to claim a zoning code issue when the MU-1 code is only three pages, and he helped write it. He was also aware that 201 College went through pre-site plan review with the city’s Planning Department, and they gave it the okay to proceed with review. This looks very suspiciously like Schroeder was explicitly looking for anything he could to help out his old colleague Neil, and that small ambiguity was the best he could do, which he was able to parlay with success.

This continues an uncomfortable pattern we’ve seen with other projects like the Old Library where one government body gives the OK, and another stops it after the consent is given. The whole point of these laborious review processes is to prevent controversy from arising. Who wants to take on the risk of proposing condos, mixed-use and affordable housing when, given that many projects require the approvals of multiple boards and committees, there’s a track record of mixed signals?

Rezoning has come up as an idea, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. Spot rezoning (single-lot rezoning) would likely be deemed illegal because the current zoning is consistent with the recently-passed Comprehensive Plan, something the courts look for in zoning lawsuits. Thinking slightly broader, Collegetown’s MU-1 is nine parcels – Fox, Josh Lower and John Novarr, all major local developers, own seven of them. If 20% of those affected by a rezoning proposal file a protest petition, a super-majority of the Common Council – 75%, 8 of 10 in practice – is required for rezoning approval. That is what stopped the first Collegetown rezoning during the Peterson administration. If it couldn’t pass then, a similar super-majority event is unlikely to pass now.

4. On the edge of Ithaca’s South Side neighborhood, the CVS Pharmacy sold for a pretty penny – or rather, $4.09 million, on the 1st. The property is assessed at $1.8 million, but sold for $3.6 million in 2006. The buyer is an LLC traceable to a suburban Boston firm with a broad retail space portfolio, so whether they plan to keep things as they are, or propose something new, is anyone’s guess.

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5. Finally, a copy of the Site Plan Review application for Newman Development Group’s City Centre project at 301 East State Street in Downtown Ithaca. Keep in mind, this is from the June filing, so things are likely to have been updated or revised in response to the planning board. The 9 story building tops out at 96 feet. The approximate construction cost at the time of the filing was $32 million, with a proposed build-out from February 2017 to October 2019, which seems lengthy, and in another part of the document it says construction will last only 20 months. 400 construction jobs, 50 permanent jobs by tenants in the 10,600 SF of first floor retail, and building service staff. Overall square footage isn’t given, but given the retail and 7,225 SF of amenity space, 160,000 SF probably isn’t a bad first guess. For comparison, State Street Triangle was 288,000 SF, later reduced to the same height and similar dimensions as City Centre. In a sense, City Centre started off where SST required months to get to. Hopefully that bodes well for the proposal.

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6. Remember that airport business park study from a while back? There’s no strong demand for a business park. But the NYS DOT wants to move their waterfront office and storage facility to the site. So removing those salt sheds and replacing them with mixed-use waterfront property won’t happen until the state buys whatever it needs here, builds and moves in to a new facility. Not sure what they’ll do with the property on Ellis Drive in Dryden that they’ve owned for the past decade; presumably sell it as surplus, but who knows?

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7. From the Ithaca Times: The Al-Huda Islamic Center hopes to start construction on their Graham Road mosque in 2017, and then obtain land for burials later this decade. In other news, new Times reporter Lori Sanken is reporting on the Chain Works progress, the Planning Board requesting color changes, careful consideration of heights, and debates about forest [preservation and Route 96B. Developer Dave Lubin of UnChained Properties wants to do renovations to existing buildings first, but seeing as they have yet to have the state sign off on a remediation place, they’re considering the construction of new buildings first, if NYS DEC approval for remediation gets delayed. And Catholic Charities and non-profit group Ithaca Welcomes Refugees are actively trying to procure affordable living space for 50 refugees who will be arriving in the Ithaca area after October 1st.

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8. It’s been incubating for a while, but it looks like former Lansing town supervisor A. Scott Pinney’s plan for 15 duplexes (30 units) is moving forward. A gravel road will be extended from 4 existing duplexes at 390 Peruville Road (NYS 34B), looping through the property from Scofield to Peruville. The “Developer’s Conference” to talk about the project will be a part of the Lansing town planning board’s meeting next Monday. Also up for discussion are slight revisions to the Village Solars PDA, related to the community center and first-floor commercial space in the proposed Building F.

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9. From the Ithaca city Projects Memo for September, it looks like there’s a couple of subdivisions planned. One is for 404 Wood Street in the South Side neighborhood, where the owner wants to subdivide a double-lot he has for sale, allowing the vacant lot to be developed for a house or small apartment building. Quoting the application, “Instead of an empty grassy lot, there would be a building on it”. Points for simplicity.

The other is a double lot at 1001 North Aurora Street in Fall Creek. This came up a couple of weeks ago in a weekly tidbits round-up, because the new owner, Stavros Stavropoulos, received a $400,000 loan to build a duplex. Turns out it’s actually two duplexes, which require a lot subdivision, and will trigger planning board review. The application notes that even with the density increase, it’s still less than the surrounding neighborhood. The two two-family homes with have 3 bedrooms and about 1200 SF per unit, and are designed by local architect Daniel R. Hirtler to fit in with the neighborhood. Unusually, the application includes documentation of the previous owner signing off on the redevelopment plan. Construction is estimated to run from this month through May 2017.


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2 responses

13 09 2016
Ex-Ithacan

I’m surprised any person would put themselves through the frustration and expense of trying to get a project built in Ithaca. Especially if there are some insurmountable hurdles thrown up during the process.

13 09 2016
B. C.

I’ve been getting some spirited emails the past few days, both in agreement and in opposition to my comments.

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